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1–2 July 2024
Olympia London

How to Perfect Tequila and Mezcal Cocktails

There’s no debate about the mixing potential of agave spirits – take the ubiquitous Margarita, and its seemingly endless variations. Tequila and mezcal famously play well with others, bringing a breadth of styles and flavours that’s hard to match with other spirits.

With tequila’s aged and unaged expressions, and the diversity of the mezcal category, with a range of production methods and agave varieties, there’s little, if anything, that agave can’t do, from sour-style drinks to long, Highball serves – looking at you, Paloma and Batanga – via stirred-down numbers and clean Martini-esque cocktails.

Below are some tips on making the most of these spirits in cocktails, as well as some inspiration via a collection of serves from some of the best in the business.

Mixing with agave spirits

“Tequila and mezcal are such versatile spirits, that there's no easy way to categorise them at all,” says Bobby Hiddleston, co-founder of Swift. “For the blancos, we find bright, summery drinks work better, so citric, floral, tropical flavours are all great. For the aged versions, darker, nuttier, more rich, vanilla flavours are preferable.”

For Wendy Hopkins, head of bar for TAO Group Hospitality, which includes Hakkasan and Yauatcha, the spirit should be front and centre. “I like to keep agave as the main hero flavour, which every guest should be able to clearly identify in the cocktail, without overcomplicating with too many other ingredients.”

“Agave spirits are really versatile, and work well in both sweet and sour cocktails,” says Jamaïque Ardilouze, bar manager at Equal Parts. “In sweet drinks, agave spirits tend to become smoother and milder, while in sour drinks they enhance the flavours and add body to the spirit.”

Crucial, according to Cafe Pacifico’s Carlos Londoño, is to remember your audience. For a winning entry into the annual Margarita Rumble, with a young demographic in their early twenties, he set out to create something “rather sweet, fresh, appealing to the eye and to the palate, and not too complex”. 



The result was the Pomelon Margarita, an Instagrammable mix of reposado tequila with fresh watermelon, pomegranate and lime, and some in-house citrus-and-vanilla bitters, in a glass rimmed with dehydrated lime and chilli flakes, and a sprig of lime. “We can't get rid of that cocktail now, on any of our menus or regardless of where we are, whether it's Taste of London or Cocktails in the City.”

Speaking specifically about tequila, Camilo Jimenez, bar manager at Aqua Kyoto and Aqua Nueva, has some tips. “I use green vegetables, green peppers, coriander and chillies, as well as green fruits like unripe mango, kiwi, feijoa and green melon,” he says. “One of the main characteristics of tequila is its earthiness, which works perfectly with sweet and sour ingredients – the reason why Margaritas are awesome.”

He says that the house tequila at Aqua Kyoto is infused with pandan leaves, “to uplift that earthiness, which is then blended with the sweet notes from our homemade shichimi agave.” 

Novikov bar manager Maurizio Graverini has a similar approach to mixing with tequila. “With its smooth, earthy notes, tequila pairs beautifully with bright, citrusy flavours and fresh herbs,” he says. “Mezcal, known for its smoky, complex profile, benefits from ingredients, such as tropical fruits, spices, and rich syrups.”

When it comes to mixing her mezcal, Mezcalum co-founder Erin Lichy recommends starting with citrus. “My favourite is a squeeze of fresh grapefruit juice and club soda, with the bright flavour of the fruit complementing the subtle smokiness perfectly.”

At KOL Mezcaleria, group bar manager Matthias Ingelmann highlights the characteristics of individual agave varieties. “Flavours of different agaves are so diverse that they really cover the whole range of flavours,” he says. “We use Angustifolia or Americana if we're looking for something fruity, Potatorum for complex flavour and big body, Karwinskii for green, herbaceous notes, and so on.”

See below for some variety-specific mixing ideas from Ingelmann, but first, some tequila cocktail inspiration.

Tequila cocktail ideas

Starting with tequila, Aqua Kyoto’s Jimenez recommends the Nostalgia, combining Patron Reposado with a coriander and orange oleo saccharum, lime and pineapple.

For a twist on the French 75, there’s the Rosa 75 from Yauatcha. “We use Komos Reposado Rosa, which rests in barrels from Napa Valley, bringing out more depth of flavour, and some floral notes,” says Hopkins. “We add a hint of rose, and jasmine tea, topped with champagne.”

Hiddleston says that the Campino, on Swift Shoreditch’s menu, is a staff favourite. “It’s essentially a strawberry tequila Ramos with cream soda, with blanco tequila, citrus, fresh strawberry, cream and vanilla.”

