It takes me a long time to get over summer. I travel to warm climates in the fall to pretend it’s still beach weather, so I miss most of what the fall has to offer besides apple and pumpkin picking, and visiting wineries. Once winter hits though, that’s when I really get into the cold weather mood.
This is the time where I taper down my clear liquors and start getting into the cognacs, bourbons, dark rums, whiskeys, and most recently, mezcals. Mezcal is a recent addition, but it makes total sense because its smoky character is reminiscent of both summer bonfires and winter fireplaces.
If you haven’t tried mezcal but have tried scotch and tequila before, then you have a fair idea of what the profile can be like, because it’s somewhere in between. Treating unfamiliar ingredients like a similar ingredient you’re more familiar with will really take the anxiety out of trying them out, so by all means, experiment.
For mezcal, within the smokiness, you can find subtle notes of other flavors. Depending on the mezcal, you may pick up hints of chili pepper, chocolate, ash, wood, and fire. From what I’ve already said, you can probably guess that I’m drawn to the wood and fire notes just like a moth is drawn to a flame. For me, mezcal is a piece of summer that stays with me like a fading tan line from my last vacation.
Winter is a big time for celebration and family, so I always like to experiment with my winter beverages with tradition in mind. You can really stray only so far from the classics before it starts feeling like a weird visiting relative. You don’t want that, so let’s not overdo it!
Okay, before I follow that tangent to somewhere unpleasant, let’s jump back on track and talk about culinary mixology and wintertime. I’m going to share one of my all-time favorite winter recipes with you: eggnog.
Eggnog is great because it’s not just a cocktail; it’s actually a very light, drinkable pudding. It’s a great way to play with both sides of my culinary life and share with the people I love.
I’ve been experimenting with eggnog specifically because of my recent love affair with mezcal and its exotic character. Mezcal is experiencing a spike in awareness. Like tequila, it comes from the agave plant. When agave matures, it forms a “heart” at its center. Depending on the species of agave plant, and whether it’s cultivated or wild, this can take seven to 15 years. That’s a mighty long time, but well worth the wait.
The juice used to make mezcal is extracted from the agave heart. Mezcal is being made more accessible nowadays to the general public by adding approachable flavors like vanilla and cinnamon. Sometimes, these ingredients, along with other fruits and herbs like apples, plums, pineapple slices, red bananas, and cloves, are added to the mash during the fermentation process. While this is helping to build a new customer base for this liquor, I don’t want to duplicate flavors in my eggnog. I prefer to use the straight stuff.
Now, you can’t just replace the ‘nog’s brandy flavored goodness with mezcal and call it a day. The flavors need to work with the vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon that make great eggnog. If you could imagine using mezcal as another flavor component, then it makes sense to use it more like a spice than a base liquor for the drink.
You want to add enough of the mezcal character to highlight the natural smokiness that exists in vanilla and brandy, but not overpower it. You can almost pretend that you’re cooking this eggnog over a fireplace, with the swirling wood smoke adding just enough nuance to your final drink to give it a distinction that cooking over a stove will never achieve. With that imagery in mind, that eggnog’s going to have a killer taste.
I love that there has been this pendulum shift back to simpler cocktails, especially frozen, chilled, and blended drinks, like eggnog. It’s a great opportunity to reinvent a classic, and with eggnog, one of my favorite ways to share a new ingredient like mezcal with friends and family. Why not give it a go yourself?