Take This Mule for a Ride!
By: Brittney Bedford – Bartender Expert for Az Food & Wine
Makes 1 cocktail
3 lime wedges (1 for rimming rocks glass)
.5oz organic agave nectar
10 mint leaves
3 cucumber disks
Reed’s Extra Ginger Beer
Muddle lime, cucumber, mint and agave in a pint glass
Add tequila and ice
Shake and strain over ice into a rocks glass
Top with Ginger Beer
Last December I felt anxious for an adventure. On a whim I bought a ticket to what is now one of my favorite places on earth, Oaxaca, Mexico. Oaxaca is located between Guerrero and Chiapas (which borders Guatemala) and is about as far south as you can get in Mexico. While in Oaxaca I went surfing on the coast, took cooking classes and drank cervezas on its perfect beaches. However, my Mezcal tour in Oaxaca City, was badass. One of the things I loved most about Oaxaca was the true love for food and beverage. I could wake up in the morning and drink freshly squeezed orange juice and rolls from the local bakery (that were still warm from the oven). At any time of day or night you could eat tamales or tyaludes from the noisy street vendors. Then, there was the smell of sweet mole coming from local restaurants.
Besides all of this awesomeness, one of the most magical highlights in Oaxaca is the mezcal. The smokey agave drink that the people of Oaxaca pride themselves on. I was lucky enough to cross paths with Alvin Starkman, a former lawyer turned B&B owner and mezcal lover, who took me along on a mezcal tour. I spent an entire day touring small family distilleries with him and Amy, a hilarious culinary intern from Chicago. Mezcal, not to be confused with tequila, is also made from the agave plant but very specifically the piña which is the heart of the agave. The piña is hand harvested, cut, roasted and sealed in an earthen pit over scorching hot rocks and smoldering logs for five days. We toured half a dozen small family distilleries, at each distillery we visited we were shown a different part of the process. From the fire being started, to the men chopping the piña with machetes, the horse crushing the piña with its hooves, and finally to the distillation process. Eating freshly smoked still warm piña is a life changing experience. At one distillery we tasted mezcal straight out of an old gasoline can. Afterwards we were invited for lunch and cake for the thier grand daughters birthday. The night before I left Amy and I spent a night drinking fabulous mezcal cocktails made with the freshest fruit juice I have ever tasted. I almost didn’t make my flight the next day since there is no bar closing time in Oaxaca, but it was worth it. I brought back a few liters of mezcal in my backpack and was questioned by customd about what I would be doing by myself in a place like Oaxaca. All I could do was smile and laugh.
I got home where I unpacked the few liters of artisanal Oaxacan Mezcal I was able to get through customs and wanted to craft a cocktail that reminded me of the trip. It’s an amazing liquor with beautiful favors that’s has taken a back seat to tequila for too long. The cocktail required, in my opinion, fresh ingredients, refreshing favors to really highlight the mezcal. After much experimentation and the help from a talented bartender friend I landed on the balance of fresh lime, mint, and cucumber with the sweetness of organic agave nectar and the spice of ginger beer to create a wonderfully balanced drink that honors the smokey flavors and smooth textures of mezcal.
I hope that everyone can experience the same pleasure as me when drinking this and even imagine themselves in Oaxaca. My advice, bring your ear plugs for the all night fireworks. They party in Oaxaca.