Mezcal is tequila’s versatile and grown-up cousin. Now the smoky Mexican spirit, made from agave, is gaining popularity with discerning drinkers, appearing increasingly on the menus of Britain’s smartest bars.
Unlike tequila, which must be made with blue agave, mezcal can be distilled from around 40 different agave varieties (or combinations), meaning you get infinitely more subtlety.
“I love mezcal,” enthuses Simone Caporale, bartender at the Langham Hotel’s Artesian bar. “It offers as much variety as fine whisky or wine. If tequila is chicken, mezcal is game.” Mezcal’s complexities should first be appreciated by drinking it neat. In Oaxaca, Mexico, the drink’s heartland, the spirit is often served with sliced oranges and sal de gusano (“worm salt”).
“If you want to fall in love with mezcal, don’t knock it back,” Caporale advises. “First, rub a little into your palms for a few seconds. Once your hands have dried, you’ll smell the aroma of the sweet-smoky agave plant and the scent of the hearty soil.”
After you’ve done that, of course, it’s time to drink it. Esquire presents our five top mezcals, above, accompanied by Caporale’s tasting notes.
Where to drink it?
Located above its parent Covent Garden restaurant/bar La Perla, El Nivel stocks a spectacular range of mezcals. Business development manager Jesse Estes, son of the owner and tequila aficionado Tomas, gives as enthusiastic and comprehensive a mezcal experience as you’ll find in the capital. Combine with some great tapas (seek out the pork belly) and settle in for the night.
El Nivel, 28 Maiden Lane, London WC2F 7JS, elnivel.co.uk