From scotch to the no-and-low category, everybody has an opinion on the next drink to ‘do a gin’. In this series, Clinton Cawood looks at the contenders striving to follow in the footsteps of the juniper spirit and hit the big time
If you’d asked a bartender any time in the last decade, they’d probably have told you that tequila and mezcal were already the next big thing. The only problem is that this hasn’t fully crossed over to the other side of the bar yet.
‘It’s seen as a fun spirit, but no one knows anything about it,’ says Sam Plummer of Covent Garden Hotel. ‘There’s potential there. That reputation is both a blessing and a curse.’
The solution lies with education, he says. ‘This needs to be done in a fun, engaging way. You can discuss how far back it goes, how it shows the vibrancy of Mexico, and how proud they are of their agave spirits.’
Once they’re well versed on the category, where to start when introducing the spirits themselves to customers?
‘I think the Paloma is almost like a Mexican G&T,’ says Sam Plummer.
‘I like to go a bit posh and use San Pellegrino’s sparkling grapefruit drink, adding a smidgen of lime and agave syrup. You can use a blanco, but sometimes a nice reposado works with this too.’
Garnish: Grapefruit slice
Method: Build in a highball glass over ice.
50ml tequila or mezcal
10ml lime juice
5ml agave syrup
San Pellegrino Pompelmo
‘Reposado tequila is a nice middle ground, with some caramel notes, and some slight spice from the barrel, but not too much. It can be a nice upgrade in a classic blanco cocktail, and a bit easier to sip for people new to the category,’ says Plummer. ‘When introducing tequila and mezcal to customers, it’s all about the little changes.
You can’t get people to immediately start sipping blanco tequila,’ he says. ‘Instead of lime and salt, you can use a slice of cucumber. And there are engaging serves that play on the history of agave spirits, like using clay copitas.’
On the subject of serves, both tequila and mezcal off er no shortage of opportunities to bring people into the category. ‘You can substitute tequila for gin, as in the tequila & tonic that Patrón and Fever-Tree have done such a good job with. People love a G&T, so why not with tequila?’ Plummer muses. ‘For mezcal, you can play with twists on tequila classics like Margaritas. And food pairing always works nicely, too. Across the category they’re almost designed to go with spicy food, with salsas, for example.’
As drinkers progress further into agave spirits, cost can admittedly begin to become prohibitive, but again Plummer thinks this is about education. ‘It’s about explaining the production methods. As a category it tends to the artisanal side of things which, if you compare it to gin, is where the boom came from. Of course a Tobala mezcal will cost a lot. [The agave it’s made from] is grown for 20 years, so you could compare it to whisky that’s 20 years old.
‘In fact, it’s almost the reverse of whisky. The main part of agave spirit production is the years the fruit spends in the ground, which is unique among spirits. We’re talking between seven and 25 years, which is insane.’