Category Archives: drinks

MAGIC MEXICAN MOONSHINE

Danny McDermott’s Mezcal Sazerac at Acacia

Today is Cinco De Mayo, but instead of knocking back Tequila shots in the name of a holiday that is hardly celebrated in Mexico, why not celebrate with a Mexican art form, one centuries old and steeped in the lore and culture of its indigenous people.
I’m talking about mezcal!
Yes, here in the U.S. the spirit initially became famous for “the worm” (they are actually larvae) which was a telltale sign of a cheap product, not to mention a raging hangover. Forget the worm, today there are hundreds of mid-range to premium mezcals on the quickly growing market.
Mezcal is the smooth and smokey great-grandfather of tequila, made for centuries by the Zapotec and Miztec people using the sacred agave plant. Tequila is made specifically from the blue agave plant, but mezcal can be produced with many different varieties of agave. 
The agave plants (maguey) are grown in villages at different elevations giving each its own terrior (or shall we say tierra!). Mexican law protects the name mezcal from being applied to products made from anything except approved agave plants, much like wines in Europe have a geographical indication or appellation d’origine.

The similarities with wine are obvious but after researching mezcal’s history and production it seems it has much in common with another spirit rooted in rural communities with a rich history and culture, moonshine.

Del Maguey, is one importer of artisan mezcal. Founded by mezcal guru and obsessive, Ron Cooper, Del Maguey has Fair Trade agreements with 8 villages in the southern state of Oaxaca, where the most distinctive mezcal is found. All are still using traditional production methods. In these rural villages dotting the mountains and valleys, some without main roads or even telephone access, palenqueros farm the agave plants and mezcaleros or mezcal makers have passed down the rustic art of mezcal distillation for generations. 

Del Maguey family of mezcals (from mezcal.com)

Del Maguey family of mezcal from mezcal.com

Recipes are closely guarded and start with wild agave, sometimes with the addition of fruits, nuts, and grains either infused or added during distillation. Some recipes involve the ancient practice of ‘meat distillation’ where a skinless chicken breast is hung inside the top of the still for the vapors to pass through to balance out flavor with a savory element. These are called pechuga (Spanish for breast) and can fetch $200 a bottle. The spirit can be made from one type of agave, for instance a 100% Espadin agave or from blends of agave.
Most of Mezcal’s production is still very small scale due to the slow and primitive methods employed in the villages.

The agave plant itself is slow, producing fruit only after six to eight years, before dying. The fruit of the plant, the piña, is cooked for 2 or 3 days over wood fire, caramelizing sugars and creating that distinctive smoke, in pits lined with stone. They are then ground, usually by stone, mixed with water and left to naturally ferment before being distilled in copper or clay and then aged. Aging varies depending on the type of mezcal:

  • Joven (young, unaged)
  • Reposado (aged in oak 12 months) 
  • Añejo (aged 12-36 months) 
  • Extra añejo (aged beyond 36 months)
Danny McDermott, bar manager at Acacia is a big mezcal fan and carries Del Maguey and Los Amantes brands currently.
“Mezcal is the last truly artisan spirit” McDermott says. “Here in Richmond, occasionally people in the know will sometimes order it neat, but I use it as a mixer often, because I love it.”

McDermott uses Del Maguey’s entry level Vida for mixed cocktails (editor’s note: I love it straight! So silky!) as the pricier and complex mezcals they produce are better enjoyed like a fine bourbon, sipped and savored. In Mexico people sip it at room temperature with a sweet orange slice or more reverently, out of clay bowls.

So later tonight when you mosey up to the bar order a mezcal, look your companion in the eye, and say Stigibeau!  (pronounced stee-gee-bay-oo) a Native Zapotec word toasting to the health of each other, the earth and Mexico. But please sip, don’t shoot.

Mezcal Sazerac Variation (thanks to Danny McDermott)

2. oz Del Maguey Vida mezcal
.5 oz gomme syrup*
green chartreuse
Bittermen’s Xocolatl mole bitters

Rinse a rocks glass with green Chartreuse, fill with ice and set aside. In a mixing glass or tin, add the gomme syrup and mezcal. Fill about 3/4 full with ice and stir until well chilled. Dump the ice from the rocks glass, and strain the mixture therein. Garnish with orange twist and 5 drops Bittermen’s xocolatl mole bitters.

