If you're a regular visitor to St. Louis' trendier bars and restaurants, you've likely noticed more mezcal on the cocktail menus of late. The classic Mexican spirit is quickly becoming a go-to ingredient for bartenders thanks to its unique, earthy flavor and artisanal heritage.
And while you may associate mezcal with tequila, they have distinct differences – all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Tequila must be made from blue agave, in one of only five regions in Mexico. Mezcal can be made from more than thirty varieties of agave, including blue agave, in nine regions of Mexico.
Mezcal has been around for centuries and is still crafted with traditional production methods (at least premium mezcals are — these are the bottles without the worm, a tourist gimmick). Whereas the harvested agave hearts, called pinas, used in the production of tequila are cooked in large industrial ovens, mezcal pinas are cooked underground in large, underground pits lined with volcanic rock. The pinas are piled in, covered with dirt and cooked over several days. (That produces its unmistakable smoky flavor.) The pinas are then crushed on a stone wheel pulled by a donkey. Both tequila and mezcal are aged in oak barrels, though the duration varies.
6679 Delmar Boulevard, University City
A nod to Prince, "Smoke on Lake Minnetonka" was created by bar manager Nick Digiovanni as a refreshing summer cocktail with depth. Smoky Alipus Santa Ana Del Rio mezcal pairs well with the full-bodied Muroise, a loganberry liquor. Fresh lime provides a bright acidity, apple brandy Calvados a subtle sweetness, Velvet Falernum a mellow tropical spice, and absinthe balances it all with a pop of anise.
6 North Sarah Street, Central West End
The "Oaxaca Flocka Flame" is a tribute to Oaxaca, the region in Mexico where most agave used in mezcal is grown. It's also, of course, a play on the name of hip-hop's Waka Flocka Flame. Combining Vida mezcal, blanco tequila, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, dry curaçao, passion fruit, lime juice and mole bitters, the cocktail is a refreshing balance of sweetness and spice with a tart finish.
6665 Delmar Boulevard, University City
"Pen Fifteen," from head bartender Jeffrey Moll, resulted from a guest request for a smoky, herbaceous cocktail. Nuestra Soledad mezcal is combined with the Italian herbal liqueur Amaro Lucano, yellow chartreuse, muddled sage, fresh lime and a mango and habanero shrub. Spice and tang provide intrigue, while the chartreuse stands up to the savory Lucano Amaro.
Mission Taco Joint
Multiple locations, including 6235 Delmar Boulevard, the Loop
Summer cocktails are always in season at Mission Taco Joint. The "Oaxacan Firing Squad" was inspired by the traditional cocktail "the Mexican Firing Squad" — only El Buho mezcal replaces tequila. House-made grenadine is made with black peppercorn, lemon peel, vanilla bean and pomegranate juice — hefty flavor that stands up well to mezcal. Angostura bitters add depth.
1621 Tower Grove Avenue, Botanical Heights
The "Catorce" is a boozy, stirred cocktail that showcases both mezcal and Fernet Vallet, an apertif made in Mexico featuring intensely bitter and woody tones. Cocchi Torino vermouth sets this drink in the approachable realm of a Manhattan, while Ancho Reyes liqueur adds a sweetness to balance the bitterness. It also provides a pleasant lingering heat that pairs well with the smoke of mezcal.
2609 Cherokee Street, Cherokee District
A unique cocktail for an Asian-influenced restaurant, the "Strawberry Mezcal" was created as a special for this year’s Cinco de Mayo festival on Cherokee, but everyone liked it so much, it stuck. It's easy to see why — Del Maguey Vida mezcal mixes well with the bitter apertif Bruto Americano, strawberry syrup and dried lime. This one is a keeper.
1000 Mississippi Avenue, Lafayette Square
"Translation...Lost" was inspired by the Sofia Coppola movie Lost in Translation. Japanese whiskey is a nod to the movie’s setting and in keeping with the theme of the movie, Alipus San Andres mezcal represents an opposite culture. The other flavors — Big O Ginger Liqueur, apricot liqueur and Burlesque Bitters — enhance both bases, with spice, ginger and fruit present in both.
7734 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton
The "Gotta Have It," created by bartender Phil Ingram, was inspired by the classic cocktail "Blood & Sand." Blended scotch is swapped out for Nuestra Soledad Joven mezcal and fresh lime juice takes the place of orange juice. A ghost pepper tincture from Dirty Girl Farms gives it spice, and Burlesque Bitters add a little sultriness. Cherry Heering lends the drink a deep red hue.
Milagro Modern Mexican
20 Allen Avenue #130, Webster Groves
The "Oaxacan Sunset" was inspired by the renowned sunsets of the Oaxaca coastline in Mexico, where much of the country’s mezcal is produced. The rich orange is mean to transport the drinker to the beach during sunset, with drink in hand. Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal does the heavy lifting, while Plantation pineapple rum, fresh lime and passion fruit juice, and Angostura bitters add appeal.
Blood & Sand
1500 St. Charles Street, Downtown
"This Time Tomorrow" is a versatile drink that shows off the power of mezcal in cocktails, something refreshing and complex with flavors of smoke, cane sugar, dried fruit and tannins. The mezcal is infused with Darjeeling black tea and then paired with Yzaguirre Rojo Vermouth, Velvet Falernum, fresh lemon juice and Dirty Girl Farms' Spring Bitters.