Move over, margaritas. There’s a new Mexican drink taking the town. With the national cocktail craze in full swing, spirits lovers are mixing it up with mezcal. Technically, mezcal refers to any spirit distilled from a Mexican agave plant (think tequila), but for alcohol aficionados mezcal is the artisanal drink made from roasting the heart of the plant over hot stones before crushing and fermenting it. Often created in small batches in remote villages, this elixir comes with an intensely smoky flavor that pairs well with both sweet and savory cocktails. Ready to indulge? We’ve found five of the top local spots to sip and savor the traditional Oaxacan drink, no passport required.
Block & Grinder
Sure, you won’t find any Mexican fare at this upscale eatery off Providence Road. But its popular bar is serving up drinks with plenty of south-of-the-border flavor. The Mezcal Mule, a twist on the popular Moscow Mule cocktail, is a cold and refreshing drink with a hint of the smoke and honey of mezcal mixed with the sweetness of a fresh passion fruit puree. The latest mezcal drink to hit its hip cocktail list is the Mexico City, featuring mezcal, sweet vermouth and Bittermans Hellfire Habanero Shrub for a spicy kick. 2935 Providence Road, 704-364-2100, www.blockandgrinder.com
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Pisces Sushi Bar
When mixologist Bob Peters created the Black Cherry Mezcal Sour, his aim was to make the mezcal, with its own complex flavor, the star of the show. “I wanted to use very few additional ingredients,” says Peters, who mixed the drink with muddled lime, fresh bing cherries, simple syrup and Warre’s Warrior reserve port. “The Del Maguey Vida Mezcal is a beautifully smoky spirit. In order to play off of that, I wanted to do something with a deep flavored fruit – something unexpected yet comforting for these cold months.” The result? A smooth and simple drink with rich and smoky sweetness. 1100 Metropolitan Ave., 704-334-0009, www.piscessushi.com
Paco’s Tacos & Tequila
This SouthPark restaurant is known for its authentic Mexican dishes, so it should come as no surprise that it offers several variety of the drink, perfect for sipping. For the cocktail version, try Smoke Signals, a potent twist on the traditional margarita. In addition to mezcal, the drink includes reposado tequila, house-made sour mix, fresh lime juice, and agave nectar infused with chipotle peppers. “We were trying to push the boundaries of what our guests view as traditional margaritas,” says general manager Pamela House of this rustic-meets-modern drink. 6401 Morrison Blvd., 704-716-8226, www.pacostacosandtequila.com
Grown in rural regions and often produced in family operations, mezcal may be the moonshine of Mexico, but its rarity around these parts means you’re likely to find it on the shelves of the city’s more creative bartenders. Cameron Brobst at the chic Gallery Restaurant Bar inside The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge recommends making the switch from vodka to mezcal in the bar’s Bloody Mary – known as a Bloody Maria. But to get the full flavor of the distinctive drink, his suggestion is simply mezcal, fresh lime juice and a dash of a sugar. 10000 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy., 704-248-4100, www.gallery-restaurant.com
1900 Mexican Grill
& Tequila Bar
With two locations of this local restaurant, it’s easy to get your mezcal fix with one of its signature cocktails. For a fizzy take on the drink, try the Smoked Passion Fruit, a mix of passion fruit, fresh lime and ginger beer with Del Maguey Vida Mezcal. But it’s the amusingly named Smokey the Pear concoction made with prickly pear puree that really pulls out the warm flavor of the spirit. The bright pink drink comes with a chili rim for an extra dose of heat. 1523 Elizabeth Ave., 704-334-4677, www.1900mexicangrill.com