"...I have no doubt some serious work went into getting the formula just right because no one flavor dominates, the spice and seasonings all meld together beautifully. I couldn't stop dunking my short ribs into this sauce. I'm convinced it would make just about anything taste good."

– Amy Sherman, Cooking with Amy

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Meeting Mezcal

He leaned across the table and whispered, have you ever tasted mezcal? “He” being the aptly named Cocktail Whisperer, Warren Bobrow.

I had been invited to join John and travel to Portland where he and Andrew Scrivani, were teaching a class at the International Food Bloggers Conference. Warren was also attending and teaching a freestyle mixology class, and that evening found the four of us dining together at OX.

We had walked several blocks from the hotel, so by the time we were seated, we were ready to eat; appetites made a bit more aggressive by the heady smells of smoky grilling meats sizzling in the open, wood-fired kitchen.

After some very satisfying appetizers paired with lively conversation and a full-bodied red Argentine wine, I was presented with a perfectly charred, beautifully marbled, rib-eye steak. It did not disappoint. Mid-way through the meal, Warren leaned in and asked if I’d ever had mezcal, and then seemed rather delighted to hear I had not.

With noticeable excitement, he had merely to turn around and with one step was at the bar and speaking to the barman, and with another, returning with a shot glass and a bottle of Del Maguey’s Chichicapa in hand. Smiling, he gave me a quick crash course on the spirit’s background and its industrious founder, Ron Cooper. Warren reveled in revealing a treasure trove of great stories he’d amassed during his adventurous, drinking-related travels. Needless to say, the mezcal and ensuing conversation were a perfect pairing with the rest of my steak.

As I sipped, I remember gazing past his shoulder to a well-stocked, very inviting bar, filled with the usual array of different colored bottles. And for whatever reason, the image shifted slightly, and it made me think of having just opened a large box of crayons for the first time. Each one a different color, with hues both familiar and new, sharp and ready, just waiting to be plucked and drawn out. A spontaneous observation of something familiar, but never seen through mezcal eyes before. This was a magical elixir.

I’ve since read, mezcal is a spirit made from the fire-roasted heart (piña) of the maguey, an agave plant native to Mexico. By roasting them underground, the Piñas give mezcal its distinctive smoky properties. As my one and only experience with mezcal, all I can say was Ron Cooper’s Del Maguey Chichicapa was spectacular and must be sipped again soon.

My curiosity has been peaked by this, new to me spirit, and I look forward to buying a bottle to try with barbecue. In viewing Ron’s site, I learned of his passion for highlighting specific and single village varieties of mezcal, and that like wine, the terroir imparts its stamp. Same is true for mole, as each region of Mexico is known for its own specialized recipe; the flavors and characteristics reflecting the area where they are produced.

His Chichicapa, produced in the village of Chichicapa, is about two hours south of Oaxaca and the resulting mezcal has elements of smoke enhanced by definitive notes of chocolate on the finish. Which then got me thinking about similar notes of chocolate found in SFQ, and how much fun it would be to pair different mezcals with smoky barbecued meats. Similarities further overlapping in that barbecue also has distinctive regional varieties, so the possibilities are endless.

I’m pulling a quote from Ron’s site, “You don’t find mezcal, mezcal finds you.” And because of that chance meeting, I may find myself seated across from a certain someone, eating a certain smoky piece of meat, and I’ll be the one leaning over and whispering, “have you ever tried mezcal?”

For more of Warren’s writing, check out “Buffalo Trace and Ribs | On Whiskey” in OKRA, the online magazine of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. His post recounts his pairing of SFQ sauced ribs with a smoky bourbon, among other things.

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