Mezcal has been rising through the ranks for a few years now. It is a product of Mexico, but is less regulated than the far more popular tequila. It adds a smokey element to cocktails that is pretty big, but not as overwhelming as some of the peatier scotches. It is made from agave, like tequila, but it can be made from ANY type of agave. Tequila must be made with blue Weber agave plants, and only in a small region of Mexico. Mezcal can be made anywhere is Mexico, but most production comes from Oaxaca. Tequila/mezcal have the same relationship bourbon/whiskey and cognac/brandy does; it is a very specific subset of a larger group. Though made primarily in Oaxaca, mezcals are made all over Mexico, chock full of local variations. The biggest difference between the two, and what gives mezcal its smokey character, is the way the pinas are heated. Tequila producers roast the pina in ovens. Mezcal producers dig a pit up to ten feet deep and line it with rocks. They build a fire at the bottom which heats the rocks, then place the pinas on top of the fire. The whole mix is covered with earth and left to smolder for a few days, imparting the smokiness into the pina.
There are not many things that blend well with mezcal. The smoke is a powerful flavor. Citrus is typically the best way to cut through it, as well as adding some acidic punch to the earthy spirit. Elena Leptkowski at Stir and Strain and Serious Eats took this wisdom, and her passion for mezcal, and created the Sierra Madre Sunrise. It has a few whiffs of the Tequila Sunrise profile in the recipe, but there is nothing close to that flavor profile when it hits your lips.
Sierra Madre Sunrise (By Elena Lepkowski)
1 oz./ 30 mL mezcal
.75 oz./ 22 mL Aperol
.5 oz./ 15 mL lemon juice
2 or 3 ds. Angostura OR chocolate bitters
3 oz. club soda
Garnish: Lemon peel
Pour the mezcal, Aperol, lemon juice, and bitters into a mixing tin, Add ice, then shake for 20-30 seconds until well chilled. Strain over fresh ice into the rocks glass, then top with the club soda. Garnish with the lemon peel and serve.
Thank goodness for smoke. There is enough smoke in this cocktail to kill the taste of the soda water, yet not so much that the Aperol is lost in the mix. This is the first mescal cocktail I have tried, and I am a fan of this smoke. Which may mean I have to go back and try some Islay scotches again to see how I feel about peat. I went with the Angostura options, which added a little bit of cinnamon but nothing overwhelming. This is something to enjoy after a meal as dessert, or to warm up with at night. The smokiness lingered, which is not something I would want to happen before or during a meal, unless I was having something acidic to cut through it.