As the saying goes, “You don’t find mezcal; mezcal finds you.” Recently, at Washington, D.C.’s Oyamel, mezcal found me. For those newbies like me who aren’t sure of mezcal is, know that you are not alone. Simply, it’s tequila. Technically, tequila must originate from the Mexican region of Tequila, in the state of Jalisco, and on a more limited basis from the states of Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas, according to the Geographical Indication, a Mexican program protecting the unique identity of Tequila. Mezcal, on the other hand, is not protected, and is a tequila-type distilled spirit produced from the blue agave plant outside of these regions. Phew. Bet you didn’t think the party beverage of choice could be so complicated?
To celebrate this popular spirit, Oyamel held a tequila and mezcal festival from March 10 to 23. This seventh annual event featured tastings and cocktail pairing dinners. The dinners were developed specially to highlight the delicate flavors of tequila and mezcal. During the festival, Oyamel rolled out a new antojitos (literally "little cravings" or small bites) menu specially designed for sampling with one of five specialty cocktails featuring tequila and mezcal. The options were flavorful and diverse. Guests could enjoy Miramar—with Herradura silver Tequila, Yellow Chartreuse, lime, pineapple, and salt-water mist—paired with the Ceviche de Chamoy or Hawaiian Ono dusted with chile piquín, tossed in a mango and chile mulato chamoy, peanuts cucumber, onion, lime, and cilantro.
Fans of colorful beverages could down the gorgeous purple-red Rosa de Oaxaca — a concoction of Mezcal, hibiscus, raspberry, lemon and a mist of tuberose —paired with Cueritos or pork skin and chicharrones dressed with lettuce, lime, cilantro and salsa cascabel. My personal favorite drink, the Agave en leña—a mix of Mezcal, Benedictine, agave syrup, housemade bitters, served over a cedar plank smoked ice sphere—and paired with Jalapeño escabeche relleno con carne seco–pickled jalapeños stuffed with dried beef and topped with chopped tomatillos. If you’re feeling saucy (and have a hefty tax refund to spend), you can order the mezcal Ibérico. It’s a signature mezcal with an Oyamel twist — aged with Jamón Ibérico or a traditional cured Spanish pig leg.