Liberty co-owner Andrew Friedman and Barrio spirits director Casey Robison launched their mescal odysseys separately. By the time the two friends connected, each had amassed about 30 bottles of the distilled-agave spirit so ingrained in the culture of Oaxaca. Their shared obsession became a friendly competition resulting in two of the largest mescal collections on the West Coast.
Friedman and Robison just returned from a trip through Oaxaca’s rugged mountains and valleys full of their adventures with distillers who make tiny batches by roasting piles of agave hearts for two or three days over hot rocks—the source of that signature smoky flavor. We sat down (with a little mescal, naturally) to discuss.
A Taste Worth Acquiring
Andrew: The first thing you could tell everybody: Agave is not cactus.
Casey: It’s a succulent, for sure.
Andrew: This is a totally different taste than what you’ve grown up drinking. The first time, it’s gross. It tastes like rubber. It tastes like iodine. But for people who get it, it’s magical.
Casey: Plus there’s something about mescal drunk.
Andrew: It’s a comfortable drunk; you don’t get drunk and crazy, you just get really comfortable.
Think of It Like Wine
Casey: The varietals are really cool: You’ve got tobala, you’ve got Madre Cuishe, and espadin; same types of species, totally different variety of plant. Also, the agave can be affected by terroir, weather, elevation, sun exposure, etc. ... An agave plant like the espadin takes eight to 10 years to mature before you pull it out of the ground, as opposed to corn that you harvest once a year.
Andrew: Same with rum, barley, rye.
Casey: Meanwhile, the mescalero that has the espadin field, he’s walking by every day for 10 years, then finally he’s like, “That one looks ready.” He’ll pull it out and it yields maybe a case.
How to Drink It?
Casey: My preferred way of drinking mescal is a very cold bottle of Mexican beer with a two-ounce pour of mescal. It’s heaven on earth.
Andrew: Room temperature.
Casey: For me personally, aside from maybe one or two, I don’t particularly care for mescal in cocktails. The purists are like, “It’s perversion.”
Andrew: Cocktails are the delivery system to the new generation. Keep in mind your average bar is going to spend $9 on a bottle of vodka and most drinks are $9.
Casey: Meanwhile, your cheapest mescal is around $35 a bottle.
“There’s something about mescal drunk.”
Where to Drink It
Barrio The “everything’s better with mescal” feature on the menu subs in mescal as the base spirit for any classic cocktail. Bonus: All mescal is half off on Monday nights. 1420 12th Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-588-8105; barriorestaurant.com
Liberty Ask and you shall receive a tasting of three to five types of mescal. Or a mix of mescals and tequilas if you want to compare and contrast. 517 15th Ave E, Capitol Hill, 206-323-9898; libertybars.com
Mezcaleria Oaxaca Every mescal legally available in the state of Washington is here; try it in cocktails like the Primer Beso, made with house-infused pineapple mescal and rimmed with sal de gusano—yes, that’s salt made with worms. 2123 Queen Anne Ave N, Queen Anne, 206-216-4446; mezcaleriaoaxaca.com
Published: May 2013