“She is smoky, sexy and complex. She comes from the earth, from Mayahuel, and was perhaps here before colonial times. She has lived through famine, drought, wars and banishment. She has been illegal and looked down upon, but still, she held her head high. Her name? Mezcal.”
She is called mezcal. He is called Dr. Mezcal. And he has a cure for virtually any type of thirst that might ail you.
His real name is John McEvoy and he’s the guy on the left. He has written a love story to mezcal. It’s called Holy Smoke! It’s Mezcal!: A Complete Guide from Agave to Zapotec. It’s now in its second edition. And, if you’re a liker of liquor as I am, particularly if you live part-time or full-time in Mexico, it’s essential reading.
“The character of the agave, the fields, the terroir, the wood, the earth, the water, the unique method of production handed down from father to son, from generation to generation, it’s all there—in every drop. And it’s brilliant.”
That quotation from Holy Smoke! describes mezcal but it could also describe the book itself. Until I first read Holy Smoke! a few months ago, I wasn’t even aware of all the intricacies that the different varieties of agave can bring to mezcal. It delivered an enormous amount of new respect from me to mezcal. It has almost (but not quite) switched me from being an after-dinner brandy or port sipper to an after-dinner mezcal drinker.
Most people who write about alcohol seldom tell it like it is. Virtually every wine-writer rates virtually every wine between 85 and 100 points. A minimum 8.5 out of 10? In my single days, I dreamed of dating an eight.
John McEvoy’s writing delivers the straight goods. The good doctor ignores the out of 100 scale. And, when he thinks it ain’t good, he says it ain’t good. One of his terms is “only-margarita-worthy” (it includes the tequila Patron) and in a recent email to me describing some of the mezcals available in San Miguel, John used the words “burnt rubber”, “industrial”, “ugh”, “stinks”, and “undrinkable”.
But John also told me about some of Mexico’s best mezcals. All of them are sold by La Europea, San Miguel de Allende’s liquor store. As John has recently been to San Miguel de Allende, he did warn me La Europea also has some “real crap” mezcals as well, so be careful. In case you’re planning to sample all five of his picks below in one night (I’m available that evening), don’t expect to see them all on the shelves at any one time. The prices I’ve used are La Europea’s. And, thanks to John McEvoy for recommending at least one that should fit into almost anyone’s budget.
Los Amantes Joven at $609.
Dr. Mezcal has personally been to Los Amantes palenque (what mezcal distilleries are called) in Oaxaca. John told me, “This is very good mezcal. Triple distilled so a bit soft but can be sipped or works great in a cocktail.”
Los Amantes is featured in the book Holy Smoke! The fact that the owner of the brand is also behind Casa Mezcal, a restaurant and bar in John McEvoy’s New York City home, may have had some influence. The book tells you that the distillery offers both young and aged versions with their joven, reposado, anejo plus silvestres (made from wild agave). John calls Casa Mezcal “a shrine to all things mezcal”.
Montelobos Espadin at $494
This Montelobos is made from espadin, the agave varietal that is used for at least 80% of all mezcals. They also have a tobala and a few other special bottlings. The espadin is a very well-balanced mezcal – not too smoky or too sweet. It’s now on my personal shopping list.
Alipus San Andrés at $618.
This is the only one of John’s five recommended mezcals that I’ve tried (and, yes, the dayglo labelling was definitely an influence).
“Alipus comes from the prolific Los Danzantes distillery”, said John, “offering four distinct espadin jovens (young mezcals from the same agave varietal) from different producers: San Andrés, San Juan del Rio, San Baltazar Guelavila and Santa Ana del Rio. They’re overall pretty good with San Andrés my favorite.”
Siete Misterios Barrill at $1,099
“Excellent mezcal” says John McEvoy and the doctor uses the word excellent very sparingly. Siete Misterios costs more than most, as does John’s next recommendation but, as he reminded me, “The one thing to remember is that when you buy a bottle of wine, it is gone in a night. But a bottle of mezcal can last months or years so that higher price may just be worth it!“
Pierde Almas Tobaziche at $1,470.
“Pierde Almas makes mezcals with a number of agave varietals including espadin, dobadaan, tobaziche, tobala, and tequilana weber”, John told me. They also make a gin-like mezcal infused with juniper and other botanicals. “It’s clearly a very creative brand bringing a host of unique offerings. They are all excellent, although I favor the tobaziche.”
I have one more recommendation from John McEvoy. This one is for a mixed drink. There are 40 different cocktail recipes in Holy Smoke!
“Yes, if I want maximum, full-on mezcal, I drink it neat”, says John in the book. “But that’s not always the case…certainly cocktails are an excellent introduction to mezcal’s smoky allure.”
The recipe Is for a drink that we almost always associate with tequila – the margarita. I think substituting mezcal adds a subtle but very pleasant difference (and I like the fact that John McEvoy doesn’t say you need a thousand-peso-plus mezcal to make a good one). John tells me this is also a “gateway drug” to a lifetime of mezcal drinking. Once you get used to a smoky margarita, you will say a permanent goodbye to a tequila-based one!
The Simple Mezcal Margarita
2.0 oz. mezcal joven
1.0 oz. agave nectar
1.5 oz. fresh lime juice
Splash of triple sec (or Controy)
Salt on the rim
Put all the ingredients into a shaker and serve on the rocks with salt on the rim. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Todo el mundo debería creer en algo. Yo creo que debemos tomar otra copa.
The original edition of “Holy Smoke! It’s Mezcal!” is available for the very reasonable $129 MX in Kindle format at amazon.com.mx. The revised second edition in color, black and white or Kindle format is available from amazon.com and amazon.ca.
La Europea is located at Canal 13 in San Miguel de Allende. You will have a better chance at finding all of John McEvoy’s recommended mezcals at their larger shop in Queretaro.
San Mezcal, at Recreo 88 in San Miguel de Allende, stocks mezcal from Los Amantes, Alipus and Montelobos but may not have the specific bottles that John has recommended.