Sangre de Zapata (Plus Monte Alban Mezcal Review)

October 16, 2010 (Day 259) — Sangre de Zapata

Tequila’s lesser known sister, mezcal, is beginning to find popularity in the world of artisan cocktails. While related to tequila — in as much as it’s distilled from agave — there are some key differences between the two.

Similar but different

This article from Southern California Public Radio offers up a good overview of the smoky liquor from Oaxaca:

Later, at a restaurant, Martinez takes out a mezcal bottle in a woven palm leaf sleeve with no label. He’s just brought it back from Oaxaca. He offers me a taste. It’s smooth as it blankets my tongue and potent as it tingles my scalp. This mezcal’s smoky nuances are nothing like the gasoline-harsh touristy bottles with the dormant worm that I swore off years ago.

Todd Richman of Frederick Wildman and Sons is helping lots of other people get acquainted or re-acquainted with tequila’s southern cousin – also born of the agave plant. He markets a new brand of handcrafted mezcal from small producers in Oaxaca…

Richman says mezcal appeals to people in search of an artisan-distilled spirit that’s not mass produced. “It’s very different from tequila in that the agave is cut up after it’s harvested and roasted underground and smoked, and some are smoked heavier than others, and they’re all very different styles it’s from village to village. It’s closer to wine,” Richman says.

Did you read that? Sure enough. It says it’s roasted and smoked underground, which means that it will have a strong smoky flavor. Apparently this is what turns a large number of people off on the liqueur. Also, at 80 proof, it’s a bit strong, so I would imagine you need to tread a bit lightly. Despite these caveats offered by the casual drinkers around the web — and its association with frat guys named Turtle getting hammered over spring break — it seems mezcal is making its way back. Some have even gone so far as to call it the new “vodka.”

I’ll be taste-testing Monte Alban mezcal this evening. While not as high-end as I’d hoped to try, from my research it’s a solid tasting, inoffensive mezcal that’s good for beginners. I’m perfectly fine with that description to tell you the truth.

Smell: Very strong smoky smell. It’s obvious that fire came into play during the creation of this liquor. You have the familiar agave smell on the end, reminding me just a bit of tequila. However, it’s that smoky smell that overpowers everything else in this.

Taste: According to my research, the traditional way to drink way to drink mezcal: “The most traditional Oaxaca way to drink mezcal is as a shot, with a side plate of fried larvae ground with chili peppers and salt and cut limes. One takes a pinch of the larvae mixture and places it on the tongue, then immediately begins to drink the shot, but slowly.”

I figured I always like to do as the natives, and I happened to have the larvae mixture, so I tried it out. It’s very good, but man does that smokiness sneak up on you. Unlike the smoother taste of tequila, mezcal is a bit harsher. After taking the shot down, I was suitably impressed. There is a very disntinct agave flaor, bringing thoughts of tequila to mind. However, that smokiness gives the drink a spicy harshness not found in most tequilas. I almost prefer this taste to tequila, truth be told. I have a deep, abiding affection for stronger, harder-to-pin-down liquors. After all, think of my obsession with heavily-peated scotches.

After drinking the shot (which, by the way, I probably wouldn’t advise first-time mezcal drinkers to do), I stumped across this piece of advice from the New York Times:

One does not just decide to wake up and drink a peated scotch or a great Mezcal one day. I have long said an acquired taste is a just reward for an effort put forth. Enter cocktails. Cocktails are a fantastic medium to get acquanted with a spirit. A sour based drink gives you a softer introduction to a complex flavor like mezcal or even tequila. This I think is the best way to get to know new spirits including mezcal. This is what is so exciting about this venture. I venture to say at least 100 people tasted mezcal for the first time last week here and there were no complaints. A balanced cocktail is like a padded room in which it is hard for one to do oneself harm.

A bit pretentious, sure, but solid advice anyway. Cocktails are a great way to introduce the less adventurous into liquors they may not otherwise be interested in. Now, I’m working backwards. I introduced myself to mezcal through a shot with larvae powder and lime. Now that I know what flavors to expect from the mezcal, we can retroactively work from there and have a cocktail with the white-hot liquor.

This is what fascinates me about the world of liquor, actually. Much like scotch, because of it’s incredibly distinct flavor, mezcal is a drink not easily mixed. It’s not like vodka, which can be thrown together with just about anything and you have a drinkable mix. You’re going to be hard-pressed to find the well-balanced drink that’s necessary for a high-quality cocktail.

As a good example, try Googling “mezcal cocktails.” You’re not going to come up with very much.

However, after playing around with flavors a bit, I think I came up with a delicious drink that while not entirely original, at least plays of the smokiness of the mezcal. I call it

Sangre de Zapata

2 oz mezcal

6 oz clamato juice

1/2 lime (but in half again)

The following to taste:

Tabasco sauce

Ground pepper

Ground salt

Worstershire sauce

Dash cayenne pepper

Pour all of your ingredients in a pint glass filled with ice and rimmed with chili powder. Squeeze one of the lime wedges in and stir in. Stir very, very well. Garnish with lime wedge. Squeeze the last time wedge into the top of the drink just before drinking.

The Sangre de Zapata (or Blood of Zapata), has a very pleasant spiciness to it thanks to the Tabasco sauce and cayenne pepper. The mezcal works in PERFECT harmony with this drink, lending it’s distinct smoky flavor to the savoriness of the clamato and other ingredients. The best is, all of these ingredients should be easy to track down, so you won’t be stumbling from specialty shop to specialty shop to find them. Nice and spicy, and has me craving some authentic Mexican food this fine evening…


— Mark


  1. Thanks for this informative article. Tequila has for a long while now been my favourite spirit and I’m always interested to learn about its production and the differences between different types of tequila and mezcals. The Sangre de Zapata sounds like my kind of Bloody Mary, with alot more flavour than the traditional vodka variety.

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