Drink

Not Your Regular 'Rita

Federal Hill's Don Jose Tequilas turns to mezcal for a smoky spin on a seasonal favorite

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In a month that features Cinco de Mayo in its inaugural week, we’ve picked a margarita to spotlight. (A “mezcalrita,” to be specific. More on that in a minute.) Think we’re unoriginal? Well, if we were offering some frozen, neon-colored, toothache-sweet monstrosity, then I suppose the charge would hold.

Instead, we turned to Don Jose Tequilas on Federal Hill for something different. Something smarter and more authentic. Their bar program is driven largely by owner Jaime Gaviria’s passion for tequila and Mexican culture. Jaime has grown the program to include over 75 high-end sipping tequilas, and travels regularly to Mexico to deepen his knowledge.

For this column, Jaime and his bartender, Claudia Loiselle, created a new drink for us based in mezcal, the smoke-tinged cousin to tequila. A quick primer: Both tequila and mezcal are made from the agave plant, but the production of mezcal involves smoking the agave almost as if for pit barbecue. Mezcal has a long history as the more rustic and commonplace of the two liquors in Mexico, with each region and region-within-a-region serving up its own take.

In short, if you like the smokiness and terroir aspect of Scotch, then mezcal is your go-to Central American spirit. But, like Scotch, it’s not for everyone when served unadorned.

With that in mind, Jaime and Claudia sought to balances mezcal’s assertiveness with fresh juices (lime and pineapple). They added pomegranate liqueur for a blush color “because it’s pretty,” Claudia relayed, laughing. And it is.

The end result, “Don Jose’s Mezcalrita,” isn’t on their printed menu, but just ask for it. Seriously, please do – and thank us later.

By the way, Claudia’s birthday just so happens to be May 5, and she’ll be working at the restaurant’s massive Cinco de Mayo block party that runs a full day (10:30am-2:00am). Turn up and wish her well, dance and try the mezcal.