Omnivore - Get in Ma Mouth: Mezcal Edition

A magical mezcal cocktail from Empire State South


  • Joeff Davis
  • Kellie Thorn's Spindrift cocktail at Empire State South

Are you on to the whole mezcal thing? The good mezcal thing? The mezcal thing that stems from artisan producers such as Del Maguey and Fidencio and Los Nahuales? If so, I won't need to fill you in on the virtues of this agave-based spirit — the way it can veer from grassy to fruity to herbal to smoky to spicy in mere seconds. Good mezcal is as worthy of sipping neat as any other spirit on the planet. If you haven't given it a shot, head down to a good cocktail bar — like the one at Empire State South — where you can sip on some in pure form, or step in more tentatively (or adventurously, depending on your point of view) with a mezcal-based cocktail.

ESS beverage director/bartender Kellie Thorn has a doozy of a drink on Empire State South's current cocktail menu. It's called the Spindrift, and it employs mezcal in one of the most magical combinations I've ever tasted. Thorn says they've almost always had mezcal-based drinks on the menu, but she's noticed that such cocktails have become much more popular with imbibers over the past year.

“We used to have to add a 'Just to let you know, this is smoky and doesn't taste like tequila' disclaimer with anyone who ordered mezcal,” Thorn says. “It's nice to see people coming around to spirit categories outside of vodka and whiskey, which are both great in their own right. But the world of booze is vast, and the people making it and the places it comes from are full of stories to be told through the liquid." Mezcal, she says, "can smell like the ocean, a tropical fruit custard, baking spices, sandalwood, wet stones, or flowers and bell pepper depending on where it comes from, who is making it, and what variety of agave is being used."

The Spindrift employs organic Vida mezcal, an entry-level specimen from award-winning producer Del Maguey. Thorn describes the Vida as having "a ton of fruit on it, but also some great spice and herb notes." That fruit and spice serves as the foundation for a drink that layers sherry (Dry Sack 15 year old Oloroso), a house-made pineapple-dill syrup, and some fresh lime juice to perk it all up. One whiff is all you need to know something special is on the way. The drink starts out with mezcal’s telltale smokiness and just a hint of agave in the background. Then comes a wave of honey and tropical fruit blending the tart citrus into a smooth, almost port-like finish.

That's most likely the sherry, which, Thorn says, brings "a little weight and tons of nutty, oxidized notes." And the pineapple-dill syrup helps make the drink "bright and herbaceous with a little candied depth." Thorn sprinkles a bit of dill pollen over the top of the drink "to reinforce the aromatics," and it's remarkable how well the mezcal’s presence bobs in and out of the many flavors at play.

Eager to try it for yourself? Hit up Empire State South, or make one at home:

The Spindrift

1 ounce Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
3/4 ounce Dry Sack 15 yr Oloroso Sherry
3/4 ounce pineapple dill syrup
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
Fresh dill and/or dill pollen

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin or mixing glass. Shake with ice. Fine strain over a large ice cube in a chilled rocks glass. Top with a sprinkling of dill pollen and/or a fresh sprig of dill.

Pineapple Dill Syrup
Juice of one pineapple
Sugar equal to the amount of pineapple juice
1 cup fresh dill

Heat pineapple juice to a simmer. Add dill, remove from heat, and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain and reserve the dill-steeped pineapple juice, gently pressing the dill. Add sugar and stir to combine while still warm.

Editor's note: This post has been updated since its original publication.

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