Pairing is Caring: A Mezcal Field Guide to Complimentary Cominglers
They're called tastebuds, so treat them like you would your best buds.
Alright, you're finished with work, you’ve got your Mezcal, and you’re ready to dive in and explore some new flavors. But your kitchen resembles a college dorm room and you know those Bagel Bites aren’t going to make the best cocktail garnish (by all means go ahead and heat em up as a side though, I’m good for a couple). Whether you can scrounge together some of these items from what you already have, or you want to make a list of reliable pairings to grab from the store, this Mezcal pairing field guide will point you in the right direction and ensure a mindfully tailored sensory experience.
Pairings tend to work in two main ways: 1. By combining similar flavors to accentuate more obvious flavors in a spirit or 2. By combining contrasting flavors to reveal less obvious or hidden tasting notes. This curated list will guide you through both respective categories in delicious harmony.
Sliced Oranges and Sal De Gusano
If you ever find yourself lucky enough to visit Mexico City or Oaxaca on the fine occasion of a Mezcal tasting, you will almost certainly be introduced to the ultimate sidekick to Mezcal, the Robin to Batman, the Chewbacca to Han Solo, the Goose to Maverick (too soon?)... As those precious mezcals meet your table its trusty confidant will have their back in the unassuming form of, that's right, the orange slice! The orange slice…?
If you haven't had orange slices since the team mom brought them to soccer practice, then oh how you’re in for a reintroduction! You remember them as a kid but you're both all grown up now; at this adults-only reunion, the orange slice shows up stunningly dressed in red. No, they're not blood oranges, that's worm salt. Don’t get thrown off here, it's SO much better than it sounds.
The worm salt, called Sal de Gusano, offers a salty lead followed by a savory smokiness and spice that parallels the Mezcal itself. This magic pairing’s acid and salt do the heavy lifting for the sake of palate-cleansing, while the taste of the worm salt leaves behind no unrelated flavors to compete with the Mezcal.
This is harmony.
These salt-sprinkled orange slices completely reset the flavors in a similar enough way that each subsequent sip of Mezcal illuminates hidden flavors unseen in the previous sip.
You can hunt down sal de gusano online, or if you want to start with bug-free training wheels, Tajin makes an excellent stand-in.
There are so many quality craft chocolates out there, so you can really go to town with different flavors here. In general, it's well-advised to stick to 70% cacao and above to avoid sweetness overtaking the mezcal. The bitterness of the chocolate reveals the sweet, sometimes fruity undertones of the spirit. A little pile of cacao nibs served on a platter with other fruits takes Mezcal sipping to the next level, (not to mention how cool it looks).
The first Mezcal cocktail that really blew my mind featured a pineapple gum syrup. The way its acid cuts through the smoke while elevating the spirit's fruity undertones is remarkable.
In the form of bitters, juiced, bruleed, in a soda ‘Radler Style’, or even just using the oils from the peel, you simply cannot go wrong with this flavor combination. Any bitterness of the grapefruit is dissipated by the Mezcal all the while providing the necessary ‘cut’ of acid, alongside hints of floral citrus. Start with the foundational favorite: the Paloma to experience the clear effect of this winning combo. *See our recipe here: https://drinkmonday.co/blogs/blog/smoky-mezcal-paloma
Feeling too lazy to craft a cocktail? Grab a can of Squirt; pour in a glass with Mezcal, ice, and a squeeze of lime for a delightfully refreshing demonstration of this duo’s compatibility.
The earthier and more raw, the better. Not only do you get the more obvious sweetness to counterbalance the smoke, but the earthy undertones of raw honey expose the earthy minerality of many Mezcals. *See this pairing in action with our next-level honey & lemon cocktail: ‘The Killer Bee’ https://drinkmonday.co/blogs/blog/mezcal-killer-bee
Hibiscus / Jamaica
This pink flower can be found all over Mexico, and is the basis for the most popular drink of the agua-fresca family, Jamaica. If you simmer these tart, dried blossoms with sugar and water you’ll end up with an eye-popping, ruby-red hibiscus simple syrup that works magic in all sorts of Mezcal concoctions. Soda water, Jamaica, Mezcal, and lime make a simple yet unforgettably refreshing delight.
Any trip deep into Mexico will have your gut happily stuffed with this locally utilized fruit. You’ll find guavas formed into paste, tossed in smoothies, or as it turns out, deliciously fused with Mezcal cocktails. For any Mezcal cocktail calling for orange juice, sub in guava juice and let the tropical vibes flow. Spicy Guava Mezcal-rita anyone? Por favor!
Japan is the 2nd largest importer of Mezcal, and it's no wonder considering how remarkably well it pairs with sushi. The bright, clean, roasted flavors cut through the fish’s fat content providing a reset where each bite makes you want more mezcal, and each sip of mezcal makes you want more sushi.
The north star of your tasting compass is your own tongue; this is in no way a comprehensive field guide. The opportunities to venture out and explore complementary pairings of your own are endless. So next time you're anywhere with a cocktail menu, keep an eye out for what ingredients they’re using in Mezcal cocktails. It can be enlightening to deconstruct these cocktail recipes to isolate ingredients and try them side by side with Mezcal. This basic awareness of ingredients and their flavors in relation to particular spirits puts together the building blocks of mixology, enabling you to craft your own cocktails. So take your sips, bites, and good field notes, because pairing is caring. Salud!