"Mescal was something you drank when someone died, married or moved away," says Jefferson VanBilliard, the man behind the bar at Downtown Santa Ana's Lola Gaspar.
I wonder which one I'm drinking to. Despite its surname, the Oaxacan Sarsaparilla at Lola Gaspar is devoid of the vanilla-soaked soft drink. Rather, it's an ode to Hollywood's Old Wild West — leathery cowboys siping their medicine with a splash of cherry on a film set.
Oaxaca, however, is very much alive in this drinkable looker. The tall glass garnished with a twisted orange peel may resemble lemonade but delivers a strong dose of mescal, a smoky spirit from the maguey plant carrying two centuries of Mexican tradition with it.
The agave, from the same plant distilled into the liquor, tempers the mescal, while the grapefruit bitters cut through the fizzy collins' ‒ a meld of gin, sugar, lemon, and soda water. These subtle ingredients make what Jeff calls the "backbone" of the cocktail and let the mescal take a "forward step". It's just the kind of drink to enjoy as the afternoon sky melts into a dark blue and the conversation inside the bar grows louder. Cool and ephemeral.
I drink to that.