He also highlights the Nightingale, from the same menu. “It’s an amazing stirred reposado tequila number with bianco vermouth, Mandorla and orange bitters,” he says. “Tequila as a base in a Martini-style drink is difficult, but this version is sublime.”

The Daisy Amarillo at Equal Parts has, according to Ardilouze, the structure of a Margarita, combined with yuzu liqueur Yuzushu and sake. “You can truly feel the expression of the tequila in a short, refreshing cocktail,” he says.

At Novikov, Graverini incorporates both tequila and mezcal, Ocho Blanco and Ojo de Dios Hibiscus, with cherry wine, lime, a citrus and berry syrup, and cherry soda, to create the Morello. “The blend of cherry and tequila creates a refreshing, fruity base, while the hibiscus mezcal adds a smoky depth. The citrus and berries syrup enhances the overall complexity, making it a vibrant and balanced drink.”

Also, at Novikov is the Tahona, combining Patron Silver, elderflower liqueur St-Germain, Select Aperitif, lime and jalapeño. “The blend of St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur adds a floral sweetness, while Select Aperitif brings a subtle bitterness. Fresh lime juice offers a bright acidity, and the jalapeño adds a spicy kick, creating a balanced and invigorating drink.”

Mezcal cocktail ideas

Lichy is another proponent of mixing St-Germain with agave spirits – mezcal in particular – with the liqueur playing a part in Martini-style cocktail The Maximillian Affair, joined by sweet vermouth and fresh lemon juice. “I love to incorporate elderflower liqueur in my cocktails. It enhances the delicate floral notes that already exist in Mezcalum and creates a nice sweet-and-savoury effect,” she says.

New York’s Death & Co is responsible for two further recommendations from Lichy, starting with the Oaxaca Old Fashioned. “A celebration of agave, the mix of reposado tequila and mezcal mimic some of the notes in a classic Old Fashioned – a great cocktail for whiskey drinkers.”

Also, from Death & Co is the Naked & Famous, with equal parts mezcal, Aperol, yellow Chartreuse and fresh lime juice. “Mezcalum has a slightly sweet and citrusy flavour, which perfectly complements the Chartreuse,” says Lichy.

Over at Lavo, Ojo de Dios mezcal is the base for the Spicy Strawberry Mezcalita. “It’s complemented with chilli, hibiscus and strawberry to balance the smoky element, and topped with homemade soda to create a modern Highball cocktail,” says Hopkins.

Swift Shoreditch is home to the Century Special, a combination of joven mezcal, Cocchi Americano, lemon, pineapple, and maraschino. “Bright, fresh and instantly classic,” says Hiddleston.

On the list at Equal Parts is mezcal-based Frangicone, with white chocolate, port, white wine, and hazelnut liquor. “This one’s really smooth, and slightly sweet, softening the expression of the mezcal,” says Ardilouze.

Bringing a little sustainability into the mix, Londoño describes two in-house ingredients made with waste products, namely an avocado syrup and a tepache. “We go through a lot of avocados, so we conserve the pits and roast them. We crush these and mix with agave nectar – the result has a nutty agave flavour, kind of our own orgeat,” he explains.

The tepache, meanwhile, makes use of surplus pineapple skins – something else that the bar has an abundance of. These are fermented with water, agave nectar and spices, helped along by the addition of some dark Mexican beer. These two zero-waste ingredients are used with passion fruit, lime and mezcal to make a Mezcarita.

At KOL, where Ingelmann highlights the flavours of specific agave varieties, there’s the Fig Leaf & Pear Martini, made with Salmiana. “The green tropical notes from the fig leaf really work in harmony with the green, spicy notes – Salmiana as an agave is great for Martinis, as it's not too overpowering.”

Another Martini option, according to Ingelmann, is Azul, the same used to produce tequila. “Our Cucumber & Pine Martini is a really clean and elegant drink, where we used the Azul as a mineral, clean backbone for the cocktail.”

Agave variety Potatorum, meanwhile, is at the core of the bar’s Blackcurrant & Woodruff Negroni. “The marzipan and chocolate notes from the woodruff are enhanced by the chocolate and coffee notes of the agave,” says Ingelmann.

 

Don’t miss the array of sessions at the new Campo de Agave theatre at this year’s Imbibe Live, as well as Tequila: The low-down on additives at the Tasting Room, Monday 1 July.

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