Mezcal Mania

Mezcal Mania

By Nikki Bayley | Images By Joern Rohde

Think mezcal is all about the smoke? Think again. Sure, it can be smokier than a peaty scotch, but it can also shine with caramel and vanilla notes like bourbon or be fruity and floral. So, forget all your preconceptions about mezcal and let these six talented Whistler bartenders show you the summery side of mezcal — tequila’s infinitely more complex cousin — with these cocktails designed for patio sipping in the sun

Whistler bars, cocktails, The Raven Room
604-932-2582 |
Bar Manager Matthew Scott
Sage Against The Machine

If you want to know more about mezcal, there’s no better bar to sit at than Alta Bistro, with their British-born Bar Manager Matthew Scott, a self-confessed agave aficionado who used to run a specialty tequila and mezcal bar in London. “Mezcal is very cool. It’s a labour of love that can’t be made overnight,” he tells me. “As a category, mezcal is fascinating; tequila can only be made with the blue Weber agave, but some 300 different wild species of agave — each with their own flavour profile — can be used to make mezcal, and it takes anywhere between eight to 15 years for them to ripen,” Scott says.

Fascinated, I listen to tales of different production methods (‘some are even still made with a donkey pulling the tahona stone which crushes the roasted agave before fermentation!’) as Scott gathers ingredients to make my cocktail. A year in the making, Sage Against the Machine chimes with Alta Bistro’s ethos of sustainability, aiming for zero waste and focussing on local flavours. The kitchen team preserved local blueberries in tequila for a dessert last summer; the leftover blueberry-tequila liqueur (‘a kind of blueberry cassis’) now forms the base of this cocktail.

Scott deftly shakes the liquer with huckleberries, mezcal, fresh sage leaves, Savasana Tisane herbal tea cordial, and citric acid together, then pours the most beautiful crimson-coloured cocktail before garnishing it with a single sage leaf. “Those flavours are so strong on their own but bring them together, and it’s so delicate,” says Scott. And, he’s right! So silky, with a fruity nose and an herbaceous whiff of sage, this is a deliciously delicate drink with an intriguing smoky finish.

Whistler bars, cocktails, The Raven Room
At Fairmont Chateau Whistler
604-938-8000 |
Bartender Bianca Europe
Late to The Party

“This was kinda like a mad scientist experiment,” Mallard Lounge Bartender Bianca Europe says with a laugh. “I just put all the things I love in a glass; none of it makes sense, and I needed to find the ratios to make it work because, believe me, the first one did not taste this good!” I don’t know what variation I’m drinking, but this beautifully balanced version tastes so good that it’s one of those drinks you must remember to put down between sips for fear of inhaling the whole thing immediately!

“Initially, I didn’t like mezcal,” confesses Europe, “but the more I tasted and learned about its history, how much time and love goes into making it, the more I loved it. That smokiness is earthiness. It was giving me all the soulful notes I wanted from tequila, and it’s so good in everything!” An herbaceous, fruity, smoky blend of Casamigos mezcal, Lychee liqueur (‘lots of people say they don’t like the flavour, but trust me, it ties it all together’), Aperol, Campari, grapefruit, and lemon juice, with a dash of simple syrup. It is served in a rocks glass and smells delightfully of summer.

It's Europe’s first summer in Whistler, and the Late to the Party seems custom-built for patio time and bikini weather by the Fairmont’s pool. “It almost didn’t get added to the list,” she says. “We were doing some ‘liquid kitchen’ training, and I’d been playing around with mezcal. I was thinking about that classic mezcal margarita but something with more depth and texture and wound up creating something intense and potent!”

Whistler bars, cocktails, The Raven Room
604-962-4450 |
Head Bartender Miguel Villanueva
Flor De Agave

“For me, the thing with mezcal is that it’s similar to wine in terms of variety,” explains Miguel Villanueva, a Mexico City native. “You have different grapes, different regions, and it’s the same — in Mexico, there are nine regions that produce mezcal, and the regional varieties of agave are incredible.” You can make a mini-exploration of those regions at The Mexican Corner through their popular mezcal flights, traditionally accompanied by juicy oranges and different salts (including cricket salt!). “But if you really want to experience the flavours and aromas of the agave, I always say take the first sips neat,” cautions Villanueva. “Then try with oranges and the salts, and then you’re ready to move on to cocktails!”

Showcasing the more floral notes of mezcal today, Villanueva is shaking up the Flor de Agave, possibly the prettiest cocktail I’ve had in a while — blush-rose pink and adorned with a sprig of dried lavender and twist of lemon peel. Smooth Mezcal Unión ‘El Viejo’ meets a touch of agave syrup and lemon juice with Lillet Blanc, Giffard Crème de Rose, and Scrappy’s Lavender Bitters. “Mezcal is normally considered a smoky spirit, but I want to show that it can be delicate too — sure, it’s strong because it’s a spirit, but there’s another aspect of it.”

