Mezcal is one of those drinks, like absinthe and sherry and baiju, that regularly gets touted as the next big thing. I don’t know about this – outside of a few edgy bars in east London, I’d say most people are still getting their heads around the revival of the G&T.
But if mezcal is going to tip the balance, it will be down to places like Temper, Neil Rankin’s moody new barbecue-and-mezcal joint in Soho. “Mezcal is a spirit but it has a sense of terroir much more like a wine,” says the ebullient half-Mexican curator of Temper’s mezcal list, Emily Derrington. “The agave variety, the altitude, the soil, the vintage, the style it’s made in – all of these things make a difference to the spirit’s flavour.”
The mezcal she pours me is an El Jolgorio 2012 from Oaxaca – it’s leafy, with stone fruit and a hint of tar, nothing like the thuggish smoke bombs that usually pass for mezcal. Further on in the flight come a butterscotch-sweet, oak-aged añejo and a high‑altitude mezcal from the Central Mexican Plateau “that’s like falling off your bike into a herb patch”.
It’s no surprise to learn that Derrington worked in wine before she got into the mezcal business. And she’s not the only oenophile now finding new ways to talk about this artisan agave spirit.
This summer, the Bethnal Green's excellent Sager + Wilde wine bar and restaurant on Bethnal Green’s Paradise Row is hosting a mezcal shack on its terrace, serving more than 30 mezcals handpicked by Michael Sager and his operations manager, Marcis Dzelzainis, on their travels around Mexico.
Among the tasting flights, look out for Derrumbes, a series of small-batch mezcals designed to showcase how varied this spirit can be – I loved Derrumbes Michoacan, a blend of agaves from western Mexico with a scent like cool, wet flowers dipped in ash.
Red-tape permitting, this will also be the first chance to taste a new mezcal sourced by Sager and Dzelzainis themselves, made with the wild agave tobala.
I’ve long considered Dzelzainis one of the best bartenders in London, and his accompanying list of mezcal cocktails is top-notch – ask for the off-menu “martini” made with QuiQuiRiQui mezcal, Chartreuse Elixir and orange bitters.
In the past year, both Diageo and Pernod-Ricard have announced big moves into the mezcal market, prompting fears among the cognoscenti that mezcal’s days as an artisan product are numbered.
“For me, mezcal is comparable to say burgundy or jura wine production – it’s essentially small agricultural producers making product with integrity and terroir,” says Dzelzainis. “And it could be that all these takeovers and consolidation may end up changing that.” All the more reason to get into mezcal now, while everyone else is still figuring out the G&T.