Mezcal

by: Kevin Stanton

What is mezcal? No, not mesclun, that’s a salad. And not mescaline, that’s a different thing all together. Mezcal won’t leave you stumbling through the desert in a hallucinogenic stupor.

Mezcal is an agave-based liquor that’s been made for hundreds of years, primarily in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Does it have a worm in the bottle? Sometimes. But don’t worry, most of the time it doesn’t.

Clinton Terry shaking a cocktail at The Gaslight restaurant

It has become increasingly popular in the craft-cocktail scene. I sat down with Clinton Terry, bar manager and coowner of The Nautilus and The Gaslight, and drank some mezcal out of a traditional clay cup called a copíta. He thinks you should drink it neat.

“I love cocktails,” Terry said. “I’m not a firm believer that you shouldn’t mix things. If you are enjoying it, that’s the most important part. But I’m a spirits neat kind of guy. I don’t need any ice. Usually a beer and a little side glass of something.”

Nantucket Today:

how is mezcal made?

“Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien tambien.” ------ “For everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good as well.”
Clinton Terry:

“to make mezcal, first you take the agave hearts, also known as piñas, and roast them over wood fire in a pit. after you roast the piñas they are crushed and the juice that comes from those crushed piñas is transferred into an open-top fermenter. it is kind of crazy to walk around the palenque (distillery) and see all of the open-top fermenters bubbling away.”

Nantucket Today:

What makes it smoky?

Terry:

“the smoke comes from the amount of char they get when they roast the piñas. i think the Chichicapa is the smokiest. Maybe some of that comes from the size of the piña. take the tobala, for instance. it tastes brighter and greener. tobala is a smaller wild agave that takes 10 years to mature in size.”

Nantucket Today:

it’s traditionally made in oaxaca, Mexico?

Terry:

“Yeah, but it is made all over Mexico. in Mexico mezcal is just like table wine in italy. it’s just what they do. it’s a family affair and everyone has their own part in the production.”

Terry:

“i think so. Mezcal isn’t all smoke, there is a lot of variation. Just like with scotch. it isn’t all lagavulin and laphroaig. it’s not all big and peaty.”

Nantucket Today:

What is the difference between tequila and mezcal?

Terry:

“tequila has to be made from blue Weber agave. but mezcal is made from all different varieties of agave. espadín is the most common type. and they roast the piñas.”

Nantucket Today:

does terroir play a role? if it’s made all over Mexico, does where it’s produced have an effect on the taste?

Terry:

“it isn’t really terroir, but how the individual producers make it. there are a lot of factors like what kind of agave species they use and how long they roast it. some places even distill it in clay pots which gives it a unique taste.”

Nantucket Today:

do you have a favorite mezcal from what we tried today?

Terry:

“My favorite is probably the tobala from del Maguey, because it is so bright and green. i also like the Vida from them as well. it is so smooth and it’s only like $30 a bottle. the tobala is like $100.”

Nantucket Today:

You keep saying the words green and bright when you talk about the tobala. is it a misconception that all mezcal is really smoky?

Nantucket Today:

the oaxacan old Fashioned and the Naked and Famous are some of the better-known mezcal cocktails. do you have a favorite?

Terry:

“My first mezcal cocktail was a oaxacan old Fashioned from Phil Ward at death & Co. i happened to be sitting with ron Cooper, the owner of del Maguey single Village Mezcal. that was pretty special.”

Nantucket Today:

how did you end up on Nantucket?

Terry:

“i moved to Nantucket from Washington, d.C. i used to run a speakeasy called PX, which unfortunately just closed last year. it was owned by two chefs. one of the chefs was irish so there was a fish and chips spot on the first floor. the bar was above the chipper. We had a little blue light we would turn on when we were open. When you came to PX you would ring a doorbell and a hostess dressed as a flapper girl would come down and let you up. it was classic cocktails and there was a dress code and the whole bar was made of beautiful mahogany.” ///

Kevin Stanton is an artist and graduate of MassArt, living and working on Nantucket. A bartender in Boston before he moved back to the island, he writes the “Drink” column for Nantucket Today.






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