In Los Angeles, New York and other hipster enclaves, the Mexican drink of the moment is mezcal, tequila's country cousin (tequila? SO Chapman U sorority party). Oaxacan-food princess Bricia Lopez (of Guelaguetza fame) just opened a mezcal bar at her family's restaurant, and a mezcal bar is being planned in Orange County as we speak (details to come when I can discuss them).
Why the sudden buzz? Part of it is foodies' eternal fascination with Oaxaca, the capital of mezcal production in Mexico--and now that mole negro and chapulines are fully integrated into the Mexican-food pantheon in this country, mezcal is the next step into the Oaxacan swirl. But even if mezcal wasn't so connected with Oaxaca, the drink deserves its moment in the sun: not only is it the antithesis of the Jalisco cartel that dominates ideas of mexicanidad it's also a smoky, wonderful nectar. Boutique bottles are just bubbling up here in Orange County; a fine mass-produced label is Don Amado Plata.
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Mezcal's smokiness is different from, say, a Scotch or even tequila. It's primal, singing of Monte Alban and Sky People, and the first sensation that hits your palate: harsh, pulsating, lingering. But then a sweetness sinks in, earthy tones ala the peatiness of a Laphroaig, with a dry aftertaste that recalls the intimidating agaves from whence it originated. Lovers of fine liquors will take to Don Amado like Mexicans took to sneaking into this country. It might be too much for the novice, though--but then again, tequila used to be considered gutter water, and now we have Spider from Goodfellas waxing douchebaggery about the damn drink.