james and the spicy peach at frazer’s photo by david kovaluk

9 mezcal cocktails to try at St. Louis bars

Tequila's beloved sister spirit, mezcal, has been slowly entering the chat at local restaurants and bars to great success over the past decade or so. While tequila is made from agave steamed in ovens, mezcal is roasted in pits, giving it a smokier, earthier flavor. Because of its complexity, mezcal can be super versatile, adding depth to any cocktail it touches; it tends to flourish most alongside citrus, sweet and spicy components. Whether it’s the star of a drink, part of a split-base cocktail or sipped neat, mezcal is a rich spirit worth exploring. And there’s plenty of it to try.

Some might trace mezcal’s rise in popularity in the United States to 2007, when bartender Phil Ward debuted the Oaxaca Old-Fashioned, which combined tequila, mezcal, agave nectar, Angostura bitters and orange peel, at New York City cocktail mecca Death & Co. “Nobody had thought to cast it in a supporting role until Phil – and this opened the gates to countless exciting, more evenly balanced recipes,” the bar’s book, Death & Co: Classic Modern Cocktails, explains. Planter’s House co-owner Ted Kilgore corroborated Ward’s role in popularizing mezcal with American bartenders, pointing out that after inventing the drink, Ward went on to open New York’s first agave-specific cocktail bar, Mayahuel. If you’re interested in Ward’s creation and haven’t tried one, look for it on the menu at Planter’s House; a version made with mole bitters is also available at Taste.

“Demand for mezcal and tequila are going up and up and up,” said Randi Kranz, bartender at Mission Taco Joint. She said that people are increasingly interested in trying mezcal, both in cocktails and neat. “We seem to get a lot of people that are at the dipping-their-toe-in stage when they’re sitting at the bar. Eventually, they become regulars,” she observed. Kranz has noticed even in liquor stores that mezcal has become more popular, with many more options now available than there were five or six years ago. “I send everyone to The Wine and Cheese Place on Forsyth in Clayton,” which has great prices and over 20 brands available, she said. But you can find mezcal in most liquor stores and bottle shops, from Intoxicology and Clayton Winehouse to Randall’s Wines & Spirits and Cork & Rind.

smokin’ jacket at bait // photo by david kovaluk

There are a lot of varieties of mezcal, and they all lend different flavors to cocktails. “I tend to enjoy more complex mezcals that have more unique flavors, which you’re going to get from the wild agave strains,” Kranz stated. One of her favorites, Tepeztate, grows on the sides of cliffs in the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Michoacan. For cocktails, Kranz likes to use mezcals made from Espadin agave, which are the most approachable. For a stirred, booze-forward cocktail, an ensemble mezcal, containing a blend of agave strains (much like a blended wine) works best. Because of the layered flavor profiles that come from the different agaves, “You’re getting a cocktail in a bottle right off the bat,” Kranz explained.

Mezcal is an incredibly flexible spirit, and you can explore it in a lot of tasty cocktails around town. Find mezcal infused with serrano chiles at Frazer’s, jalapeño at The Royale Food and Spirits, and corn at Planter’s House; mixed with fruit juice and amaro at Lazy Tiger; and even turned into a mist at The Golden Hoosier. It soars against grilled pineapple at Bait.

Here are some drinks to check out that showcase mezcal’s versatility:

James and the Spicy Peach | Frazer’s
Serrano chile-infused mezcal, genepy des alpes, peach liqueur, fresh lemon
1811 Pestalozzi St., St. Louis, 314.773.8646, frazersgoodeats.com

El Toluache | Mezcaleria Las Chupacabres
Mezcal joven, blood orange, lemon juice, agave nectar, sal de gusano
25 The Boulevard, Richmond Heights, 314.297.7207, mezcalerialaschupacabras.com

Oaxaca Old-Fashioned | Taste
Milagro Reposado tequila, mezcal, agave, mole bitters
4584 Laclede Ave., St. Louis, 314.361.1200, tastebarstl.com

Fantastic Mr. Fox | The Golden Hoosier
Redwood Empire bourbon-rye blend, simple syrup, mole bitters, Banhez Pechuga de Pavo mezcal mist, smoked sage, orange peel
3707 S. Kingshighway Blvd., St. Louis, 314.354.8044, thegoldenhoosier.com

Jalapeno Margarita | The Royale Food and Spirits
Jalapeno-infused mezcal, Agavero, lime, orange, simple syrup, sugar
3132 S. Kingshighway Blvd., St. Louis, 314.772.3600, theroyale.com

Smokin’ Jacket | Bait
Banhez mezcal, lemon juice, grilled pineapple, serrano chile syrup
4239 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, 314.405.2797, baitstl.com

Muerte en Oaxaca | El Burro Loco
Mezcal joven, premium orange liqueur, house-made citrus blend, red wine, sal de gusano, roasted orange
1101 Lucas Ave., St. Louis, 314.833.3211; 313 N. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, 314.224.5371, elburroloco.net

Lazy Tiger | Lazy Tiger
El Yope Espadin mezcal, orange shrub, honey, serrano chile, Tajin, lime
210 N. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, 314.925.8888, lazytigerstl.com

Too Hot to Hoot | Planter’s House
Corn-infused Banhez mezcal, Ancho verde, lime, agave, ghost pepper tincture
1000 Mississippi Ave., St. Louis, 314.696.2603, plantershousestl.com

Tags : Cocktails, Places, Bars