*gomme syrup is a rich simple syrup thickened with gomme arabic; in a pinch, a rich simple could be used (2:1 sugar:water)
2 oz. food grade gomme arabic
2 oz. water
8 oz. sugar
4 oz. water

Combine gomme arabic and water (a lot of stirring is required), and let sit for 24 hours (at room temperature). Combine sugar and water over heat, until combined. Add gomme syrup base (from step 1) and stir to combine. Skim off foam.

ONE DAY IN RVA #2 THEY CALL HIM HUGEL

One day in RVA is a series on the fabulous folks who enrich our city on the daily.

JohnnyHugel&Molly

Hugel pictured here with his girlfriend Molly.

Who are you Really?
Johnny Hugel – Producer at Mobelux, Director at Feast RVA, Man about town.

What’s in your fridge?
Usually the fridge has almond milk, Soda stream seltzer, half eaten pasta sauce, a lack of fresh vegetables, mexican coke, iced coffee, a mix of Trader Joe’s staples like veggie potstickers (for DIY Ramen surprise), veggie chikin’s, and homemade pesto in ice cube trays.

What was the last album/song you listened to?
The last album I bought was Big Boi’s latest.
I find myself listening to comedy podcasts and DJ mix tapes non-stop these days.

What did you do today in RVA?
My girlfriend Molly and I wake at 7:45 most mornings after ignoring two alarms. The sound of our roommate leaving finally rouses us out of bed. After we quickly shower, dress and run out the door, I drop her off in Carytown at Need Supply Co. a local retailer of modern fashion.
I worked my way into my dream job as a producer at a local start-up with great benefits like working from home Fridays, but I tend to thrive in controlled-chaos, and can’t get much of anything done at home.

I head to Lamplighter, a local coffee outpost in the Fan District. A few years ago when Lamplighter opened in a former gas-station turned derelict outpost many doubted the husband & wife, bike-gang denim-jacket sporting duo would have lasted long, but today they’ve opened their second location with a roastery, fulfillment center, pour-over bar and more. Whenever the weather is anywhere close to decent, I order an iced-coffee, a Country-Style donut (24-hour donut dive, out by the airport) and grab a spot at one of the communal picnic tables for the morning. I work for a few hours when my battery dying signals the need for change of scenery.

I’ll head into the Mobelux office for a bit to take care of anything that needs doing around there. Our office, The Corrugated Box Building is a modern renovation of, as far as I know, an actual corrugated box factory. The exposed beams bear the markings of work much more strenuous than mine, and the raw steel of the massive staircase and our matching furniture, hearken to the buildings industrial past. Much of our workspace I helped design and invokes the vintage/industrial/Edison bulb-lit past that is all the rage these days. As a producer in a digital creative agency sometimes I’m facilitating client discussions or I could be searching salvage yards for suitable raw wood boards for shelving. We just helped launch a service and iOS app called Elixr that allows you to socially share the (alcoholic) drinks that you partake in as you travel the town/world. The strong food/drink scene of Richmond was an immediate supporter and has contributed to it’s rise in popularity.

Around 1:30 I head across “the river” (also referred to as The James, but never “The James River” all at once) into Downtown Richmond, to Citizen a literal underground lunch counter, which has amassed a cult following for it’s locally-sourced, vegetarian & vegan friendly, constantly rotating and diverse menu. They welcome me by name as I enter. I order the Roasted butternut squash on a pressed bolillo roll topped with celery root-horseradish slaw and house-made curry cashew butter w/ Lentils & Feta as a side and an Iced Tea. I grab a seat amongst the politicians, state employees, bike couriers, and vegans-in-the-know and scarf down my lunch, typically saving half of my side for a mid-afternoon snack.

