Before going to Mexico City, a friend reminded me to get a bottle of tequila from its birthland. This friend, like most regular drinkers, regards tequila the national tipple of Mexico. But lesser known to them is the rustic, smokier cousin called the mezcal that has taken Mexican city dwellers by the storm in recent years.
Mezcal traces back to the Hispanic period when native agave plant met Spanish’s age-old distillation know-how. But the drink had been considered a poor man’s quaff produced in backward villages. It was also deemed too potent and unrefined for hotels’ liquor menu. Today, because the Mexican government granted it the appellation of origin in the mid 1990s, and the new appreciation for handcrafted, small-batch products, mezcal can stand on its own merits. Along any hip and trendy boulevards in the capital, one can easily spot a bar that specializes in mezcal.
I found El Palenquito in an Art Nouveau neighborhood called Colonia Roma, the place to live for famous artists and politicians up until the 1940s. The bar wears a rustic tavern look with dangling roof tiles, 100-year-old adobes, and a massive stone wheel used to crash harvested agave. Its owner, Aláu Ibarra Espriu, owns three mezcal bars in the city, but only El Palenquito devotes its entire menu to one producer.