Saturday, 21.10.2017

Time to Pack Your Dopp Kit

With greater complexity and a spicy, quirky profile, mezcal, tequila’s ‘ugly sister’, is making waves in Asia’s top cocktail hotspots. Here’s what you need to know to get onboard this summer.

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First it was tequila’s turn. The tipple that turns up noses and finishes nights has enjoyed a renaissance, going from sleazy shots to sipping spirit. And now likely lads looking for their next libation are reaching for tequila’s ‘ugly sister’, mezcal, a blue-collar sibling that packs a spicy punch that lends itself to a raft of traditional tequila cocktails.

So, what is mezcal? Made only in Mexico, mezcal is a distilled spirit produced by roasting the heart of a Mexican agave plant, most commonly espadín agave, in a pit oven, grinding the plant’s fleshy center and extracting the juice, which is then fermented and distilled. It is this roasting process that contributes to the distinctive smoky, spicy notes of mezcal. So you know your stuff when you pull up your next bar stool, tequila is a similar spirit that’s only made in the Mexican state of Jalisco, and only from the blue weber agave, which produces a fruitier, more herbal flavour profile.

Mexcal’s move into the limelight has been slow and steady in Asia. Japan welcomed Asia’s largest mezcal bar, La Mezcaleria Jicara Bar and Grill, two years ago; the Mexican house of mixology offers more than 200 varieties of Mezcal from producers across Mexico. Hong Kong embraced this gritty spirit with the recently opening of On Lan Street’s Mezcalito, which serves more than 60 types of mezcal and tequila, both for sipping and in a list of innovative cocktails.

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“We're seeing more and more people in Asia showing an interest and wanting to sample this spirit,” says Leo Gutkowski, an F&B stalwart, self-confessed tequilaphile, and one of three founders of Mezcalito. “People are naturally curious creatures and when something comes along that they don't know much about they are inquisitive and want to know more. This is certainly the case at Mezcalito.” Gutkowski feels his new concept is just the tip of the spear. “Mezcal is huge in some parts of North America, in Europe and even in Japan. I think over the next 3-4 years mezcal will really blow up in Hong Kong too.”

With different flavour profiles, mexcal and tequila are also served differently at Mezcalito. While both spirits are often drunk neat in Mexico, tequila is most commonly consumed as a shot with lime in many parts of the world, while mezcal is served with a slice of orange sprinkled with rock salt, chili, and sal de gusano, or ‘worm salt’, essentially ground up moth larve that live in and on the agave plants (you’ll also find moth ‘worms’ in cheaper bottles of mezcal). These condiments help to prepare the palate for the smoky characteristics of the spirit.

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For cocktail lovers in Hong Kong, some mezcal-based concoctions available at Mezcalito include the Mint Floyd, a blend of mezcal, pomegranate, fresh lime, fresh mint and agave nectar; Mezcal Paloma, a refreshing mezcal and grapefruit cocktail, usually made with tequila; and the summer cooler, Grilled Pineapple & Mezcal Margarita, which brings the humble margarita to a new level with a mix of grilled pineapple and spicy mezcal.

If you’re looking to add a bottle of mezcal to your home can, there are a few choice drops we recommend. These include Mezcal Rufian; Ilegal Mezcal, which has taken North America by storm; Clase Azul; Bruxo; and El Tinieblo, all of which are available at Mezcalito.


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