Tequila, Mezcal, and Mexican bites, oh my!
On days when I get a special message from Oyamel (Jose Andres’ Mexican restaurant in DC) asking if I’d join them for a preview of their Tequila & Mezcal Festival, I really do LOVE my job. After RSVP-ing faster than you can say “Tequila”, I readied myself by reading about the various options that would be introduced at this annual festival.
Although I went to the tasting back in February (the festival is going on now through March 23), I can still almost taste the smoky mezcal, and the inventive tequila drinks paired with the baby cochinita tacos that were deliciously served during the lively event.
Held in Oyamel’s recently extended bar and dining area, I was excited to see this tasting was in full swing with a local Salsa band lending the soundtrack to the boisterous crowd who adventurously tried the various drink and menu items being offered.
There is a saying attributed to Oaxaca regarding mezcal (an alcoholic beverage derived from the heart of the maguey plant): "para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien también" ("for everything bad, mezcal; for everything good, the same"), and seriously who are we to argue with ancient anonymous sayings? No one that’s who.
Chef José Andrés, was on hand spreading his love for Mexican food and drinks (and only slightly getting stalked by me as I waited for an opportunity to introduce myself and take a picture with him) –you know you would’ve too!
Head chef Colin King was also there greeting guests and serving some of his delicious food himself.. talk about personal service!
But I’m jumping ahead of myself, let’s go straight to the spirits, which are the brainchild of award-winning mixologist and entrepreneur, Juan Coronado.
Under the guise of “we need to take a picture of all the drinks for the blog” (and completely ignoring the fact that Oyamel provided us with a USB with cocktail pictures included) I proceeded to order every drink on the menu. After informing the bartender Miguel that I was Mexican, he shared he was from Puebla himself, and then started me off with the strongest and most adventurous drink he could stir up. Miguel you had me at “Agave en Leña.”
The preparation for this smokey mezcal drink was almost as fun as drinking it. Miguel started the cocktail by burning a spot on the left hand side of a cedar wood plank using a torch until smoke emerged, and then proceeded to cover the spot with an upside down rocks glass effectively filling it with smoke. He then took a 2-inch ice sphere and placed it next to the glass before covering the ice with the smoky glass allowing the smoke to infuse the ice for a few seconds. I was like a moth to a mezcal flame watching as he mixed the remaining ingredients, 1.5 ounces of mezcal, a splash of Benedictine liqueur, ¼ ounce of agave syrup, 2 dashes of Oyabitters (Oyamel makes their own bitters) and garnished it with an orange peel.
After I saw how labor intensive the drink was, I decided to hold off on the remaining drinks (for now) and took my newfound concoction to be enjoyed at the end of the bar. The Agave en Leña lived up to its name, the mezcal which is already smoky in nature, was incredibly elevated with the addition of the smoked ice, however, the smokiness was quickly followed with a sweetness from the agave, followed by a tartness of the Oyabitters. It was unlike anything I’ve tried before but something I wouldn’t mind trying again and again.
I cleansed my palate with a bite of Ceviche Estilo Culiacán, marinated bass with Serrano, lime, onion, cilantro, tomatillos and house-made hot sauce (a dish that I would like to rename, heaven in a bite.)
Greg Powers Photography - courtesy of Oyamel
There was a break in our tasting as Rob Wilder and Jose Andres welcomed everyone and spoke about how excited they were about the Tequila and Mezcal Festival. Check out a short video below.
Jose Andres talked a little bit about the history of mezcal and how he fell in love with it.
After the speech we returned to the tasting and I went back to Miguel for another adventurous drink, this time from the Tequila family. El Jarocho, with Añejo tequila, house-made ancho chile pepper liquor and Cocci Americano Rosa.
The spicy tequila goodness became my second favorite drink of the night. Although the spiciness was definitely present, it wasn’t overpowering and the rosa gave it a sweetness that countered the heat perfectly. After trying this drink I decided to be even more adventurous and tried the Cueritos (which I previously had sworn I would never try!). Cueritos are pork skin that’s been dressed with lettuce, lime, cilantro, and salsa cascabel. The Oyamel version had some chicharron garnish that added a tasty crunch to the dish. I am definitely glad I tried this! Next I tried the Jalapeño Escabeche Relleno con Carne Seca pickled jalapeños stuffed with dried beef and topped with chopped tomatillos. This bite was delicious from beginning to end and I could have easily eaten an entire platter of these.
To counter the spiciness I ordered what seemed to everyone’s favorite drink, the Miramar. This tequila concoction was like the Margarita’s long lost cousin. Made with 2 ounces of tequila blanco, yellow chartreuse, lime juice, pineapple juice, simple syrup, and garnished with a pineapple leaves and Oaxacan salt water mist, this drink was as refreshing as a cold winter day. That is to say… very refreshing!
Some of the other standouts of the night in the food department was the Veal Breast Birria, a braised veal breast with refried Rebosero beans, salsa guajillo, lettuce and radish and of course the star of the night the baby roast pig tacos.
I washed this down with the Rosa de Oaxaca, made with Mezcal, hibiscus (that’s agua de Jamaica y’all), raspberry and lemon. I’ve actually had agua de Jamaica mixed with tequila before and mezcal is definitely a better match. It’s tart, smoky, raspberry, lemony goodness.
Oyamel’s unique take on Tequila & Mezcal shows a lot of thought, with food pairings that are reflective of Mexican street food culture, guacamole with comal-fired tortillas, whole baby pig tacos, ceviches, esquites, and comal-fried quesadillas. Complete with complimentary tastings followed with exclusive dinner pairings, there's no excuse not to try it.
Definitely worth checking out! See the schedule of complimentary Tequila & Mezcal tastings below and visit Oyamel at 401 7th Street, NW, 20001 in Washington, DC before the festival is over on March 23rd!
Complimentary Tequila & Mezcal Tastings:
Held from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM on March 17th-20th. These tastings will take place in the butterfly bar area where representatives from the featured brands will share their knowledge on the spirits and answer questions from guests. Following the tastings, Oyamel will host an intimate dinner series with featured guests. The special tastings and dinner schedule is as follows:
Monday, March 17th: Raza Zaidi, Wahaka Mezcal tasting.
Tuesday, March 18th: William Erickson, Fortaleza Tequila tasting.
Wednesday, March 19th: Fausto Zapata, founder of El Silencio Mezcal, tasting.
Thusday, March 20th: Arik Torren, Fidencio Mezcal tasting with dinner featuring La Venenosa Raicila.
The post-tasting dinners will begin at 8:30 PM in the Private Dining Room. The price is $90 per person (exclusive of tax and gratuity) and will include the chef’s featured dinner menu and a cocktail pairing. Tickets for the dinner can be purchased by calling (202) 628-1005.
You can also get a cool t-shirt to commemorate your love for Tequila and Mezcal!
Find more pics of the exclusive preview here.