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Culture: The Drink of the Summer Might Just Be a Mezcal Cocktail

Culture: The Drink of the Summer Might Just Be a Mezcal Cocktail

Every year around this time, when the temperature heats up, speculation around what might be “the drink of the summer” resumes. While it’s really anyone’s guess, there are certain factors that help to fuel predictions. Individual spirits’ popularity rises and fades all the time—after all, vodka was king for decades until American whiskey regained the popularity it once had in the early 2000s. More recently, U.S. sales of tequila have outpaced those for American whiskey, making it the second most valuable spirit in the country behind vodka. How, then, will these trends impact what lands in your glass this season?

This summer’s “it” cocktail will likely be spiked with the agave-based spirit mezcal, predicts industry insiders.​​ Although mezcal is nowhere near as popular as its cousin tequila, it’s gaining traction. This is particularly true amongst members of the craft cocktail set, who have been stacking summer drink menus with mezcal-based offerings.

The uno mas cocktail at Fandi Mata. Image Courtesy of Andrea Grujic.

“An agave plant takes at least seven years to fully mature while absorbing the sun throughout, which makes this magical spirit even more palatable and pleasant to consume,” says Milos Zica, beverage director and partner at Fandi Mata in Brooklyn, New York. On Zica’s menu this summer is the Uno Mas cocktail, which combines mezcal with Nixta corn liqueur, grapefruit and soda water. “I love the idea of an endless summer on this side of the pandemic, and I feel mezcal gives you that energizing feeling that we all crave through those endless summer vibes.”

Irene Miller, beverage director at Vestry in New York City, says she’s drawn to mezcal-based cocktails for their complex flavors and easily distinguishable smoky characteristics. Mezcal-based espresso martinis and old fashioneds, she says, are common drink requests at Vestry right now. So is the Smoke and Fire—a blend of mezcal, tequila, Ancho Reyes and egg white—and a current seasonal offering, a smoky, tropical take on the margarita that marries mezcal with mango, habanero syrup and a chili salt rim.

“Historically speaking, mezcal has been a small-scale, niche product with artisanal roots,” Miller notes. “Though its popularity is making that more difficult as large players enter the field.”

Meanwhile, this summer at Cucina Albina and Alba Accanto in New York City, beverage director Tristan Brunel is offering a Mexican-Italian mashup called the Calabrese. The mezcal-based concoction delivers a spicy kick courtesy of a Calabrian chili rim and habanero tincture. 

“The Calabrese’s bright tropical and citrusy spice notes make it the epitome of summer,” Brunel says. “It’s got all the refreshing notes of a margarita and the tropical notes of a vacation daiquiri. We wanted a little Italian vacation in a glass year round, but it shines brightest in the summer heat.”

These summer-ready mezcal drinks are heavy on the fruit, which one might think could overpower the spirit’s characteristic smokiness and earthiness. However, Marsha Lindsay, principle bartender at SRV in Boston, points out that just because a drink is fruity or floral does not necessarily mean it has to be overly sweet.

“It seems the general public is leaning away from sugary and unbalanced and leaning into more crisp and rational options,” she says. “Flowers and floral-adjacent notes bring an ethereal and clean symphony for the palate. Fruit is always a win in the summer and can be manipulated to offer great diversity in aroma, taste and mouthfeel.”

Tomato is a Fruit Cat Bite Club
The Tomato is a fruit cocktail at the cat bite club. Image Courtesy of Cat Bite Club.

Of course, fruits complementary to mezcal-based drinks go beyond citrus, berry, pineapple and mango. Over at Singapore’s Cat Bite Club, operating partner Gabriel Lowe slings the Tomato is a Fruit cocktail, which is built around cherry tomato-infused mezcal. 

“Mezcal is an ideal mixing spirit due to its versatile characteristics and robust flavors that include fruity, earthy, vegetable, and smoky notes,” he says. “It is great for hot weather cocktails, as it combines well with fresh fruit and herbs, and also holds its own in a highball format cocktail.” For Tomato is a Fruit, Lowe sous vides cherry tomatoes in a mezcal bath, then mixes the resulting infusion with yellow Chartreuse, Campari, Sherry and citrus. “Served on crushed ice for maximum chill, it proves a loyal companion when combatting even the most hellish heatwaves.”

Will mezcal actually define drinking in the summer of 2023? These experts present some pretty convincing arguments. If you come across any of these smoky, fruity, earthy drinks, order one and consider yourself part of the trend.

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