A journey to Oaxaca, Mexico through an exemplary beverage menu
In today’s food and drink scene, each component needs to be on par with the other. Great food but poor beverage selection? Or vice versa? That only leads to disappointment. One-month-young Masas & Agaves — also known as Masas Boulder — establishes equilibrium with food and beverage, both being top tier.
Offering Oaxacan cuisine, prepared as traditionally as possible and using local ingredients whenever available, the Agaves portion of this new and rising hotspot has been curated under the watchful eye of General Manager Manuel Gandara. Desiring to immerse patrons in the culture and cuisine of Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s southernmost states and foremost culinary destination, makes for a bold and unique drink menu.
The Oaxacan culture focuses on farm to table and uses ingredients with no additives or preservatives. In an effort to teach people about good tequila, only organic tequilas line the bar of Masas & Agaves. With a commitment to tradition and high quality, the mixologists squeeze the needed cocktail juices on the spot. You won’t find pre-squeezed citrus sitting around behind the horseshoe-shaped bar that greets you as you arrive.
Fermentations make up one section of the drink menu. These non-alcoholic options exemplify the Oaxacan tradition of using all parts of the ingredients. I tried the tejuino, made with leftover masa from the made-from-scratch tortillas. The piloncillo, a raw form of cane sugar, adds a touch of sweet, and fresh-squeezed lime brightens up the drink. It presents a juxtaposition between bright and earthy, and the use of a large cocktail ice cube keeps the beverage from getting watered down. Manuel tells me every beverage Masas & Agaves serves comes in its own unique and authentic container. This one came in a replica of a dried-out rind of a gourd-like vegetable and required a two-handed drinking approach.
Mezcal originated in Oaxaca and is known as the “beverage of the gods.” I had the great pleasure of sharing in a culturally focused tasting of a very limited edition mezcal, which came on a mini wooden cutting board in a tiny clay pot. The aging of mezcal occurs in clay pots, and the presentation offers an homage to that tradition. A slice of grapefruit and worm chile salt accompanied the tasting. “Mezcal was made for grapefruit,” Manuel explains. “Not lemon, not lime. That’s why a mezcal paloma is so good. It’s science.” I’m certainly not one to argue with that. We smell and then sip the mezcal to open up our palates. We then dip the grapefruit in the salt, take a bite, and experience another sip. Smooth and smoky, you can taste and see the attention to detail in this tasting. These tastings offer yet another way to be transported to Oaxaca and experience the rich culture. The incredibly knowledgeable staff will guide you through whatever type of experience suits your mood.
As I move into the agave cocktail section of the menu, a Clase Ancestral arrives at my table. This comes in what looks like an upside-down vase, with a broad base that then narrows at the top. Pure white and adorned with hues of blues in a very organic design, my eyes move to the top, which seems to be sealed by an orange slice. Curious, I lift it and cool vapor escapes, bringing with it notes of smoke from the two types of agave spirits, as well as orange and grapefruit. I often label drinks as patio sipping drinks, and this one definitely falls into that category. Crisp, bright, and sparkly, I find it refreshing even with the touch of smoke. All I need now is a beach.
The national drink of Mexico comes next, arriving on a cart. It will be made table side for me by an engaging young man from Guadalajara. And no, it’s not a margarita. It’s a cantarito. The margarita originated in Baja, quickly moving north into the United States and gaining a foothold. The cantarito started in the South, working its way north and permeating Mexican culture and cuisine. “Mexicans don’t drink margaritas,” Manuel informs me. While my cantarito expert squeezes the grapefruit, lime, and lemon juice right in front of me, he explains that during the Mexican Revolution of 1910, people were looking for a cheap, easy-to-make drink. Thus was born the cantarito. It can be found everywhere in Mexico and especially in rural areas. He serves it in a large clay pot with a chamoy and tajin rim. Made with Lalo tequila, I can taste why this drink is so beloved. It’s bright, citrusy, and just plain fun. With the rustic earth tones of the restaurant’s interior and contemporary Mexican music playing in the background, I can easily transport myself to Oaxaca.
As my time comes to a close, I notice another cocktail being served to a gentleman at the bar. It comes in a tall, slender glass and has a bubble resting on top. As the servers bring it over, I notice the guest’s face. Grinning ear to ear, he first examines the drink, takes a photo, and then pops the bubble. Smoke bursts from the bubble and cascades down his glass. I’m sure I can hear him mentally squealing in delight. Of course, that might have been me.