“The simple reason why Mezcal tastes so good at Halloween is simple. It is a spirit that releases the ghosts of the past in every sip”
Candy plays a huge role in the art of Halloween. Trick or Treat is the words of the night.
Usually by the end of October, the weather will be frosty at best for the evening. With the chill of the evening dragging us into a foray of fear, we seek cocktails that banish the dark and bring us into thirst.
Mezcal is an expressive liquor for the season that I favor most of all. Fall. Mezcal weaves smoke, agave sweetness and fire in a tornado of deep aromatics. If you like Tequila and you crave Scotch Whisky, then drinking Mezcal is not too far of a leap into cocktail infamy.
One of my favorite Mezcal varieties is produced by a company known simply as “Ilegal.” Ilegal is from Mexico, more specifically Oaxaca. It is here in the rough terrain that the Agave flourishes with very little intervention by the farmer. After harvesting the cactus that needs seven to nine years of growth, the jagged leaves must be cut by hand exposing the heart. A pit is dug in the earth and lined with wood. The wood is set on fire and river stones are placed over the burning wood. The heart of the cactus is covered with leaves, rock, earth and fire. It takes at least 72 hours to cook the heart of the Agave until it is soft enough to be crushed. This crush is done in a style reminiscent of crushing olives for their oil. This process is nearly completely manually with the crush done using equine animals. The liquid is distilled twice- with the second distillation becoming the spirit that we call Mezcal.
The flavors in Ilegal Mezcal range from sweet to smoke with white flower notes and wet stones rounding out the lingering aromatics and haunting flavors of the past. The burn is minimal at first, but it takes over the mouth-feel and the haunting scents of earth and char are suddenly in your face. You cannot drink Mezcal without feeling a tinge of mysticism, just like the season of Halloween is a most mystical of all our holidays.
I like to take Mezcal in a traditional, small ceramic cup. This is the classic method for imbibing the fire driven spirit. If I want to make a simple cocktail, I follow the lead of the Ti Punch, more commonly known as a method for drinking the sugar cane spirit known as Rhum Agricole. I crush slivers of lime and in a tip of my hat to the mint julep, add a bit of freshly cut spearmint to the mix. I then weave a cocktail with some large cubes of ice and a bit of cane sugar simple syrup. Sweet smoky kisses of sweet to bitter to aromatic are all at once present.
Mezcal is unforgettable no matter when you drink it.
Ilegal Mezcal is slowly gaining traction in the marketplace. Seek some out. Muddle some lime, sugar and mint to a short rocks glass. I like to then twist this drink up a bit by adding a bit of rum. In this case I find the aromatics of Brugal Extra Dry Rum to work perfectly. Brugal makes this brand new to the market, crystal clear rum to accompany many different kinds of cocktail experimentations. There is something about Mezcal that the Extra Dry Rum takes to without any effort. Perhaps this is the haunting nature of the crushed sugar cane spirit along with the smoky elegance of the Agave? Sure!
You should quickly drink the results. If you don’t see ghosts right away, then have some more until you do!
Warren Bobrow is a mixologist, chef, and writer known as the Cocktail Whisperer. Bobrow is a freelance mixologist specializing in Craft Spirits. He has developed bar programs and implemented their cocktail and ice programs. Warren served as master mixologist for several brands of liquor, including the Busted Barrel rum produced by New Jersey’s first licensed distillery since Prohibition. Warren is the author of several books including Apothecary Cocktails: Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today, Whiskey Cocktails: Rediscovered Classics and Contemporary Craft Drinks, Bitters and Shrub Syrup Cocktails: Restorative Vintage Cocktails, Mocktails & Elixirs, Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails & Tonics: The Art of Spirited Drinks & Buzz-Worthy Libations and The Craft Cocktail Compendium: Contemporary Interpretations and Inspired Twists on Time-Honored Classics