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Scotch or Mescal: Cual es mas macho?

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo


Distilled more than 5,000 miles away from each other, Mexico’s mescal (or mezcal) and Scotland’s scotch have more in common than it seems. The spirits can be merciless on untrained taste buds, are both steeped in tradition and can vary greatly based on the region of origin or the family recipe being used. Another similarity comes via their respective fan base, who dive into either alcohol with fervor. Case in point: the mescal- and Scotch-laced cocktails popping up on bar menus. While many envision these fine spirits as purely for sipping, these mixed drinks prove neither liquor is quite as big or bad as neophytes may think.

Tequila’s Hotter Cousin

A visit to Johnny Hernandez’s The Fruteria might mean a sit down with the chef for a 45-minute chat about mescales. Hernandez’s interest in the spirit grew out of his love of tequila (as evidenced by the lineup at La Gloria). His monthly visits to Mexico often include stops at local, artisanal production houses or palenques in Oaxaca where the process takes “family business” to a whole other level.

“It’s a slow artisanal, antiquated process … fermentation happens in wooden vats that are hard to maintain and keep clean,” Hernandez said, explaining that production of mescal is still 80 to 100 years behind that of its much more popular cousin, “It’s hard to produce a consistent mescal when making it that way.”

When The Fruteria opened earlier this year, Hernandez made sure to include a roster of mescales to the already impressive bar menu: Diners will find four silver, two reposados and three añejos. As Hernandez puts it, “sipping is the authentic way” to enjoy a mescal–accouterments include orange slices and “sal de gusano” ground, fried larvae mixed with chile and salt. But the fruteria/botanero does feature the spirit in several of its cocktails including El Cenizo. He created it with serious drinkers in mind: Bold and smoky, El Cenizo features pineapple-infused mescal front and center with a boost from a Zapatista tequila infusion, Angostura bitters and smoked sea salt.

“When I make a cocktail, I want to be able to taste the stuff,” he laughed, “it costs a bit more, but I think people appreciate it.”

Is a mescal bar in the cards for Hernandez? The answer was a bit unclear, and as chef continues opening restaurants across the city and in airports across the state, we might have to wait a little longer.

“I actually own several names of mescal bars that I could open,” he said, ticking them off, “but I have so many opportunities with restaurants … we know the demand is there, we know it’s a safer investment.” Still, he hints at trying a mescal-specific bar within one of his upcoming projects.

A little over a mile north of The Fruteria, Houston Eaves is an equal if slightly more impassioned mescal nut. With just over a year at the helm of the Esquire Tavern’s bar program, Eaves’ penchant for charred maguey piña byproduct comes through in his cocktails and his alignments. As a member of the nonprofit Tequila Interchange Project (tequilainterchangeproject.org), he and dozens of tequila academics, bartenders, consultants, educators and enthusiasts promote the “preservation of sustainable, traditional and quality practices in the tequila industry,” according to the organization’s mission. In other words, they’re trying to keep the process of tequila- and mescal-making sacred.

Drink 2013
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