a glass sipper

Roasting hearts of maguey
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Roasting hearts of maguey
James Selby
Paloma Lavanda cocktail

by James Selby

mezcal’s Cinderella story

Mezcal, ancient spirit from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, is relatively new to the United States. Tequila is a type of mezcal, but mezcal isn’t tequila. While both are distilled from the agave plant, they come from different regions. Tequila is commonly made by steaming agave before distilling, whereas mezcal is baked inside earthen, rock-lined pits fired with wood. Roasted agave is then distilled into smoky alcohol.

Tom Street is owner of Street Brothers Beverage Company. “Drinkers are going to mezcal over tequila because they’re getting bored,” he says, leaning on the bar of Eloisa restaurant in Santa Fe where he’s the beverage director. “Fine mezcal should be sipped neat; it loses character over ice. In cocktails, mezcal smoke is an accent. Higher smoke levels stand up to mixers, whereas subtler mezcals won’t.”

When asked how to determine “fine” mezcal, Tom grabs two bottles. “The heritage of the spirit should be on the label. This bottle says ‘Mezcal’ and ‘Made from Agave.’ It doesn’t tell you what kind of agave, or where it’s made,” Tom explains. The second bottle is Nuestra Soledad, San Luis Del Rio ($50). “Here you have the region it’s from, the district and town, the palenques (distillery), the agave type, the name of the mezcalero (master distiller), the year it was made, the bottle number, and how many bottles were made. This family makes five other village designated mezcals, each uniquely expressive.”

In 1995, Del Maguey ($70–$100) was founded by New Mexican and James Beard winner Ron Cooper, who’s largely responsible for introducing single village mezcals into the U.S. Recently, controlling share was sold to conglomerate Pernod Ricard, fueling concerns about sustainability of rarer agave plants. Hopefully higher price tags will govern their exploitation? Made of a wild-harvested subspecies of agave in small batches, El Jolgorio Barril can fetch $160.

“Delicate nose of savory herbs introduces citrus, tart fruit, and peppery palate.” Nope, not a wine, but a description of Agaves de Cortés Joven ($40) from the village of Santiago Matatlán. Terroir, variety of agave, and tradition of distillation are celebrated in quality mezcal, much as they are in wine.

¡Salud y Dixeebe! (dee-shee-bay, Oaxacan for “Cheers!”)

There’s nothing complicated about any of these refreshing chilled mezcal cocktails, perfect for summer get-togethers. You’ll love the blends of sweet fruit and kicky chile flavors, so stock up on limes and your favorite mezcal and let the party begin! Each recipe makes one cocktail.


This herb-forward cocktail is the creation of bartender Nick White of Sydney, Australia.

2 oz Del Maguey Vida
1/2 oz Oscar 697 Bianco
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz agave syrup
Cucumber and rosemary

Place a 1-inch thick slice of cucumber and the leaves of 1 sprig of rosemary into a Boston shaker and muddle. Fill shaker with ice and shake well. Double strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a small sprig of rosemary on top.

Maggie’s Job

Chile liqueur gives this cocktail by Eloisa bartender Andrea Duran a nice kick.

1 1/2 oz Nuestra Soledad San Luis
   Del Rio Mezcal
1 oz Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur
1 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 oz J.M. Shrubb Liqueur d’Orange (or good quality orange liqueur)
Grapefruit peel for garnish

Combine all ingredients with ice in cocktail shaker; vigorously shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with peel of grapefruit.

Smoke and Fire Margarita

3/4 part Montelobos Mezcal
3/4 part Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur
3/4 part Milagro Silver Tequila
1 part fresh lime juice
1/2 part agave nectar

Using a lime wedge, wet the rim of an old fashioned glass, salt it, and set aside. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker.
Add ice, shake, and double strain over fresh ice into the glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.


Thanks to Eloisa bartender Zoe Martin for this refreshing and fragrant cocktail.

1 1/2 ounces Agave de Cortes Joven Mezcal
1 ounce lavender syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
Grapefruit soda (like Q or San Pellegrino)
Grapefruit wheel for garnish

Combine mezcal, syrup, and lime juice with ice in cocktail shaker; shake. Strain into a chilled rocks glass. Add fresh ice, then top with grapefruit soda. Garnish with one quarter of a grapefruit wheel.