I finish out the workday in my house, pausing temporarily to make an iced coffee pick-me-up, before heading back over to Need Supply to pick up Molly. If the weather is nice enough we’ve been known to walk through Carytown for a bit, but it’s gotten cold and we’re hungry so we set our sites on one of our current go-to’s, Stella’s restaurant. Stella’s is the latest in a string of popular restaurants run by the Giavos family. A reprisal of an earlier well loved restaurant of theirs, with a modern design and an affordable sharing-friendly menu of classic and updated Greek dishes. We sit at the community table, and enjoy flakey spanikopita, a zesty kale salad w/ feta, Gigantes and Melitzanosalata, and just as we’ve stuffed ourselves to the brink, we’re sent a plate of Chocolate Baclava by Constantine, the owners son, a friend, and designer of the hip logo and menus.

While going out on the town is always on the agenda, stuffing ourselves, and the toil of the work week forces us to call it a night early and close out Friday on the couch. This night we finish House Of Cards, and go to bed dreaming about politics and getting more coffee in the morning.

THE 5 DAYS OF DRINKMAS

Hey! Long time no see! I still exist doing the whole working/baking/eating/drinking/thinking thing. Mostly working/baking/sleping as of late.
With so little time left between now and THE BIG DAY, I decided to latch onto the holiday frivolity the best way I know how- COCKTAILS! In the next days leading up to Christmas, I will drink at least 5, if not more cocktails around town and picture them here and on my twitter.
After a long day working/baking Marty and I decided to pop into Pasture, where the cocktail list has recently been revealed. I really appreciate how Pasture is blending modern and sleek with traditional and the bar is gorgeous.
Marty went with a Roanoke Rail lager and I decided on The SURRY: smoked ginger syrup, bourbon, lemon juice and peel, and a splash of ginger ale. The drink is listed on ice, but I requested it NEAT and do not regret it. I also asked for Old Overholt, a straight Rye Whiskey.
This is a complex little drink. The smokiness, while not for everyone I imagine, completely made the drink for me. Those other ingredients, (obviously no strangers to Whiskey) gained depth from that muskiness and made for a subtle but different treatment.
I highly recommend it.
CHEER FACTOR: 4 out of 5

The SURRY at Pasture

Stay tuned for more drinks from around town and elsewhere!

TO ALL THE DRINKS I’VE LOVED BEFORE


When I was a wee food punk growing up in Plymouth, MA there was an ice cream place called Peaceful Meadows. They made fresh ice cream and they had the cows out back to prove it. Coconut ice cream was my favorite flavor but what I really loved from there was not even a dairy sweet treat. It was a frosty drink called a Rickey.
At Peaceful Meadows they had an old fashioned Lime Rickey and a Raspberry Lime Rickey. Oh the, RASPBERRY LIME RICKEY! It must have been something to keep me from ordering ice cream and it was. Refreshing and tickley (they used super carbonated water) with a real raspberry syrup and lime, it was my true love, (next to Corey Feldman and Michael Jackson). Traditionally The Rickey is a lime based cocktail made with soda water and gin. Of course they were not slinging gin down at Peaceful Meadows, those teenage gals behind the counter were underage! I do think however that my adoration of the Lime Rickey gave way to what would be my preferred cocktail during my 20s- the Gin Gimlet.
Let’s get back to underage drinks. In an effort to cut down on the boozehounding around here, I have been thinking of lots of libations to enjoy this summer season (read: miserable-humid-mosquito-ridden-100 degree plus-weather).
Today I came up with this:

Cherry Ginger Lime Rickey
1 bottle of Blenheim’s Ginger Ale (make sure it is the spicy)
Half of a lime
Brandied cherries (I said cut down on the booze, not eliminate it! Now is a good time, by the way, to brandy up some fresh cherries at home for future use. Pit cherries, water+sugar+lemon zest+heat to a boil, add cherries, simmer for 5 min, remove from heat, add brandy, cool and jar. Boom.)
Angostura bitters
Great big beautiful ice cubes (shown here courtesy of the Maker’s Mark Ambassador Program)

Put ice in glass, put glass in freezer for a few minutes. Squeeze half a lime into glass, a couple shakes of bitters and pour on Blenheim. Stir. Spear brandied cherries and a lime wheel to garnish and serve.

Of course you could always throw in a splash of gin and I won’t tell on you.
What lovely beverage concoctions (boozy and non) are you planning on sippin on this summer? Do tell!

This song came out in 1984, definitely one of years that you’d likely find me at Peaceful Meadows slurpin on a Rickey.