The kayaks are put away, and the cottage by the lake has been closed up. But just because summer is behind us and we’ve traded our swim attire for cozy sweaters doesn’t mean the transition is unwelcome. With the changing colors of the leaves come crisp nights in front of a warm fireplace, or maybe you’re lucky enough to be gathered around a campfire with a few good friends. Although you might hark back fondly to those cold, sometimes frozen tequila drinks enjoyed while lounging around the pool or with your toes in the sand, don’t despair. Fall is the perfect season for tequila and mezcal, and the party can continue well into winter.
Both tequila and mezcal are made from the harvested core of the agave plant, otherwise known as the piña. Mezcal refers to any agave-based liquor. This includes tequila, which is produced in specific regions of Mexico and must be made only from blue agave. Tequila is a type of mezcal, much the way scotch and bourbon are types of whiskey. But that is where the similarity ends.
Tequila usually has a smokier profile than mezcal, but that doesn’t mean that mezcal is left out of the party if you add a smoked honey or smoked simple syrup—say, made with a heavily smoked tea such as Lapsang souchong—to create some fantastic cocktail creations, like the Black Dog, the Mezcal Negroni, or the Smoked Dove. The smoke flavor can also add a different approach to some of the classics, like the Spicy Basil Margarita and the Bloody Maria.
Mezcal comes in three categories by age: joven (blanco or abacado; zero to two months), reposado (two to 12 months), and añejo (a minimum of one year). Tequila is also rated using three age categories: blanco (silver or plato; zero to two months), reposado (two to 12 months), and añejo (one to three years).
Here are three fine examples to try—and a recipe for good measure—for those long fall evenings by the firepit.
Don Julio 1942 Tequila
Produced in small batches and aged for a minimum of two and a half years, Don Julio 1942 tequila is handcrafted in tribute to the year that Don Julio González began his tequila-making journey. Rich caramel and chocolate notes are what you first notice, then comes the taste of warm oak, vanilla, and roasted agave, finished by a lingering oak and rich vanilla.
Don Julio 1942 retails for $170.
Made from 100 percent espadín agaves in Oaxaca, Casamigos’s joven rests up to two months and is balanced and elegant, with hints of tamarind and pomegranate aromas, followed by herbal tones of fresh mint and dried oregano. Delicate notes of smoke and black pepper lead to a long, silky finish.
Casamigos Mezcal retails for $73.
This is an unaged joven mezcal that has been crafted to achieve perfect balance and complexity, with its sweet and caramel like overtones, the fruity and pungent notes obtained by complex fermentation, and, finally, the smoke notes imbued by the pit. Anise, banana, pineapple, agave espadín, asparagus, and smoke are what you experience first, leading you into the taste of roasted agave, vanilla, peppers, and firewood. The refined, balanced smoke, chili, and hint of dark chocolate linger with your very last sip.
Montelobos Mezcal retails for $50.
The Smoked Dove:
2 ounces mezcal
2 ounces grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed
1 ounce lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1 splash sparkling water
1 lime wedge
1 grapefruit wheel
*Chile Lime Salt:
2 tablespoons flaky sea salt
Zest of half a lime
1/8 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
Preparation: Combine the salt, lime zest, and chili powder in a shallow dish. Wipe the rim of a cocktail glass with a lime wedge, then roll the rim in the salt mixture. In a shaker filled with ice, combine the mezcal, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and simple syrup, and shake for about 10 seconds, until shaker is cold. Pour into the salt-rimmed glass, and top off with sparkling water and a few ice cubes. Add grapefruit wheel for garnish.
*The salt recipe makes enough for about 6 drinks. If you’re having a party, simply scale up the drink recipe to your number of guests.