I love a good cantina. The doors swing open and you walk into another place and time—a friendly environment where drinking, friendship and conversation get respect, a place where you can go whether you are alone or with a crowd.
Here, there are no pretentious people, fancy $15 cocktails, or throbbing music you have to scream over to be heard. Instead, you get a straight-faced cantinero who has been there forever, serving straight, honest drinks, like tequila.
This was just the place we were in the mood for the other night when we slipped into a cantina named Montejo Restaurante Bar, in Colonia Condesa. It’s not as old and classic as many of the cantinas in Mexico City, but the service, atmosphere and bar did the trick. In fact, Montejo has a wider tequila selection than many bars here, and by that I mean 24 bottles, rather than six or eight.
We settled in with a Siete Leguas reposado and a Centinela reposado, and proceeded to enjoy the sangrita (just spicy enough) and delicious salted, oily peanuts which are a cantina must-have, in my opinion.
It was a Monday night but the place was hopping—after work crowds eating dinner, couples enjoying straight tequilas and snacks, and a live band.
Two tables over a young man was making a show of ordering up some mezcal, inspecting the bottle and sampling it as though it were a fine wine. This caught our eye, not only because it was unusual, but also because the mezcal bottle had a Patron-like lime-colored tag on its neck. We would have seen what all the fuss was about, but the table emptied the bottle and there was none left to sample. Instead, the waiter brought over another mezcal, Zignum reposado.
After our last mezcal experience, we had our doubts, but we gave it a smell and were shocked to detect no smoky mezcal nose. The smoke is always what kills it for us, so we couldn’t resist ordering a shot. My first impression was that it was sweet, like honey, vanilla and mint, and smoke-free
“What is this?” Grover asked. “It tastes like an añejo tequila.”
Soon, we were inspecting the bottle—it was stamped with “100% agave” and carried an organic label—hell, it even had a NOM, just like tequila.
Uh-oh, I thought. If someone can make a mezcal that tastes like tequila, is labeled similarly (enough that the consumer can’t tell the difference), priced cheaper and unburdened with stringent regulations, what does this mean for tequila?
We pondered this on our walk home. When we arrived, we immediately looked up the brand online, only to find that Zignum mezcal is made by Coca-Cola.
Is Coca-Cola also in the tequila business and we don’t know about it? Obviously, it saw an opportunity in the burgeoning mezcal market and pounced.
Something about this just doesn’t sit right. Mezcal dressed up to look like tequila is an insult to both mezcal purists and tequila purists. But maybe not—maybe the purists don’t matter and this is just a way of presenting a spirit in a new way.
Whichever it is, I can’t help wonder, if cantineros only serve straight, honest drinks, what’s this?
(We know you have some thoughts so please share!)