You know by now that tequila is cool again, as evidenced by the multitude of premium bottles designed to go down easy. And with warm weather on the way, it’s high time to expand your cocktailian mind with the lesser-known agave spirits from Mexico. While smoky mezcal—made in Oaxaca from the espadin agave—has been trending recently, it’s being matched in popularity by single-varietal versions from other regions. Though technically a mezcal because it comes from the agave plant, tangy and intense raicilla is distilled in the Mexican state of Jalisco and thus falls outside the mezcal denomination of origin. Bacanora hails from Sonora; it tends to be less smoky and tastes quite vegetal, almost like juniper and basil. Sotol is created in a similar manner as mezcal (generally speaking, agaves are roasted and smoked in an in-ground pit before their juices are distilled) but comes from a member of the evergreen family that looks like an agave. The result is a clean, crisp, vegetal spirit that’s awesome for making cocktails. And there’s some poetry in these drinks: Once, in Guadalajara, a man told me that tequila makes drinkers shine—the agave, having soaked up all that heat and sun for many years, just has to come out when we drink it, he explained. So drink up and bring on summer from the inside out.
Alternative agave drinks to order at the bar (or add to yours):
EL JOLGORIO MEZCAL
This brand produces nine distinct bottlings, each from a different variety of agave and by a different distiller. At about $100 a bottle, it should be savored as a sipper—or mixed with extreme precision.
SOTOL POR SIEMPRE
Chihuahua-based Por Siempre uses alembic pot stills to preserve the smokiness the fruit picks up as it’s being roasted. In this case the fruit isn’t agave but the desert spoon plant—a.k.a. sotol.
DEL MAGUEY ESPADIN ESPECIAL
This very limited bottling is one of the benchmark mezcals on the market. It’s extremely complex, with floral, citrusy, salty and butterscotch notes—a mezcal to be sipped, for sure.
Think of this celery-flavored cocktail as a fresh and savory (and slightly spicy) alternative to an old fashioned.
• 1½ oz. Sotol Por Siempre
• ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
• ½ oz. simple syrup
• ¼ oz. Velvet Falernum
• 2 dashes Bittermens Hellfire Habanero Shrub
Muddle two or three one-inch celery pieces in cocktail shaker. Add liquids. Shake and strain into rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with thinly sliced celery stalk.