Tequila and mezcal may be all the rage today, but a new wave of esoteric spirits from Mexico are hitting bars and restaurants throughout the U.S. These include pox, comiteco, Durango mezcals and newer, small-batch sotols.
Contemporary Mexican restaurant Quiote in Chicago and its subterranean mezcaleria, Todos Santos, boast one of the most comprehensive mezcal bottle lists in the country. Beverage director/partner Jay Schroeder has dedicated years to studying agave spirits, along with other native products of Mexico—how they are used, as well as the cultural, political and socioeconomic significance of these imports.
Schroeder, the former beverage director for Rick Bayless’ hospitality group and former partner at Chicago’s acclaimed Mezcaleria Las Flores, offers his top-five picks for the big spirit trends coming out of Mexico for 2019.
DURANGO MEZCALS. The vast majority of mezcals we see in the U.S. come from the Southern state of Oaxaca, but many states have their own unique traditions, using endemic agave types and their own sets of production techniques. During the next year and a half, we’ll be seeing a large influx of mezcals from the northern state of Durango.
Mezcals from this region range from dusty and dry to chewy, lush, and round. They represent an exciting extension of the dynamic range of mezcal available stateside and provide a window into a different mezcal world.
A handful of quality Durango mezcal products have already come stateside, with several more producers working on bringing their mezcals to the U.S. While generally affordable compared to the soaring prices of Oaxacan mezcals, most of these bottles are just a touch too expensive to sub in your favorite Margarita.
POX. Agave isn’t the only game in town in Mexico. Pox (pronounced poe-sh) is traditionally made from fermented corn, sometimes with the addition of cane sugar or wheat. Descending from Mayan agricultural traditions, pox has more in common with white whiskey than anything made from our favorite desert succulent. It’s often simple and bright, and has great potential for use in cocktails or for enjoying on its own.
You can expect to see pox in dedicated mezcal bars and quirky cocktail haunts. Pox’s unique flavor profile would make for great cocktails, but pricing may prevent all but the most high-end establishments from concocting fermented corn-based beverages any time soon.
SOTOL. Quality sotol has been available in the states for a number of years. Products such as Ochocientos, Don Cuco and Sotol por Siempre have given us an entry-level window into the spirits of the north, but a new crop of sotoles stands to diversify the category stateside.
For example, Clande Sotol works with individual producers from all over the huge and geographically diverse state of Chihuahua. The company purchases directly from producers, who only create sotol for the local markets in their respective towns. These incredibly small batches allow a glimpse at the sotoles revered deep in the mountains and in the dusty desert towns where this rustic spirit finds its roots.
Look for sotols to pop up everywhere from cocktails to tasting flights. The newfound availability of high-quality, single-producer sotols has elevated the category.
PULQUE. Pulque, an original Mesoamerican alcoholic beverage, is the toughest agave tradition when it comes to export. As production only yields small amounts and freshness is key, it’s tough to get outside of Mexico.
The easiest way to transport pulque with minimal loss in quality is to freeze it, though the U.S. government frowns on anything fermented and not pasteurized crossing the border. Pulque in the States remains elusive, though adventurous bar folks may obtain some through less-than-legit channels.
COMITECO. The tradition of comiteco is unique among Mexico’s agave spirits in that it is created without ever cooking the agaves from which it’s made. Comiteco starts out life as pulque, and as such offers a flavor palate entirely different than that of mezcal. Gone are the familiar sweet and caramelized flavors of slow-roasted agave, and instead green, herbaceous fresh flavors take their place.
Drinking comiteco is a drastically different experience than any other agave spirit. Its charms are perhaps a bit less visceral, but its unique flavor palate has a lot offer the heady agave enthusiast. Comiteco is relatively affordable, so it may find its way into mixed drinks, but expressions will be found stateside for sipping within a year’s time.