New at Reason: The latest threat to mezcal

This week at Reason, I look at the proposed Mexican law that threatens small producers of mezcal:

That legislation is NOM 199, a proposal that would place additional restrictions on some of the least advantaged producers of agave spirits just as just as mezcal is finally beginning to receive the global acclaim it deserves. These distillers are already forced to compete without using the word “mezcal” on their labels; the term is governed by Denomination of Origin (DO) regulations that limit its use to just seven states in Mexico. Producers outside of those regions make spirits historically and informally known as mezcal, but they’re not permitted to call it that on their labels or when exporting. Instead, they must market their products as “destilado de agave,” or agave distillate.

This is a truthful description of their product, though many producers resent being excluded from the mezcal DO and make the case that use of the word has precedent in a much larger area than current law recognizes. But all definitions of spirits by geographic borders involve some arbitrary demarcation, and if this were only a debate about where to draw the line for where the word “mezcal” can be put on a bottle, it would be a less interesting story. NOM 199 goes even further, banning producers not only from calling their product mezcal, but requiring them to abandon use of the word “agave” as well. A new word, “komil,” would be forced upon them. Critics assert that this would further marginalize the producers of these spirits, many of whom are poor and live far from the central Mexican government.

Read it all here.

Share

Señor Brown at Mi Mero Mole

senorbrown

A couple months ago I was contacted by Nick Zukin, local restaurateur and founder of the PortlandFood.org web forum, about a new Mexican place he had in the works. His Mi Mero Mole opened last week selling tacos de guisado, a style of taco less familiar in the US than the grilled meats found at most taquerias. Here’s how he explains it in a Portland Monthly interview:

I was familiar with tacos de guisado—or at least guisados—prior to my trips to Mexico City. Guisados or guisos are Mexican stews and stir-fries. Many large Mexican supermarkets and carnicerias (Mexican butchers and meat markets) will carry some in the United States, and a decent number of taquerias have one or two. One of my favorite places in PDX, Tortilleria y Tienda de Leon out on the edge of Gresham, specializes in them. But it wasn’t until I went to Mexico City that I realized the variety of guisados available or realized how strong a tradition there was for places devoted to them.

Guisados feature more prominently in Mexico City than any other place I’ve been in Mexico. I think it’s because guisados are really home cooking-style dishes. The people in DF, like other very urban cities, probably don’t cook at home as often and so these fondas and puestos serving a variety of home cooking probably sprung up. I rarely have seen a street stand elsewhere, even in large cities like Puebla and Guadalajara, selling tacos de guisados like they do in Mexico City. Some of my favorite stands in DF sell a dozen or more choices. Other than Super Cocina in San Diego, I don’t know of any place in the United States that really offers the type of variety you would see in Mexico City.

One of the things that will set Mi Mero Mole apart, even from really good places like de Leon, will be the variety. I already have several dozen recipes developed and expect to rotate through* 50 to 100 different guisados* in the first year. I’m focusing on dishes that are common in Mexico that you don’t see here enough and interesting dishes that you would really only find in Mexico—and a lot of those dishes are vegetarian and vegan.

This was a new style of taco for me, and having now tried about a dozen of the guisados I am a fan. I’m even ordering some of the vegetarian dishes, which if you know me at all is a pretty solid endorsement.

Mi Mero Mole is all about the tacos, but the place does have a liquor license, which is where I came in. Nick asked me to help select the spirits and create a few cocktails. We were guided by two considerations on this. One was that all of the cocktails would be made with only agave or sugar cane based spirits. The second was that the drinks should all be relatively easy to execute, so that they can be made quickly by multi-tasking staff.

Among the drinks we came up with are the Maldonado Punch, a refreshing mixture of tequila, hibiscus, grapefruit, and other ingredients; El Chingroni, our take on the Negroni with tequila, Aperol, and sweet vermouth; and the Plantain Margarita, which substitutes spiced plantain syrup for the orange liqueur. However my favorite drink on the menu is a last-minute addition we came up with, the Señor Brown:

1 1/2 oz Del Maguey Mezcal Vida
Sidral Mundet sour apple soda

Build in an ice-filled pint glass, stir gently, and serve. Sidral Mundet makes a really tasty sour apple soda that mixes well with the smoky mezcal. The assertiveness of the spirit and the sweetness of the soda balance each other nicely. Plus you have to like a bright green cocktail that actually tastes good.

Mi Mero Mole is at 5026 SE Division in Portland, Ore. It’s open Tuesday-Thursday from 5-9, Friday-Saturday 5-10. Go check it out.

[Photo courtesy of Allison Jones, who writes up a full opening report at Portland Monthly and makes the Señor Brown look ten times better than I could have done with my own camera.]

Share

MxMo Brown, bitter, and stirred

After a brief hiatus, Mixology Monday is back! This month my friend Lindsey Johnson takes charge and orders something brown, bitter, and stirred. From MxMo founder Paul Clarke:

While punches, sours and flips are essential parts of every cocktail fiend’s drinking diet, perhaps no other style of drink is as dear to our booze-loving hearts as those potent mixtures of aged spirits, amari, aromatized wines and liqueurs, sometimes (sometimes? Almost always!) doctored with a dash or four from the bitters shelf.

This seems like a good occasion to post another cocktail from my session with David Shenaut and the producers of Ilegal Mezcal. Here’s the Mexican Train:

2 oz Ilegal reposado mezcal
3/4 oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
1/4 oz green Chartreuse
5 drops mole bitters

Stir, strain, and serve up in a chilled cocktail glass. This is a mezcal-driven variation on a Tipperary, tied together by one of my favorite pairings, Chartreuse and chocolate. The bitters are the housemade mole bitters from Beaker and Flask. Bittermen’s Xocolatl bitters would probably work nicely too, though without any mezcal on hand I can’t try out an exact recipe (hence the lack of photograph this month). Regardless, it’s an interesting drink to try out when a discerning brown, bitter, and stirred order comes across the bar.

Share

A summer mezcal cocktail

Last night I was tending bar with my friend Dave Shenaut and we had the pleasure of mixing drinks for the folks behind Ilegal Mezcal. It’s not every night one is asked to come up with a variety of mezcal cocktails on the spot, but it was a fun challenge. This was one of the crowd-pleasers and an ideal drink for summer:

1.25 oz Ilegal Joven Mezcal
.75 oz honey-lavender syrup*
.75 oz Cocchi Americano
.5 oz lemon

Shake and serve up in a cocktail glass.

*Recipe here.

Share