No, mezcal does not contain mescaline and it will not make you hallucinate, contrary to what some cable TV celebrity bartenders have said. However, GEM&BOLT—a brand-new mezcal that is distilled with the medicinal herb damiana—may make you better in bed.
Damiana has historically been used as an aphrodisiac in Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies. Now, for the first time ever, you can enjoy its alleged qualities in agave form in the US—though GEM&BOLT has been a favorite in trendy restaurants in Oaxaca and Tulum such as Hartwood for a while now.
Sure, there are already many exceptionally smooth, espadín-based mezcales in the market, and even a standalone damiana liqueur that you can probably mix to get a similar effect. (Yes, I am talking about the piss-colored stuff in a bottle shaped like a curvy Incan goddess that made you do a double-take the first time you noticed it in a bar). For flavor reference, some bartenders would classify the standalone damiana liquor in the digestif category, maybe even apothecary.
But there has never been a two-in-one, until now.
GEM&BOLT's damiana flavor is extremely subtle. Mezcal-wise, it is dangerously smooth and on the sweeter side rather than reminding you of burnt rubber. You may even have to taste it next to a traditional mezcal to pick up the flavor of the faint herb on your palate.
Nonetheless, the product's two co-founders—AdrinAdrina and Elliott Coon—assured me that the damiana is definitely in there. MUNCHIES hopped on a phone call with both of them to find out everything you need to know about the interesting new agave spirit.
MUNCHIES: Hi. So, why Damiana? Elliott Coon: Adrina and I grew up in a very wild, bohemian outpost in the mountains of Virginia. We grew up self-medicating ourselves in a culture that really enjoyed using plants as medicine in a very celebratory fashion. We started with damiana when we had a speakeasy in Oakland. We contacted a herbalist friend who we grew up with and asked her, "What would be the best herb to use in our cocktails?" She responded and said: "Damiana! Damiana! Damiana!"
It was a match made in heaven after that. The herbal flavor goes really well with mezcal. It is mythically supported for having all sorts of beautiful properties. I call it a heart-opener. I think someday I am going to learn to levitate on it. That is my directive.
AdrinAdrina: Damiana is in the mint family. It is a desert shrub. It brings a slightly minty flavor to the mezcal. It rounds it out nicely. Damiana and the maguey plant have grown alongside each other for thousands of years. It is reported that the original margarita was made with damiana liqueur, not orange liqueur. It's like they got reunited because they are soulmates—that is how we see it.
What are some of the purported medicinal properties of damiana? Adrina: Healers and shamans say that damiana cleanses the body. It connects the heart and the mind. We just resonate with the notion that it is a feel-good herb. People claim that they feel quite elevated and happy on it. Another thing that is interesting about our liqueur is that people have reported feeling high the morning after. There is definitely a lot fodder.
How do you incorporate damiana into your mezcal? Coon: Adrina and I lived in Oaxaca for a couple of years before we settled with a producer that we wanted to work with. We work exclusively with him now. He is a fourth-generation mezcalero who is very scrutinizing in every phase of the production. It is a father-son team and that really means a lot to us, since Adrina and I grew up together having a sisterly connection.
We had only done damiana infusions for the last couple of years, wildstyle, driving thousands of liters of mezcal across Mexico to do make it. Then we found the producer. We brought that recipe to his in-house chemist, who refined it to bring the damiana into the distillation itself. It is an espadín-based mezcal, which is the most cultivable species of agave for mezcal.
Our mezcal is a touch sweeter because our mezcalero lets the agaves ripen a little longer. It is twice-distilled. At first our producers were resistant, since it was something they have never done before. After all, mezcal is such a beautiful and honorable legacy. He was happy to experiment and after he tasted the first distillation; he loved the product. It's good to see that it has been embraced in Oaxaca now, too.
Why mezcal and why not tequila? Adrina: It was never even an option. We didn't choose to make mezcal. It chose us. We were starting an art project and we didn't think that it would lead to creating a mezcal.
Coon: We started working exclusively with mezcal during our Oakland speakeasy days. It started out as an art project but we were so struck with how potent and how beautiful the spirit was. It inspired us to travel to Oaxaca. We didn't go with the intention to stay the first time but we established a beautiful community of friends and fellow artists there. When we came back to Oakland, we sold everything, had a party, and went back for good. The decision to use mezcal was a very organic process.
Our art project essentially turned into a spirit brand.
How would you recommend someone to enjoy GEM&BOLT? Adrina: We like it a little cold and straight, maybe after being in the freezer for a little while. It is also great in a cocktail. I guess we like it any way.
Coon: We were definitely purists for a while. We didn't even think about mixing but we started working it into cocktails and it works just as amazingly.
Thank you for speaking with me.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.