Meet Mezcal, Your New Favorite Mexican Spirit, at Maestro
“Every bottle of mezcal is a new adventure,” said Marco Ramos, Manager at Maestro, a modern Mexican restaurant and craft cocktail bar in Old Pasadena. “Every bottle at our bar is hand picked.”
Maestro is tucked on the corner of Union Street and Arroyo Parkway. Walk past this stylish spot and you’ll probably see diners enjoying dinner and a playful neon sign proclaiming “Dos Mas Mezcal.” You’ll find an assortment of tequilas mezcals and sotol at the bar as well as stock spirits, wine and beer. Ramos highlights the Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal made from wild agave in Puebla – this smoky spirit is perfect to celebrate the victory of the Battle of Puebla for Cinco de Mayo.
Mezcal is a lesser known agave spirit Mexico, like tequila, it is produced in a select region and has a history stretching back to the 1800s. Mezcal’s home is in Oaxaca while tequila is mainly produced in Jalisco. Mezcal was a precursor to tequila but isn’t as ubiquitous in the United States; luckily, that’s changing.
“[Drinking] mezcal is an experience,” said Ramos. “We want to educate people and bring them new flavors.”
While mezcal and tequila both start from agave plants, tequila comes exclusively from blue agave and mezcal can come from different varieties of agave. The major difference between the spirits comes in the cooking process. The agave for mezcal is traditionally cooked underground with wood which imparts a smoky, peaty flavor. Mezcal fermented without additives, like yeast, and is typically aged in whiskey barrels. Both spirits are categorized as Reposado (aged over two months) or Anejo (aged one year or more).
“Tequila is more like whiskey and mezcal is more like scotch – more smoky and peaty flavors,” said Ramos.
Maestro offers a few options to entice mezcal newbies. Their flights are the perfect introduction to the world of Mexican spirits. Choose from the Spirits of Mexico Flight with tequila, mezcal and sotol (a non-agave distilled spirit) or opt for Wild Things which focuses on mezcals made from wild agave plants. Spirit lovers can choose the Mezcaleros Corner which offers a smoky mezcal, a wild mezcal and a mezcal produced by a female distiller.
Maestro serves mezcal the traditional way, in candle votives from a church in Oaxaca, with orange slices topped with warm (spiced) salt as a palate cleanser. If straight up spirits aren’t for you, opt for one of Maestro’s craft cocktails.
“Everybody knows what a margarita is – we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel – we’re just adding new flavors,” said Ramos.
The Picosita Margarita is a colorful, slightly spicy take on the margarita made with mezcal, cucumber jalapeno, lime and a chipotle spiced rim. For another familiar drink try the Agave Old Fashioned. This drink is a blend of mezcal and tequila, sweetened with agave syrup instead of sugar, and angostura bitters. For a new take of The Last Word, order the Mezcal Campfire which plays up the spirit’s smoky taste. This drink features mezcal, green chartreuse, lime and maraschino poured over rosemary which is burnt in the glass. They also offer traditional Cazuela cocktail with served in a cazuela bowl that is meant to be passed from person to person.
Ramos usually pairs mezcal with food in contrasting flavors. He suggests reposado with salads or fried foods and chooses anejo for desserts. Stop by to sip and savor the spirits of Mexico along with a sharable selection of dishes from Mexico.
Maestro is located at 110 East Union Street. Call (626) 787-1512 or visit www.maestropasadena.com.