By Elizabeth Wallace

Published on December 15, 2018

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Photo By Pippa Drummond

“There’s so much unwritten about mezcal,”says Yana Volfson, beverage director at New York City’s white-hot Cosme and Atla restaurants and self-professed “mezcal whisperer.” And she’s on a mission to get the word out.

Mezcal is a spirit distilled from the agave plant—tequila falls under its umbrella—and it has recently caught fire in cocktail circles and beyond. “Mezcal is so magical,” Volfson muses. “It comes from a farmed plant that takes generations to grow, that’s breathing air and conducting photosynthesis until it’s harvested and distilled.” She could write an epic poem on the subject—and is happy to pour you a taste right now.

When we drink mezcal, she says, “we are imbibing the spirit of a plant that was alive for 30 years! We are celebrating time within nature and within life.” And mezcal is also remarkably versatile. “It can take the place of champagne, of wine, of vermouth,” explains Volfson, “and be paired with foods like cheese, meats, and cured fish.” To learn your way around the different varieties, Volfson recommends sipping some straight—see her recommendations below—or trying these innovative cocktails, which put marvelous mezcal front and center, right where it belongs.

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Mix Things Up

Mezcal lends a modern kick to these classic cocktails.

Each recipe yields one drink.

Negroni

  • 1.25 oz Marca Negra Espadín
  • .75 oz Campari
  • .75 oz Carpano Antica Formula
  • .25 oz Cocchi Americano

Combine all ingredients with ice in a chilled glass and stir to temperature. Strain over one large ice cube and garnish with a blood orange twist.

“Working mezcal into a Negroni adds more earthy, wintry tones: cacao, roasted herbs, hard spice,” notes Volfson. And, yes, you can batch it for parties.

Martina

  • 1 oz Rezpiral “Aureliano Hernandez Martinez” Espadin
  • 1 oz Dolin Blanc
  • 3/4 oz Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla No. 71

Combine all ingredients with ice in a chilled glass and stir to temperature. Strain into a chilled Nick and Nora glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

“I love how sherry and mezcal interact, producing nutty, oxidized flavors,” says Volfson. “The blanco vermouth adds a little sweetness for a beautifully layered experience.”

Oaxaca Coffee

  • 1.5 oz Koch en Olla de Barro
  • .5 oz piloncillo syrup (recipe below)
  • 4 oz strong coffee
  • Fresh whipped cream (add cinnamon or nutmeg for another layer of flavor)

Combine first three ingredients in a clear, thick-walled glass, then top with whipped cream.

Piloncillo Syrup

  • ½ cup grated piloncillo sugar
  • ½ cup water

In a small saucepan over medium low heat, simmer piloncillo and water until the sugar has dissolved. Cool.

“Add fresh doughnuts for a riff on comfort food,” Volfson recommends.

Mezcal Bloody Maria

  • 1.5 oz Yola Mezcal
  • .5 oz lemon juice
  • 3.5 oz Bloody Maria Mix (recipe below)

Combine all ingredients with ice and stir. Garnish with a cucumber slice or peel.

Bloody Maria Mix

  • 1 qt fresh tomato puree (from approximately 4 large tomatoes)
  • 4 oz cucumber water (juice cucumbers without skin)
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 oz sherry vinegar

“The umami notes of the fresh pressed tomatoes bring out the umami and smoke in the mezcal,” Volfson points out.

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Perfect Pairings

A mezcal and cheese tasting is a great way to get to know the spirit. Take this cheat sheet of Volfson’s favorite combos to your local liquor and cheese stores and start sipping.

  1. Comté cheese with Lalocura Tobala
  2. Oaxaca cheese with Mezcalosfera Madrecuixe
  3. Blue cheese with El Jolgorio Tepeztate
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The Buzz on Bars

The mezcal craze is inspiring new gathering places around the globe.

Ticuchi

Scheduled to open this winter in the Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City, this bar—from Gonzalo Gout, another alum of Cosme—takes its name from the indigenous Oaxacan word for “bat.” “Bats pollinate agave and were seen as messengers of the gods,” explains Gout. In addition to a range of mezcals, the cavernous, stone-and-wood establishment will also offer corn-based plates like tlayudas (akin to Mexican pizza) and tamales.

Botanero

Billed as Paris’s “first true mezcaleria,” Botanero opened this fall in the Marais. Owner Davy Ngy, who is also behind the Paris taqueria Distrito Francés, serves what he describes as a mash-up of “bistronomy and junk food” (ceviche, grilled corn, sardine tacos) alongside the city’s most exhaustive mezcal list.

Joann’s Fine Foods

This Austin Tex-Mex eatery opened in October with 40 different mezcals on the menu. The intention, explains assistant beverage director Alex Holder, is to “support a lot of families working hard to produce products.” Each mezcal is served in a handmade copita, a clay vessel created by a Texas artisan, with a side of citrus and sal de gusano.

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of Domino, titled “Salud, Mezcal.” Subscribe to be the first to receive each issue! 

See more cocktail ideas:
The 7 Best Negroni Cocktails in NYC
Three Low-Alcohol Cocktails That Don’t Hold Back on the Flavor 
The Cocktail That Won’t Break Your New Year’s Resolution