Last Tuesday, the launch of Sombra mezcal was celebrated at Rye. You don't have to know me well to know that there are few people more enthusiastic about mezcal than I. That fact alone represents a strange turn of events for me, considering that I went ten years without being able to drink any agave spirit after one of those incidents in high school where I drank too much bad mezcal at a friend's lake house party. During that period, even the aroma of anything agave would make me recoil.
Thanks to the single village mezcals of Del Maguey--which are so complex, so smooth, so fascinating--I was able to get myself back to a state where I could not only taste but enjoy the flavor of agave spirits. The only problem was that tequila started to seem pale and thin to me; I found myself hooked on that rare character of good mezcal: smoke, brine, herbs, tropical fruit in a smooth, balanced spirit, such as you find in Del Maguey.
For the record, all agave spirit produced in Mexico is considered mezcal, while tequila is made in demarcated subzones entitled to the name tequila. So technically, all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Thus I stress here the words good mezcal, as there's lots of stuff out there that's as crappy as the worst tequila.
Sombra is not just good mezcal, it's great mezcal. It's sourced by a couple of good, young guys: Colorado sommelier Richard Betts and NYC-based wine entrepreneur Charles Bieler (3 Thieves), with a consultation by Ron Cooper of Del Maguey. More importantly, it's made by one of the palenqueros (artisan distillers) who makes one of Del Maguey's bottlings. Blessedly Sombra has the same general profile--exotic, smoky, complex and delicious. It's not for everyone, but once you get the mezcal bug, you won't be going back to tequila (except for El Tesoro and 7 Leguas). It helps to know as you're enjoying a taste of mezcal that the good stuff--a small field: Sombra, Del Maguey, Danzantes and a couple others--is made not in giant industrial factories like a lot of tequila, but by people using primitive, natural methods (usually employing amule pulling a heavy stone mill to crush the agave, cooking it over rocks that had been heated with a wood fire) in a pit in the ground, fermenting it naturally, and distilling it in ancient stills over an open flame). There are no bottled spirits available in this country that are still made in exactly the same way they were hundred of years ago. And, amazingly, they're some of the most polished and delicious things on the market.
Try it at any number of local bars like Rye or Cantina or pick up a bottle at Cask.