Mescal Musings: ¡Ay Caramba!

The pricey liquor, Mescal, wins the heart of humor columnist Jeff Kramer

This summer I’m cutting back to one column every other week. It was a difficult decision but the right one for this stage of my life. I want to spend more time with my… mescal?

Si, amigos. Es verdad.

The people who know me best get it. They have seen me go from merely intrigued by mescal to spellbound by its syrupy buzz and molten burn. They understand that life is short — especially when mescal is involved — and that I still have so much to learn.

For example, I’m extremely curious in a scholarly way if the publisher of the Syracuse New Times, Mr. Bill Brod, will reimburse me for the $105 bottle of mescal I’m researching at this very moment. It’s 9 a.m. on a Monday, a bit early for mescal, yes, but as Malcolm Lowry wrote in Under the Volcano, “How, unless you drink as I do, could you hope to understand the beauty of an old Indian woman playing dominoes with a chicken?”

Lowry’s main character drank himself to death and it’s generally accepted that Lowry did the same, although it’s possible he was murdered by his wife. Or both. His myriad travails include getting deported from Mexico, which isn’t easy to do. Yet the novel endures as one of the finest literary masterpieces of the 20th century and a dark paean to mescal.

How is mescal different from tequila? So glad you asked.

Tequila is made from the blue agave plant, whereas mescal is made from any number of 30-something agaves. It’s a wilder, smokier, more intense libation than tequila, and if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have another.

Que ferocidad! Me gusta mucho!

Ever the trend-spotter, I have known for some time that mescal is slowly making its way out of frat houses and south-of-the-border saloons and onto cocktail menus at finer establishments. At Ray’s Cafe in Seattle, I swooned over the Smokey Habanero Lime Rita, a blend of mescal, tequila and habanero syrup that built like a forest fire. At Toloache in New York City, even the light and lively Grapefruit Mezcalita simmered with dark mystery.

Curiously, though, I’d never purchased a bottle of my own — not until last week when I walked into the Cork Monkey in Manlius, bought the priciest label on the shelf, and rushed it to the home of a couple of ne’er-do-well pals of mine, Mike and Bob.

For academic citation purposes, note that we were opening a bottle of Del Mageuy Single Village Mezcal made of 100 percent high-altitude tobala, the rarest of the agaves. “This is one of the great connoisseur’s drinks of the world in any category,” Forbes Life raves on the company website. Del Maguey describes its tobala as having a “sweet, fruity nose with a mango and cinnamon taste.”

Bob offered nuanced tasting notes of his own. “It’s like sucking on the top of a steam locomotive and going on an acid trip,” he mused.

Mike weighed in by slapping his thigh with every swallow and shouting, “Damn!”

I quickly put the cap back on the bottle. To waste more of Mr. Brod’s money on these knaves would have been wrong. Besides, I needed to save my mescal for the St. Sophia’s Greek Cultural Festival.

Sunday marked my return to St. Sophia’s after I was asked last year by law enforcement to leave for impersonating Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher. This time I left the philosopher’s robe at home, but I front-loaded with mind-deepening Del Mageuy.

“It smells,” my wife, Leigh, complained as she drove me to the festival and practically kicked me out of the car. Perhaps Lowry and I are destined to meet similar fates.

This time, though, I was a model celebrant. Rather than engage in Socratic questioning like last year, I took the tour of St. Sophia’s and listened to the Rev. Dr. David R. Smith explain how the universe works. Under the judging-but-forgiving eye of the Jesus-of-the-ceiling, with light pouring in through the stained-glass windows, the mescal kicking in for real now, I had a powerful revelation:

I don’t need to write a column next week.


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