Villanueva tells me that in Mexico right now, there’s a mezcal boom (“everyone is drinking it! It’s really trendy”) and, after a few sips of this super refreshing and pleasingly tart cocktail, it’s not hard to see why. So, is mezcal Canada’s next big thing? You heard it here first!

Whistler bars, cocktails, The Raven Room
604-905-4844 |
Manager / Bartender Mike Sedlacek
Sweet and Spicy

“Mezcal? It’s the fun cousin of tequila,” Quattro’s Mike Sedlacek says with a laugh. “For me, mezcal is about exploration; it’s a little smoother and smokier than tequila, and there’s more flavour variety too; mezcal can be very mellow through to smokier than scotch.” Like many bartenders, Sedlacek is a mezcal enthusiast and excited to draw in guests who may be new to the spirit.

For the Sweet and Spicy, Sedlacek uses a Jaral de Berrio mezcal, which he discovered in a bar along the Yucatán Peninsula in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Lightly smoky with hints of rich milk chocolate, this is a great entry point for newbie mezcal drinkers. “You’ll taste this in waves,” he explains as he combines fresh-squeezed orange for citrus notes and sweetness with a touch of jalapeño and ginger simple syrup. A healthy splash of pomegranate juice floats on top, bringing tartness, and then — to bring it all together — a pour of mineral water.

The cocktail is served on the rocks with a cayenne pepper, salt, and sugar rim. Though it’s always tough when you have a layered cocktail in front of you, you know that you need to stir to enjoy it at its best, but it’s so pretty! Reluctantly, I swirl my straw, take a sip and giggle with delight. First, you taste the sweetness of the orange, and then you’re hit with spice, ginger, and heat, which give way to saltiness and smoke. “It smells so innocent, right?” says Sedlacek, “but it’s so complex and just the perfect spirit-forward summer cocktail.” Sedlacek pauses, “Actually, no, year-round. I love mezcal any time of year!””

Whistler bars, cocktails, The Raven Room
604-932-4442 |
Bartender Scott Barber
Le Vacanze Del Diavolo

Some of the best drinks (and plans!) come about when curious folks say, “We wondered what would happen if…” In this case, Il Caminetto’s bartender, Scott Barber, pondering what alchemy could be achieved by putting two of his favourite drinks together: the coconut, rum, and pineapple-based Piña Colada and an El Diablo with tequila, ginger beer, and a cassis float. Coconut and ginger beer? Really? What may sound like a messy lovechild on paper, in reality, translates into one of the most devilishly delicious drinks I’ve had in a while.

“In my head, it didn’t work,” confesses Barber, “but I wanted to try it out anyway, but then we tasted it and figured we’d got something! I love mezcal, so it’s always great to find a new way to introduce it to our guests, especially if they’re a little hesitant and think that it’s maybe too smoky; the thing about mezcal is its versatility.” Translated as the “Devil’s Vacation,” Le Vacanze del Diavolo shakes up mezcal, lime juice, pineapple juice, and coconut purée over ice, then adds a float of B.C.’s Odd Society Crème de Cassis on top, with a spear of pineapple leaf as garnish.

Deceptively innocent, like a frothy milkshake, this is a cunningly complex creation, foamy and tropical, a little fruity from the mezcal, with a warm cassis note before a bite from the ginger on the finish. So good! “The El Diablo and Piña Colada are such good drinks, but they’ve both already been invented! So, I’d rather challenge myself to take those classics and make something new.” For my money, Barber’s created a new classic; make sure you try the “Devil’s Vacation” next time you’re in town!

Whistler bars, cocktails, The Raven Room
604-932-3433 |
Bartender Patrice Sarrazin
Dirty Harry

“There is a popular saying in Mexico: for everything bad, mezcal, for everything good also — and if there is no cure, a litre and a half!” Bearfoot Bistro Bartender Patrice Sarrazin has spent many years exploring Mexico, forming a “spirited relationship” with mezcal and tequila. “The labour, time, and symbiotic relationship the whole country has with these spirits really resonated with me,” he explains. “My inspiration for making cocktails with these spirits has grown over the years from travelling and reading as many books as I can about the spirits and their history and culture.”

The Dirty Harry (named by Bar Manager Jessica Gray) riffs on a classic sour, with Koch Espadin mezcal as the star, along with Amaro Montenegro, agave syrup, lemon juice, and egg white. “This mezcal brings sweet notes of vanilla, citrus, and spice, along with a smokiness that I really enjoy.” In this cocktail, shaken over ice, the egg white creates a pillowy surface perfect for swirling a few drops of Angostura Bitters to add a more complex nose (and gorgeous pattern!).

Light and foamy, but also sophisticated and smoky, this is dangerously drinkable. So, if you’re a scotch fan, prepare to meet your new best friend! “All you need for a good cocktail is proper balance,” says Sarrazin. “You just need to find ingredients that complement each other while keeping it simple.”