Words by Ruben Gzirian, Photos by Nicholas Karlin
Walking off a restive 9th Street into a bustling Espita Mezcaleria immediately shook me awake. The noise of floor staff and bartenders working in tandem; the congregation of people finishing up happy hour in support of Bat Conservation International; and the vibrant wall murals from renowned Oaxacan artist Yescka all set the mood for a fall cocktail menu that is as much about appreciation for Mexican history and culture as it is about mastering the intricacies of cocktail making.
Espita’s fall cocktail menu is the third iteration of an ongoing series started in the spring based on specific periods in Mexican history. Following the pre-Colombian Mexico (spring) and Colombian Mexico (summer), fall’s cocktails pay homage to the international diversity of modern Mexico. Beverage director Megan Barnes and her team incorporated unique and seemingly incompatible ingredients to create something special for the season.
Perhaps no better drink drove that point home than the El Tiempo No Perdona. The drink, whose name translates to “Time Does Not Forgive,” was an expertly tailored combination of flavor and presentation. The combination of Batavia Arrack, Indonesian rum made with red rice, and Mezcal created a flavor that was deep; sweet and full-bodied; and smoky smooth. The effervescent pear quickly gave way to nuanced lavender, which was then followed by lemon was paired with anise (think absinthe) and the floral sweetness of the honey from the Xtabentún Honey Liqueur. The Butterfly tea garnish not only made for an Instagram-ready presentation, but also changed the color and brightened the taste profile as it dissolved.
Following the El Tiempo No Perdona, the Los Olviados (inspired by the 1950 Mexican film) was basically fall in a glass. Every ingredient, from the pungent sugar profile of the cachaça, to the sweet and dry sensation of the Japanese plum wine, finishing with the heat of the Corazon bitters, was on full display. In between, the Cotton & Reed All Spice Dram and Mezcal added layers upon layers that reminded me of refined brandy. With its dry finish and balance of light and full flavors, Los Olviados was the best drink I had all night.
Our next drink was aptly named Mariposa Traicionera. Named after the wildly successful Mana track from 2003 that took 13 weeks to reach number 1 on the US Billboard Hot Latin Tracks, the drink combined two of my favorite liquors, Cardamaro and fernet, to create something that improved with each sip. The Fernet Francisco, which hails from San Francisco and is co-owned by Ben Flajnik (yes, the same Ben Flajnik of The Bachelor, Season 16), was much lighter than the Italian Fernet Branca I drank as a night cap/first drink of the day after bartending shifts at The Gibson. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ben’s take on the classic, it paired well with the rich Cardamaro and the interplay between the aromatic sweetness of the vanilla and the Damson plum. I sort of feel guilty for liking this drink as much as I did.
The Al Diablo Con Los Guapos, named after the Mexican telenovela with the same name, was a reminder that while Megan and her team can present the weathered cocktail drinker with new ideas, they also have something for people who just familiar. The Al Diablo used the smokiness of the Mezcal, the fruity smoot notes of the apple brandy, and thick sweetness of the spice grenadine to create an elevated version of a Jack Rose.
Each cocktail was intertwined with not only the character of Espita Mezcaleria, but also the character of Megan Barnes and her team. Describing how the fall menu was created, Barnes talked about a three-week creation process during which each bartender is able to suggest ingredients and concepts for new cocktail ideas. At the end of that process, each drink is voted on for a place on the menu. It’s no surprise that Megan was so proud that of the ten cocktails on the menu, only two were her creations. In this menu, Megan and her team have worked together to create a series of drinks that are a testament to their talent and ambition.