Mixing Mezcal

The iconic libation at the center of many Mexican celebrations and cultural events comes to the table in time for Cinco de Mayo with the team behind local restaurants Aztecas and DeMaiz Cantina.

Mezcal is made from the heart of the Agave plant, otherwise known as the pina. The name stems from its resemblance to a pineapple. Cocktails from left to right Mezcal Negroni, El Tamarindo and the Smoky Rita // Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau

Cinco de Mayo is always an exciting day for Orlando Godoy. It’s a day for him to celebrate his heritage with people from all over Mobile through food, drink, music and revelry. The restaurateur and his master mixologist Fernando Palacios have been eagerly developing new recipes to debut this May 5 that represent their culture — ones that may be unfamiliar and tantalizing to Mobilians. They’re counting on a uniquely Mexican liquor to be their secret ingredient: mezcal. 

Mezcal is like the revered and sophisticated mother of tequila. Artisanal mezcal distillers, known as mezcaleros, from across Mexico have harvested, roasted and fermented agave hearts to produce a liquor with complex flavor profiles for centuries. Unlike tequila, which is a class of mezcal that can only be made from blue Weber agave, mezcals can be made from dozens of agave species and the flavor profiles can be further developed when mezcaleros add fruits, sugars or spices during the fermentation process. This versatility and variety of the beverage’s parent plant create a spectrum of smoky, earthy, floral and herbal aromatic notes and tastes that reflect the richness and diversity of Mexican culture. 

The liquor has seen a rise in popularity in recent years. Bars dedicated entirely to mezcal are arriving on the scene in larger cities, and some restaurants have begun to train and hire mezcal sommeliers. Palacios attributes this increased interest to people in Mexico and the United States realizing and admiring its complexity. “I like to describe mezcal to people as being similar to wine and scotch in a way,” says Palacios. “Now people are choosing bottles that will go with the food they’re serving like they would pick a wine for a meal. And I think that people who like scotch will appreciate it because it has various malts and a similar peaty taste. It’s a little different, but those are good things to compare it to. It lets people know what to expect.”

Mezcal is a significant cultural artifact, a hallowed emblem that preserves ancient religious rites, and a connector of people, but it isn’t yoked to any one occasion in Mexican culture. It is instead an expected staple at many celebrations and ceremonies. Newlyweds taste the liquor’s robust, smooth flavors between bites of cake at their weddings. Families honor the spirits of lost loved ones by offering them the spirit of mezcal on Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Generations bond over the beverage at some family reunions. Cinco de Mayo is, of course, no exception, but only for those who celebrate it. 

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Contrary to the belief that Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican celebration of Dia de la Independencia de Mexico — or Mexican Independence Day — Cinco de Mayo originated in the state of Puebla and commemorates Mexico’s victory against the French Army during The Battle of Puebla in 1862. Cinco de Mayo became a popular date for Mexican Americans in California to celebrate their heritage in the 1950s and 1960s after Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Good Neighbor Policy in 1933, which encouraged friendly relations between countries and strengthened the relationship between the US and Latin America. However, it didn’t become a widely celebrated holiday in the United States until the late 1970s. Godoy sees the day as an opportunity for everyone to appreciate history together. “I love that everybody celebrates Cinco de Mayo,” he says. “People come to our restaurants and eat the food we love with us and have a lot of fun. We get to have a party and share about our history. I think it’s a great way for people to learn about Mexican culture.”


Orlando Godoy, Co-owner of DeMaiz Cantina and Aztecas

When Orlando Godoy moved from Mexico to the United States, he didn’t plan on settling in Mobile. He was just stopping by to spend some time with his cousin, Armando Rodriguez, before traveling the country to find his new home. While in town, Godoy helped his cousin fulfill his vision of opening Hacienda San Miguel, a family-centered restaurant that showcased Mexican architecture and alfresco dining. 

Godoy and Rodriguez realized that they were a dynamic duo when it came to business, and they officially partnered in 2005. They now own 11 restaurants that serve authentic culinary experiences inspired by their culture. “I got here at the perfect time to help him start growing,” says Godoy. “I really started liking the restaurant business and I saw an opportunity. We’ve had a great journey so far.”

Over time, Godoy became even more enchanted by Mobile. “I met my wife and started my family here,” he says. “I still have family in Mexico. I like to visit my parents and siblings, and I still speak to my children in Spanish at home and teach them about our culture. But I love it here. I have lived here more time than in Mexico. This is my home.”

Elevate your festivities this Cinco de Mayo by giving mezcal a try. Experiment with new cocktail recipes or swap mezcal for tequila in your margarita. If you’re feeling adventurous, take it straight with an orange slice sprinkled with Tajin and some worm salt. While you enjoy the nuanced yet robust flavors of mezcal, take a moment to appreciate its history and cultural significance, and the rich Mexican heritage and values it represents. 


Smoky Rita

Makes 1 Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces tequila
1/2 ounce mezcal*
1/2 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice, reserving the squeezed lime
1/2 ounce fresh orange juice
1/2 ounce agave nectar, or to taste
Tajin, for rim of glass
Dried orange slice, for garnish
Sprig of rosemary, for garnish

1. Combine liquors, juices and agave in a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake until well mixed.  

2. Empty Tajin onto a small plate. Rub the leftover lime wedge around the top rim of the glass, then dip the rim into the Tajin.

3. Fill rocks glass with ice. Strain the margarita mixture over and garnish with a dehydrated orange slice and a sprig of rosemary.

* While local stores don’t stock many brands of mezcal, a plethora of options in all flavor profiles can be sourced online. Palacios prefers espandin agave mezcals, likeReyCompero or Montelobos.


Mezcal Negroni

Makes 1 Cocktail

1 ounce mezcal
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
Orange wheel, for garnish

1. Combine the mezcal, Campari and sweet vermouth in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over one large ice cube. Garnish with orange.

El Tamarindo

Makes 1 Cocktail

1 ounce tamarind syrup*
2 ounces mezcal
Ginger beer 
Mint sprig for garnish
Dried pineapple wheel, for garnish

1. Combine syrup and mezcal in the bottom of a highball glass. Fill with ice and top with ginger beer. Garnish with a mint sprig and dried pineapple wheel and serve.

*To make tamarind syrup, combine 1/2 cup tamarind paste in a small saucepan with 1 cup of sugar and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 1-2 minutes, or until well dissolved. Remove from heat and cool, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks.

what is tamarind?
While tamarind is native to Africa and Asia, and is popular in Thai cuisine, the leguminous tree is also cultivated in the western hemisphere, mainly Mexico. The Fruit is used to make candies and augua de tamarindo, as well as other snacks and sweets throughout Mexico.

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