I arrived at Mayahuel’s Noche of Mezcal, a tasting that paired delicate chocolates and rich cigars with the formidable sting of fine, imported mezcal—because the saying goes, “for everything bad, mezcal; for everything good, the same.” I abstained from the cigars not in agenda, but by necessity. Arriving at a spirit tasting on an empty stomach is a gamble against oneself I intended to win.
In my head exists the joke of confusing mezcal for mescaline, which is best absorbed on an empty stomach, but a distilled agave spirit—strong in smokiness—that lingers in the mouth’s roof should not be toyed nor trusted. Mexcal Sales Manager Francisco Javier Perez, provider of ForeverOax and Banhez mezcal, walked me through one of the night’s chosen brands. The blue label ForeverOax is a blanco referred to as Joven Mezcal, meaning young. Aged only two months, ForeverOax’s Joven Mezcal is floral on the nose, but brusque once consumed. With mezcal you sip in tiny increments in respect of the libation. Think of it as an insult to your wallet and your well-being to treat mezcal as a body-shot shooter. You don’t play pass the bottle with Scotch and the same applies to mezcal. Back to the Joven, a saltiness in the finish was enough to send me to the bar for a plate of tacos to compliment the mezcal.
The bartender Edgar placed a taco sampler of shredded chicken with poblano mole, marinated flank steak with cilantro and onions, and a grilled fish taco topped with chile guajillo salsa. Later a speciality Manhattan substituting the bourbon with mezcal was placed by plate to assist in digestion and cleanse. Edgar told me he got the idea from studying under a renowned mixologist whose secret Manhattan ingredient was a mister bottle of mezcal he kept in the well—it’s not a real trade if you don’t acquire the tricks.
Confident of stomach, I revisited Francisco to taste two of his Banhez mezcal bottles. Distilled in Oaxaca, Banhez brands are determined by the agave plant used in the process. The black label is “tobala”, which is a maguey that grows in high altitudes. The white-labeled “espadin cirial” is a traditional agave variety used in 90 percent of mezcal production in Oaxaca, a region that makes up 60 percent of the mezcal produced in Mexico. The Banhez brand speaks tradition in its attention to regional flavor and classic bottle design. It looks as though it belongs in the middle shelf to the right of the McCallan 12, while ForeverOax seems unaware of the stigma that comes with branding too close to Hypnotiq. Before moving on to dessert, I procured one last Banhez sample from Francisco, for pairing purposes naturally.
Andy’s Candy, a local apothecary at 1012 9th St in downtown deserves your patronage. Winner of the Downtown Sacramento Foundation’s “Calling All Dreamers” contest, Andy’s Candy Apothecary presented three morsels of rich dark chocolate, each with an accent to complement the evening’s theme. A solid dark square enlivened with mezcal and sal de gusano, which translates to “tequila worm salt”—yes, chocolate with ground worm. A tequila flavored green butterfly that barely looked like chocolate or edible it was so gracefully crafted. Orange and red flecks, like a granite countertop, atop the third morsel gave it a hardened appearance, but it was fully soft and collapsed into a gooey center of apricot flavoring and chile de arbol. Each piece was deceiving, but each deceit was rewarded with bites worth savoring.