Mexico City has a lot on offer–world-class cuisine, culture, a great nightlife and an almost endless variety of things to see and do. But ironically the one thing it doesn’t have is a rich variety of tequila. Sure, there’s tequila in every cantina, restaurant and bar, but it’s limited to just a few brands. The most common are Don Julio, Herradura, El Jimador and Cazadores. As tequila lovers, this is clearly not enough.
Since we arrived in the capital last week, we’ve been trying to figure out why there is such a dearth of tequila and what chilangos (denizens of Mexico City) are drinking instead. The answer, it appears, is mezcal. Mezcalerias dot the city, specializing in a wide variety of mezcals from Oaxaca and other areas. And, most bars and restaurants have mezcal on the shelf, at prices similar to high-end tequilas. Mezcal cocktails are all the rage, and there’s even a mezcal-themed hotel here.
Grover and I went to one of the more popular mezcal chains last night to see what all the buzz is about. La Botica has 8 locations, including one in Spain, and our waiter told us they have plans to expand to the US and Canada.
I was expecting a somewhat upscale place, but when we arrived in their Colonia Condesa location I was surprised to see a bunch of young people sitting around small tin tables, on folding chairs with Corona emblazoned on the back. The mood was definitely scrappy and low-key. The menu was handwritten on a piece of flimsy cardboard. The bar was more impressive, done out in a pharmacy style with dozens of glass medicine bottles containing your poison of choice.
The house rules are that you have to order food with drinks, which turns out to be a good thing. We ordered tamales verdes and asked the waiter for the best mezcals he had. Out came a blanco called Minero, a reposado, a dry blanco selection from Oaxaca, and one from Tabasco. Also, a sotol with no apparent name. Now, we’ve mentioned before that we aren’t big mezcal fans so if you’re a mezcal lover stop reading here, lest you have to be waste your evening sending us angry missives.
None of the choices were to our liking – the smokiness, the astringency, the plastic aroma just didn’t sit well. It was frustrating because behind all of that we could smell truly good things, like butter and citrus and a beautiful oakiness from the reposado. Were we trying the subpar mezcals? Perhaps, but our waiter assured us that they were of high quality and we just had to “get used to the taste.”
Despite the drinks, the food and the atmosphere was fun. It had an underground feel that is probably part of what has made mezcal so trendy in Mexico City. It’s not the Don Julio your grandfather drank. There’s also a wide variety of small producers and by acknowledging and enjoying their mezcal, people feel like they’re giving back to their people and culture. I get it, but I still miss my tequila.