Once you are through slurping down mugs of Tom & Jerry bowls and hot buttered rum then please consider a few winter cocktails with a smoky twist, mezcal. The two drinks we feature in Happy Hour this month are nothing alike but leave you with that campfire warmth from palette to pinky toe. One cocktail is a stirred the other is shaken. The common denominator is smoky Mezcal, the Mexican agave-based spirit which is enjoying a renaissance of late.
The McQueen is all about the smoke. If you don’t dig peat, if you don’t dig earthy mezcal, if you don’t dig bold and boozy, then maybe pass on this concoction. New York Barman John McCarthy -- who after cutting his teeth at the famed Allen & Delancy, developed the cocktail programs at the anglophile bars Highland, Mary Queen of Scots, and Whitehall --created the McQueen cocktail. Like all phenomenal cocktails, it has migrated its way across the country, landing in the fair city of Oakland. This is where Umami Mart’s Donna di Tutti Donne, Kayoko, discovered that a McQueen cocktail on a cold East Bay night makes the perfect winter drink.
The McQueen recipe calls for Fidencio Clasico Mezcal (44% ABV), an estate grown 100% agave Joven (un-aged) mezcal harvested after 10 years in Oaxaca, Mexico. This spirit is double distilled and has pronounced earthy taste.
The Glenrothes Select Reserve single malt scotch (40% ABV) is from Speyside, Scotland. This whisky is a blend of various The Glenrothes vintages combined to create an atypical flavor. The Select Reserve yields the dominant smoke field to the mezcal yet brings a great range of malt flavor, just enough spice, orange zest, and vanilla to The McQueen.
An Islay whisky with a solid foundation of peat like an Ardbeg 10 year old (46% ABV) is added as a final misting once the drink is built. This finishing touch gives The McQueen a smoky nose during the first taste.
Dark agave syrup has stronger caramel flavor then its lighter sibling. The original recipe called for half water to half agave nectar. The subtle caramel sweetness helps balance the cocktail and compliments the chocolate bitters. We used generous dashes Aztec chocolate bitters from Fee Brothers. There is a dash of orange bitters in this sea of charred goodness. The hints of citrus are felt at first sip, particularly the grapefruit peel acts like a welcoming beacon and invites you to continue to explore the cocktail.
Adapted by John McCarthy
1 oz Fidencio Clasico Mezcal
1 oz Glenrothes Select Reserve
1/2 oz dark agave syrup
1 dash house orange bitters
1 dash Fee brothers Aztec chocolate bitters
Spritz of Ardbeg 10 year old whisky
Tools: Mixing glass, bar spoon, julep strainer, jigger, swiss peeler, cocktail glass, atomizer
Method: Combine bitters, agave syrup, mezcal, and scotch in the mixing glass, add ice. Stir until well chilled and let settle. Take the cocktail glass and spray the Islay scotch mist. Then strain the drink into the glass. Express the grapefruit peel oils above the drink (optional flame the oils/peel) and drop in the drink.
Erika Ordonez, an up and coming New York bartender at cocktail dens Experimental Cocktail Club (ECC) and Ward III, came up with the Mezcal Sling while working on her recent winter cocktail repertoire. The Mezcal Sling is approachable and refreshing with hearty Italian vermouth and chocolate bitters, which help bring the winter feel to the drink.
VIDA San Luis Rio (or VIDA) (42% ABV) is an organic mezcal from the Del Maguey. Del Maguey’s small village mezcal is a craft cocktail community favorite and the Vida blend is perfect for mixing cocktails and a lot kinder on the wallet. According to Del Maguey, VIDA is “hand crafted, it is twice distilled, very slowly in small wood-fired, riverside copper stills to flavor specifications that underscore its versatility in cocktails.” VIDA is described as fruit forward but I get more spices like cinnamon and also vanilla.
Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (16% ABV) has surpassed Carpano Antica at my home bar. The Cocchi family are the elder statesmen of Italian aperitifs. To prove it, as part of their 120th anniversary in 2011, the family-run company restarted production of their original recipe Vermouth di Torino, first produced back in 1891. Flavors that rise to the top of this complex full flavored liqueur are orange zest, sweet licorice, earthy bitterness, and sweet syrup.
Sling purists might raise the eyebrow of the introduction of bitters to this cocktail but mezcal like VIDA, needs a premium chocolate bitters to balance the mix. Ordonez uses Bittermens XOXO Chocolate Mole bitters.
Lastly, it would not be a sling without a lump of ice and fruit, so add an orange zest as the garnish. No I did not make up the rules, this is Jerry Thomas-era stuff.
The Mezcal Sling
Adapted by Erika Ordonez
1.5 oz Vida Mezcal
1/2 oz Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
6 drops of Bittermans XOXO Chocolate Mole bitters
Tools: Mixing tins, hand juice squeezer, paring knife, jigger, Collins glass, swiss peeler
Method: Combine limejuice, mezcal, vermouth, and bitters in mixing tins. Add ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into Collins glass over ice and top with soda water. Garnish with orange zest.
*Got a cocktail question? Reach Fredo on twitter @loungerati, email me at fredo(at)loungerati(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below!
**Fredo Ceraso is the editor-at-large of the lounge lifestyle blog Loungerati.com. Fredo is a member of the USBG New York chapter and rolls drinks at many Lounge, Swing, Jazz Age, & Burlesque events in New York City.