It used to be drank mostly by Mexico’s poor. In fact, it was barely known and consumed outside its birthplace of Oaxaca. But times have surely changed as these days, more and more people are making way for mezcal, tequila’s older and bolder brother, including the discriminatory booze drinkers of Paris, London, and New York.
Let’s get this straight: Mezcal is not a type of tequila, but actually any alcohol made with agave. Thus, tequila is a kind of mezcal. It inherits its smoky flavor when the piñas, or the heart of the agave plant, is cooked in a pit with burning hot coals for two to three days (at least), then crushed and mixed with water before allowed to ferment and distilled in clay or copper stills twice. To this day, this drink is made the old-fashioned way, with grindstones run by horses and gut feel to control the temperature and quality. It is a legit mezcal if it comes from one of eight Mexican states.
It’s more of a sipping drink, not a spring break shooter. And thanks to the wide appreciation for whisky, people have started taking fascination on the similar-tasting mezcal. In the U.S., it has become the hippest new spirit, while in Asia, it’s just slowly crawling its way into bars and people’s consciousness.
“I’ve been drinking mezcal for years,” says former newscaster Ricky Carandang. “Like many people, tequila was my gateway drug. [Mezcal] has a strong lively hit—the kind that makes you dance on tables. And the flavours are wonderfully smoky and complex. There’s so much going on in each sip. But it’s not meant to be overanalysed or fetishised. It is what it is.” To appease his thirst for mezcal, there are three places in Manila he heads to for an easy fix: Hacienda, A Toda Madre, and newly opened Chino in BGC. “The people who own and run these places know their mezcal and are passionate about it without being pedantic or pretentious. They’re wonderful people to drink with.”
“I’ve been drinking mezcal for years,” says former newscaster Ricky Carandang. “Mezcal] has a strong lively hit—the kind that makes you dance on tables."
One of those he is referring to is Tracey Wei, who also owns Chino in Hong Kong and has made sure to have the largest mezcal and tequila list in both countries. “We figured that every bar does whiskey and gin. And we wanted to be a little bit different,” she says. “And so, to incorporate what we do for Mexican food (they serve tacos and tostadas), we figured that these two Mexican spirits made sense. We have a lot of flavour profiles in our food and the drink’s smokiness balances off our spice and citrus. It’s a nice sipping drink that doesn’t overpower.”
For first-time drinkers, Chino has designed crafty cocktails as a nice introduction to the booze—to ease their way into eventually enjoying it on the rocks or straight up. In Hong Kong, mezcal has already established itself as a familiar spirit. Here in Manila though, it is just starting. “We explain what it is to our customers, we show them the bottle and let them smell it, tell them the process and why it’s smoky. Our staff knows everything about the spirits we carry,” says Wei.
There’s a new drink in town, and it has literally risen from the ashes.
CHINO MNL is at G/F One Bonifacio, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.