Shea Hogan's Mezcal based Death Squad Sour (Shameful Tiki Room)

Shea Hogan’s Mezcal based Death Squad Sour (Shameful Tiki Room)

Mezcal can be mildly mesmerizing.

Over the years I’ve learned to treat certain spirits—from single malt Whisky to Absinthe and more— with a degree of respect. Maybe it was only a matter of time before Mezcal was added to the list—a fact reconfirmed at last week’s Vancouver International Tequila Expo. In a way it’s all Eric Lorenz‘s fault. Not that I’m in any way upset. Lorenz, a natural and well versed ambassador, has been one of the main players in bringing Mezcal (and Tequila) to the fore in Canada.


A trio of contrasting Mezcales from Leyenda

A trio of contrasting Mezcales from Leyenda

Evidence of the surging interest in Tequila in general, and in Mezcal specifically, was confirmed by the near sell-out crowd who attended—as far I could tell, from just about every walk of life.  The Tequila sip-in was a success from Day one, in 2012. But I suspect it was this year’s focus on Mezcal that helped propel things to the next level. At the heart of the tasting room, a dedicated island of producers was tantamount to a Mezcal lover’s paradise, with a score of offerings on hand. One of my fave tastes was a trio of contrasting Mezcales de Leyenda, from different regions.

My new favourite food pairing: Leyenda Oaxaca Mezcal and toasted grasshoppers!

My new favourite food pairing: Leyenda Oaxaca Mezcal and toasted grasshoppers!

Bartenders Battle with Mezcal

This year’s cocktail competition also highlighted Mezcal, with a 12 of Vancouver’s top bartenders offering their take on this sometimes challenging elixir, which—handled with the respect it deserves (beyond sipping it neat)—can materialise  into some pretty impressive concoctions.

Cocktail competitions run the full gamut, from persnickety scored international contests—where you’d better be wearing not just a jacket, but the right jacket—to more laid back shake-downs, where a little attitude and in your face originality can pay dividends. Vancouver’s Tequila Expo falls very much into the latter category, with a wide ranging parade of characters and concoctions on display. Buoyed by unmistakable camaraderie and good natured bantering between competitors, there’s almost a circus atmosphere that belies the serious business at hand: a cut throat, winner takes all contest, to see who’ll head off on an all-expenses paid tour of Oaxaca, from where most Mezcal comes.
I helped judge what turned out to be a wealth of well thought out and inventive entries—usually with a good story attached, when we could hear it above the enthusiastic crowd.

Mezcal Peloton labelThe spirit used for this contest was the eminently sippable, smooth and smoky—and, as it turned out—very cocktail friendly Peloton de la Muerte Mezcal Joven, made from 100% Agave Espadin for Mezcales de Leyenda. (It’s worth tracking down as an intro, for a relatively affordable $49.95, before you ‘graduate’ to those other Leyenda Mezcales…)

Too bad there’s neither time nor space to mention them all here. But suffice to say there was no shortage of talent. Whether you find yourself in Vancouver’s Bambudda, The Shameful Tikki Room, Pidgin or at The Blackbird (plus many more), you’ll have no problem tracking down a respectable, well crafted Mezcal based cocktail—often with a wickedly clever story attached.

Yet one more great event that highlighted Vancouver’s blossoming cocktail scene—and also aided the BC Hospitality Foundation, a cause close to my heart. Thanks Vancouver International Tequila Expo!


Winning tastes

Kevin Brownlee's La Malinche (West Restaurant & Bar)

Kevin Brownlee’s La Malinche (West Restaurant & Bar)

Popping out from the crowd (and off for the trip of a lifetime) was Kevin Brownlee, from West Restaurant. His thoughtfully hatched “La Malinche” (named after the prominent 16th Nahua / Aztec intermediary) combined elements (such as strawberry black pepper liqueur, lime, jalepeno and cacao infused reposado Tequila) that performed a impressive dance of heat and sweet.

Jason Laidlaw's Paloma Picasso (Vancouver Rowing Club)

Jason Laidlaw’s Paloma Picasso (Vancouver Rowing Club)

Vancouver Rowing Club’s Jason Laidlow grabbed second place with his “Paloma Picasso”, that married bright flavours of red grapefruit juice with the richness and depth of 30 year old sherry, underpinned by the Mezcal—complete with edible silver foil garnish, a nod to Mexico’s long history of silver mining.

Amber Bruce- La Sombremesa (Cuchillo)

Amber Bruce- La Sombremesa (Cuchillo)

Amber Bruce (Cuchillo) completed the close finishing top three with her La Sombremesa, for which she developed her own Cafe de Olla cold brew, in an intriguing molé and mildly chili tweaked sipper.