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Moving Towards Mezcal | In the Cups


Oaxacan Old Fashioned. Photo courtesy of Richard Sandoval Hospitality

You might have noticed last month that Hazel’s Beverage World got a high profile visit from Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. The Breaking Bad actors were here to call attention to their latest joint effort, but this one wasn’t made in a rundown mobile home in New Mexico or a state of the art lab — it was mezcal, a complex spirit carefully crafted underground in clay pots and then distilled in copper.

Many drinkers aren’t as familiar with tequila’s smokier cousin, but mezcal is a delicious option both for sipping or for cocktails. They may have had a subpar version of it once or twice, myself included, and determined it was not for them. I had cheap mezcal out of plastic cups while making pool shots in a garage on New Year’s Eve. We didn’t love it then but later had better luck with higher quality versions in a bar below a steakhouse in Breckenridge. We enjoyed it in a sour craft beer cocktail along with tacos, and that one sip hooked us.

Similar to tequila, mezcal is also made from the core of the agave plant. But where tequila can only be made from blue agave and produced in five specific regions in Mexico, mezcal has a wider variety of sources — both botanically and geographically. It can be made in nine different Mexican regions.

Mezcal also differs from tequila in the way the agave base is treated. With tequila, the plant is roasted in ovens and distilled in copper pots. In contrast, mezcal is cooked by a mezcalero in an underground pit lined with volcanic rocks, wood, and charcoal and then distilled in clay pots. It has a distinctive smoky flavor which, combined with the differences in the wider variety of plants it uses, makes it a unique flavor for cocktails.

Peter Tognetti, bar manager at Tamayo in Larimer Square, has seen a growing interest in mezcal. He said that while many people find it to be too smoky, he’s enjoyed options that are complex, fruit forward, or ones that have medicinal notes.

He shared his tips for identifying quality mezcal over cheaper versions: “When you’re shopping, look for a bottle that says artisanal or indicates that it’s more traditionally made. Those spirits pick up a barrel flavor when they’re aged, and they’re delicious.” Tognetti also suggested food pairings with the spirit including moles, tamales, and simple food that originated in the same region the mezcal is from.

Local restaurateur Fausto Felix serves mezcal in both his Erie restaurants, The Dugout and Rosa’s Mexican Kitchen just off I-25 across from The Orchard Town Center. Passionate about mezcal, he clarified that it can be made with any kind of agave, not just the specific blue agave that’s required to make tequila. He also has his favorite brands, all of them crafted. “If you want to be more selective for mezcal, look for Espadin, especially 400 Conejos,” Felix said. “It’s aged a little longer than two years. It has to be the purple bottle.”

We then talked to Felix about the well known mezcal worm, which Felix highly encouraged. “It’s traditional and originally from Oaxaca, where you can have anything you want to eat there. It’s filled with old-school style. To have it right, mix the worm with a little salt and a little tajin.You lick it, and you drink it,” he explained.

Drink of the Month: Oaxaca old fashioned courtesy of Peter Tognetti at Tamayo

Oaxaca Old Fashioned

1 1/2 ounces mezcal joven (reposado or añejo mezcal could also be used)
1/2 ounce reposado tequila (I prefer Siete Leguas Reposado)
1/2 ounce agave syrup
3 dashes of mole bitters

Stir all ingredients together, serve over a large ice cube, then garnish with an orange twist.


Deborah Cameron
Deb brings a passion for community journalism and for the local food scene. She started out as an intern and over the years grew into our current Cuisine Editor. She has appeared in multiple publications including the Longmont Leader, The Left Hand Valley Courier, Ms. Mayhem, Finance101, and Ask.com. When not writing she's eating, road tripping, dog-parking, or watching high school softball. She moved to Colorado from Seattle in the early 2000s after spending a year traveling the U.S. in a teal Ford Escort hatchback. She lives with her husband, two teenagers, and a rescue dog named Charlie.

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