Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mezcal Bars In the Boston Area

"..., the mescal is not a very choice whisky, but the sun shines just as brightly, and the little birds sing just as sweetly after one has been drinking mescal as they ever do after drinking Arizona whisky, and the morrow brings less misery and regret."
--Los Angeles Herald, January 17, 1898

Sure, you probably know the locations of the best Tequila bars in the Boston area, with some of the top bars stocking more than 100 Tequilas. They certainly get lots of publicity. However, do you know where to find the best Mezcal bars in the city? That might be a much tougher question for you to answer so I'll provide some assistance and give you some information on those spots which are most passionate about Mezcal.

You might want to start with an introductory lesson to the wonders of Mezcal so please check out my recent article, Rant: 400 Rabbits Say "Drink More Mezcal." That will provide you some of the basics as well as dispelling some popular myths about Mezcal. For example, Tequila is actually a type of Mezcal. In that respect, every Tequila bar is a Mezcal bar though I'll be using a more limited definition for my list of Mezcal bars in the Boston area.

"William H. Hildebrant of 1373 FuIton Street; enthused by an overindulgence in mezcal, shot up his neighborhood early yesterday morning...Firing with a repeating rifle at blue zebras jumping over pink elephants that he pair through the empurpled haze of a mezcal jag."
--San Francisco Call, September 26, 1906

First, let me begin with stating that there are about 29 different brands of Mezcal, with approximately 100 different bottlings, available in Massachusetts. The available brands include: El Autentico Mezcal AlacranAlipusMezcal Amaras, Banhez Mezcal, Mezcal Clase Azul, Creyente Mezcal, Del Maguey, Delirio, El Buho, El Jolgorio, Fidencio, Ilegal, La Fogata Mezcal, Marca Negra, Los Amantes, Los Naguales, MayalenMezcal Vago (check my recent reviews), Mezcalero, Monte Alban, Montelobos, Peloton de la Muerte, Piedre Almas, Sangre de Vida, Scorpion, Sombra, Tres Papalote, Wild Shot, and Xicaru Mezcal. You'll find bottlings including Joven, Reposado and Anejo, as well as a variety of Mescals produced from different agave types.

These are all the Mezcals which are available to local restaurants, bars and liquor shops. If you don't see one of these brands or a specific bottle at your local liquor store, you likely can order it. And you could suggest that your local restaurant or bar stock a specific brand that you enjoy. 100 different bottles is a small amount but fortunately it is a growing category so more should become available in the near future, especially if more locals start embracing Mezcal.

What constitutes a Mezcal bar? For my purposes, I've chosen to define a Mezcal bar as a place that has about twenty or more Mezcals on their menu, about 20% of the available Mezcals. I think that number is indicative of a true passion for Mezcal, somewhere you can experience a fair share of the diversity of Mezcal. Far too many places only carry a handful of Mezcals, if even that many. Those bars and restaurants which cherish and promote Mezcal deserve recognition for their passion and people need to know where to visit to taste some excellent Mezcals.

Mexico City alone consumes 100,000 pints of pulque a day, besides large quantities of mescal and tequilla. These are very intoxicating spirits, obtained by distillation from the heart and root of the maguey. Although to the ordinary person to drink them is like swallowing a fiery furnace, to the palate of the peon they are as grateful as would be the softest "old Scotch" to a northerner.
--Los Angeles Herald, April 11, 1899

Some of the top bar/restaurants in the Boston area that fit my definition include Tres Gatos in Jamaica PlainThe Painted Burro in Somerville, Lone Star Taco Bar in Allston & CambridgeOle Mexican Grill in Cambridge, and Ameluto Mexican Table in Waltham (which I recently wrote about). Besides carrying 20+ Mescals, these places also create a variety of Mezcal-based cocktails, showcasing this versatile and intriguing spirit.

Tres Gatos deserves special attention as they are the only non-Mexican restaurant on this list. Their cuisine centers more on Spanish tapas, which I believe pairs well with Mezcal. For Mezcal to become more popular, it is important to see it at more non-Mexican restaurants, to show its versatility with a variety of cuisines.

The Ole Mexican Grill also deserves special recognition as they have the largest menu of Mezcals, nearly 50! That is approximately half the available Mezcals in the state. If you're looking for the top Mezcals available in Massachusetts, you'll probably find them here. And if you can't find them here, they might not be worth your effort.

All five of these places are where you can gain an education about Mezcal, where the staff will gladly talk about Mezcal and help you choose what to drink and experience. There is a reason why they carry so many Mezcals on their menus, despite the fact it is still very much a niche spirit. They are passionate about Mezcal, loving its taste and history, its culture and the people behind it. I strongly encourage everyone to experience Mezcal and highly recommend you check out these five spots.

