When winter weather hits, our boozy cravings tend to turn toward the obvious: hot toddies, mulled wine, maybe just some bourbon added to a thermos of coffee. But brown spirits and wine aren’t the only alcohol options to cure your frigid woes. Next time the weather is weighing heavy on your shivering bones, turn to mezcal.
“When it's as cold as it's been lately—consistently hovering in the single digits in Chicago— there are two main routes to go for a cocktail choice,” says Jay Schroeder, bar director of Todos Santos in Chicago. “You can make a drink that's going to warm you from the outside, such as a hot toddy or a Tom & Jerry, or one that's going to do the trick internally. Given enough punch, a no-frills boozy drink will soon have you warm and toasty without having to clutch a fleetingly-steaming mug.”
Mezcal is one such no-frills spirit with enough punch. Mexico’s smoky agave spirit is warming as hell, and winter cocktail-friendly whether you’re in the mood for something literally warm or something that will transport your soul somewhere sunnier.
On a cold January night at the King Cole Bar inside of The St. Regis Mexico City, Pepe Ventura pulls out a bottle of Mezcal Unión to make his Karwinskii Daiquiri. “It’s a mezcal that won’t be that smokey,” Ventura says. “This cocktail is really fresh.”
The drink is what Ventura calls a Mexican take on the daquiri, combining mezcal made from Karwinskii agave with winter citrus, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, and agave syrup. The garnish happens outside of the glass. He puts down a plate of pineapple, grapefruit, and orange slices plus some Sal de Gusano, or agave worm salt. “It works perfect with the mezcal,” Ventura says. The drink is bright and easy-drinking. One will get your body temperature up, but straight mezcal works for that, too. “If you like mezcal neat, it’ll warm you up,” Ventura says.
Even just playing with mezcal’s temperature can be a game changer. “One of my favorite things to do is to warm Montelobos Espadín up to body temperature (98°F). This is easy to do by putting the bottle in a bath of warm water,” says Iván Saldaña, co-founder and creator of Montelobos Mezcal Joven. “On a cold afternoon, drinking a nice temperate mezcal with some chocolate, a cake, or something sweet is delicious. It is surprising how you can transform a mezcal’s flavor just by modifying its temperature.”
At Dove’s Luncheonette in Chicago, winter and year-round classics get the mezcal treatment. “We are actually always thinking about good cold-weather options. We are currently running a Hot Buttered Mezcal cocktail on our menu, which features coffee liqueur, Del Maguey Vida mezcal, clarified butter, spiced Demerara syrup, and burnt sage,” says head bartender Sam Carlton. “Beyond that, we love to make seasonal Mezcal Negroni riffs behind the bar at Dove's. The Mezcal Negroni is one of our most common calls, so for winter we love to use ingredients like Cynar, Fernet-Vallet, Amaro di Angostura, etcetera to give roasty, warm, and spicy notes to our Negronis.”