“I love mezcal in my margarita,” says Ana González Quaid of Chicago, who is famous in her family and friend circle for her bartending skills. “It gives the margarita this incredible smoky depth and a lot more oomph. I love the flavor of mezcal.”
Growing up, Ana’s family didn’t have this agave spirit around the house. “At family parties, we had tequila, pulque and other types of alcohol that were popular in San Luis Potosí, where we are from in Mexico. But not mezcal.”
Ana and her husband, Brian, who both work in restaurant management in Chicago, started coming across ingenious ways to use mezcal at work. And their interest solidified after a trip to Mexico City some years back. ”That’s when Brian and I started to make our own mezcal margaritas,” says Ana. “We love adding cucumbers for a tart-fresh-sweet flavor and sometimes we use mezcal that we first infuse with a jalapeño. Or a serrano. Whatever chile we have around.” Ana also prefers to use the smaller English or Persian cucumbers. They have more crunch and “taste more cucumbery,” she says.
Quick mezcal primer: Mezcal, like tequila, is made from the agave plant. Unlike tequila, mezcal does not have to be made in controlled regions of Mexico and can be produced from any kind of agave. It gets its smoky flavor when the piña, the heart of the agave plant, is cooked in underground pits that are also filled with lava rocks, wood and charcoal. It’s then placed in oak barrels, like tequila: up to two months for mezcal jóven or blanco, two to four months for reposado, and one year for añejo.
“If you are trying to do something different with a cocktail, yet keep it very traditional Mexican, using mezcal in your margarita is a great way to go. You can taste the plant, you get the smokiness. It’s not filtered by other things,” says Ana. ”It’s pure Mexico in a glass.”