Mescal is a Mexican spirit, strong and pungent, and is made from the milk of the Maguey plant or cactus. He who has not indulged in a tipple of Mescal with a garniture of salt, has missed something the native Californian will tell you, and he is right. Mescal, however, has the same effect upon the average American as ordinary firewater upon an Apache Indian. With a load of it he is liable to run amuck at any moment and vermilionize a whole city.”
--Los Angeles Herald, August 6, 1888

A few of these spots shared some of their insights concerning Mezcal.

Yuri Bredbeck, the General Manager/Beverage Director at Tres Gatos, answered these questions:

What makes you passionate about Mezcal? 
"To start, Mezcal has such an amazing spectrum of flavors & subtleties, & I haven't found another spirit that stands up to it. Beyond just the taste, the small production, attention to craft that has been honed through generations, & the incredible amount of time & energy that goes into each & every bottle keep me going back for more."

What are your most popular Mezcals? What are your most popular Mezcal cocktails?
"The Del Maguey line up (Green Wall!) are a huge hit with guests, whether they're familiar with the spirit or just feeling adventurous. After the first glass, I usually encourage guests to branch out & try one of the Fidencio mezcals as well. Both line ups are delicious! Currently, the cocktail that everyone has to have is our Down in Mexico. It's a riff on a last word, swapping Del Maguey VIDA for gin, & yellow for green Chartreuse."

What is your greatest challenge in selling Mezcal?
"Selling mezcal is similar to selling any niche or new alcohol. When people aren't familiar with it, they make assumptions based on passing associations. We spend a lot of time talking to our guests about why we're excited about mezcal & why they should be too!"

What do you tell customers are the main differences between Mezcal and Tequila?
"Tequila is delicious, & both spirits come from the same plant, but mezcal has a built in advantage because it can be made from any variety of agave. I find tequila to be much more green & vegetal generally, while even unsmoked mezcal leans in the direction of sweet, savory, & succulent."

Why should consumers drink more Mezcal?
"Because it's delicious!"

"Mescal distilleries are very simple and more secret than any moonshiner's still. Maguey has been immemorially cultivated in Old Mexico, but is not raised north of the line. In Arizona for twenty-five years past mescal has averaged $2.50 per gallon new with $1 added for each year of maturity."
--San Francisco Call, May 18, 1891

Zack, the Head Bartender at  Ole Mexican Grill, answered as follows:

What makes you passionate about Mezcal? 
"Mezcal is not just a spirit, it is a unique tradition. Like our kitchen, we choose to produce authentic flavors, we choose to pour Mezcal that represents the culture and the people of Oaxaca."

What are your most popular Mezcals? What are your most popular Mezcal cocktails?
"-Single Village Expressions from Del Maguey
-Mezcal-Rita (Margarita with Mezcal instead of Tequila)"

What is your greatest challenge in selling Mezcal?
"Getting people past the smokiness of Mezcal to taste the deeper flavors."

What do you tell customers are the main differences between Mezcal and Tequila?
"I like to reference Mezcal as Tequila’s more rustic and rambunctious sister spirit."

Why should consumers drink more Mezcal?
"There is more history associated with producing Mezcal compared to bigger branded spirits. It is a drink with a story behind it."

The value of mescal produced in 1889 was $4,041,965 and is at the present time in the neighborhood of $10,000,000 per annum. The reason of this enormous increase is the steadily growing demand for the raw fiber owing to its well established merit and great variety of uses. As to the mescal, the bulk of it is consumed in Mexico, but there is great market awaiting it in this country. Its medicinal virtues are fully recognized by the Mexicans.
--Los Angeles Herald, March 8, 1895

Alec Riveros, the Director of Operations at The Painted Burroanswered the following:

What makes you passionate about Mezcal? 
"Mezcal is a magical spirit that will never be able to be mass produced. Every batch made by a mezcalero is slightly different with varying level of smokiness. People talk about terroir in wine, oysters and produce. The same can be said about Single Village Mezcals. Tasting Mezcal is about discovery and experimentation which keeps me coming back to try something new."

What are your most popular Mezcals? What are your most popular Mezcal cocktails?
"Del Maguey certainly is the most popular, but we also love recommeding the Mezcals from Mezcal Vago. Such a great story behind the people that make it and make it possible for us to enjoy it in the US. In terms of cocktails, we offer several Mezcal cocktails on a nightly basis that it is hard to say which is the most popular. A variation of a Mezcal Mule is very popular."

What is your greatest challenge in selling Mezcal?
"The greatest challenge is trying to convince someone that their is no such thing as a worm in the bottle! We get our share of sad faces but once we tell the story, guests are open to experiment and taste something new."

What do you tell customers are the main differences between Mezcal and Tequila?
"It is an artisanal product that can not be mass produced. Of course the element of smoke is also explained to our guests trying Mezcal for the first time."

Why should consumers drink more Mezcal?
"Like the old saying goes: 'Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, también.' ('For every ill, Mezcal, and for every good as well.)."

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