Rant or Rave?

In Eat, October 2022 by Melissa HowsamLeave a Comment

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Mezcal—worth all the rage?

Kenny Chesney said you and tequila make me crazy—run like poison in my blood. But swap in mezcal for me (hear me out). ICYMI mezcal is (not so) quietly becoming the top-selling spirit in the U.S.—as imbibers will spend more $ on the agave spirit (and its sister tequila) than whiskey this year, and, by 2023, the agave category is expected to surpass vodka as best-seller at a cool $13.3 billion. 

So you’re expecting a rave? Think again. But, let me preface this by saying ranting about mezcal as an unconvinced fan is about as intimidating as writing about Kratom or Roe v. Wade. People are passionate about their potions—and this one is arguably divisive. Not because it isn’t good or doesn’t deserve all the hoopla. Bacon and pumpkin irrefutably have more than enough flavor to back the fandom. 

The mania is not the problem—it’s the ubiquity of a market trying to feed the frenzy… often to the point that it can jump the shark (hey, pumpkin everything!). It’s everywhere and it’s not always in the right hands—read: misuse, low quality options, etc. Look, I’ve loved pumpkin since I was a little girl whose grandma made a famous pumpkin chiffon, and I’ve likewise hated bacon the same length of time (don’t @ me). The only benefit to the popularity of either was now I didn’t have to wait for Thanksgiving chiffon to get my pumpkin fix.

Mezcal is the new pumpkin. Socials are full of “reel” obsessions; the smoky spirit is making rounds (had to) on the national media circuit; and lovers are likely over the moon at the spirit’s now omnipresence on menus—from dives to high-end cocktail bars (and here I can’t get a vodka drink on a menu to save myself—but I digress). Honestly, I blame George Clooney for the cult status (his Casamigos brand was one of the top performing from 2016–21)… but with a face like that as your poster child you can hardly blame a soul. 

As much as I want to love the trendy tipple, lately, there’s a (perceived) snobbery to it. A few years ago, as it emerged, a bartender would kindly sub the smoky spirit for tequila. Now, the request is met with a hard no. It’ll ruin the drink, they’ll tell you. While infuriating at first, that attitude was my aha moment. Maybe they’re right. As a former bartender, I have to admit craft cocktails devised with purpose are intended that way. And it’s only at top-notch bars where cocktailiers are doubling down on their mezcal mixology. They implement the mezcal purposefully—not as some thoughtless add to a random cocktail because trends. It has a time and place—like in mezcal maven Lily Ballance’s Willco or brand-new mezcaleria (see p. 48) or at Gallo—or in Oaxaca, Mexico, for that matter. And I believe it has a true audience with a primed palate—and I plan to learn to love it. Or at least appreciate it (s/o to Lily for the education). 

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