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Move over tequila, it’s a mezcal sunrise

The complex smoky flavour notes of the spirit make for cocktails with a sunny disposition

A selection of mezcal Margaritas at Mezcalita in Mumbai. (Vinayak Grover)

By Jahnabee Borah

LAST PUBLISHED 24.03.2023  |  09:20 AM IST

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It tasted of smoke, citrus and ice—a salve for the hot afternoon in Mumbai. I was sipping a Mezcalita at the city’s newest restaurant, named after this cocktail. The drink’s base spirit, mezcal, is gradually making space for itself in an industry overcrowded with gins.

A few weeks ago, another restaurant, Seefah, in Mumbai stirred curiosity with a creative twist on a mezcal-based Paloma. The glass is rimmed with black ants and the drink is seasoned with black ant salt. DANDY—The Fio Bar in Delhi offers refreshing mezcal swizzles. The W in Goa has a high-ball style mezcal drink with coconut water. The Mezcalita menu highlights tequila and mezcal and features classics, like Margaritas and Paloma, and in-house innovations, such as La Pomela with mezcal, pomelo soda, sweet lime and grapefruit.

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Vicky Singh, partner at Mezcalita, believes the timing of the launch couldn’t have been better. “The mezcal industry is growing, according to the (Oaxaca, Mexico-based) Mezcal Regulatory Council, and the production of this spirit escalated by 200% in the past decade," he says.

The spirit, extracted from the agave plant, has its origins in Mexico. The rules are strict and only nine states in that country—Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi, Michoacán, Guerrero, Durango, Tamaulipas, Puebla, Zacatecas and Guanajuato—protected by denomination of origin, or DOM, have the licence to produce. It is a boozy spirit with an ABV (alcohol by volume) of about 50%. The heart (piña) of the agave plant is smoked, crushed and the juice is fermented in wooden, copper or clay barrels. It is then distilled to produce mezcal that has an addictive, smoky flavour. Its complex taste notes unfold if you sip it neat and slow in a traditional clay cup, copita; an experience similar to savouring sake in a Japanese choko.

As the temperature—and curiosity for newer spirits—rise, it seems likely that more bars will introduce mezcal cocktails. In India, the main issue is limited supply, with bottles prohibitively priced from 6,000 onwards. Kshitij Goel, beverage director of W Goa, says the only mezcal brand available in Goa is Creyente. In major cities, like Delhi and Mumbai, you can get Los Javis Espadin Jovel and Perro De San Juan.

The spirit pairs well with citrus, making it a perfect antidote for the scorching heat. Goel says lemon, sweet lime, pomelo and grapefruit complement its smoky flavour. His advice is to avoid spices like black pepper and green chilli, which will overpower the drink. To make a basic mezcal cocktail at home, he says, you can take 30ml of mezcal, squeeze a lime and top up with ice-cold water. For a bubbly feel, replace water with Perrier and use lots of ice.

To take the home cocktail experience a notch higher, Singh shares a recipe for Mezcalita.

Ingredients
2 oz. mezcal
1 oz. lime juice
Half oz. agave nectar
Salt for rimming (optional)

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Method
Rim a glass with salt (if desired). Combine the mezcal, lime juice and agave nectar in a shaker filled with ice. Shake until well chilled. Place large ice cubes in a glass and strain the drink into it. Garnish with a lime wedge and drink to better times.