New to the Top Shelf
First, I thought I’d give just a quick primer on the difference between Tequila and Mezcal. And, no, it’s not just about the worm. In fact, according to the folks who make Sombra, the worm was added as a marketing gimmick to get people past the poor, chemical taste of mass-produced Mezcals. Needless to say, there’s no worm in a bottle of Sombra.
So, what is the difference? First off, Tequila comes from Jalisco, and Mezcal comes from Oaxaca. Secondly, each uses a different variety of agave (that cactus-like plant). The biggest difference, at least to me, is the manner in which it is made. In both cases, the large pineapple-shaped heart of the agave is harvested after 8-10 years of growing. This long maturity period, by the way, is why Mexican law allows producers to add up to 49% grain spirits to their mix. Unfortunately, that results in an inferior product but does represent the majority of the tequila made. All but one of our tequilas and mezcals are made from 100% agave, and we’re phasing out the one that isn’t.
At any rate, these pinas are roasted to intensify the sugars and here is where the big difference occurs. In the case of tequila, the roasting process is gentle and the sap is pressed off the roasted pulp. That filtered sap is then fermented and distilled to create tequila. In the case of Mezcal, the heat is more intense, causing the skins to char a bit. Also, the fermentation occurs prior to filtration, so the charred and roasted skins of the pinas contribute the trademark smoky quality Mezcal is known for.
There’s obviously more to it than that, but I didn’t want to bore you with too many details.
So, what’s so cool about Sombra? The only Mezcal readily available in the state is Monte Alban. It’s fine enough, but it would be like if the only bourbon you could get was the basic Jim Beam. Again, certainly a tasty enough bourbon, but nothing truly remarkable. It took a local guy who’s recently begun brokering some amazing spirits (and more are destined for our bar) to bring this Sombra into the state. Mind you, we still have to special order it, so don’t expect to see it everywhere, but at least it’s here.
Wow, what a revelation? It’s just so distinctive! So smoky, so rich and yet, with a bright and clean citrus finish. Honestly, it may take some getting used to for those unfamiliar with the style. For me, it happened in the course of my first cocktail. At first sip, I wasn’t sure what to think, but by the end, I’d realized how much I loved it. Now I get it all the time.
The agave is grown organically on the steep slopes in the small village of San Luis Del Rio (elevation 8000 ft). Now, I know more about wine than I do spirits, but, in the wine world, steep slopes and high elevation mean the plants have to work harder than normal and that results in more intense and distinctive fruit. I can only imagine the same thing is in play here.
Since Sombra is so distinctive, Andrew and I wanted to come up with a truly unique cocktail to feature it. We’re working on a special margarita based on it, and I often just get one of our classics with this instead of tequila, but for now, we’ve created what you might think of as a Mexican Negroni.
THE SOM(br)A HOLIDAY:
Sombra Mezcal, Campari, rosemary syrup, and lime. The Campari brings a bitter edge to the drink and the rosemary really plays well with the smoky aromas. I love them now and can’t wait until summer time when I’m even more inclined to want a Negroni.
So, if you’re looking for something truly unique, either ask for a SOM(br)A HOLIDAY or just sub Sombra in your margarita the next time you’re in.