Freelance Food & Drinks Writer

Lunch with Del Maguey

John McClure, chef/owner of Starker’s Restaurant, and Rich Zellich of Pinnacle Imports invited me to lunch the other day, and they brought a few friends. I’ve got to say, I like the company those boys keep.

Joining us at the table were four of Del Maguey’s mezcals: San Luis del Rio, Minero, Pechuga and Crema de Mezcal.We’ve crossed paths before, first at Manifesto, then PDT in New York and more recently at Haddington’s in Austin, Texas. They’ve delivered a rich, smokey punch to every mezcal cocktail I’ve ordered, but I couldn’t help but wonder what they’d taste like stripped clean of accessories. Today I got my answer: delicious.

Rich Zellich and John McClure lunching with four of their Del Maguey pals

We started with the San Luis del Rio, a single village mezcal made about two hours south of Oaxaca, according to the Del Maguey web site. It was bright and spicy, with a capsicum-like burn that gave way to earth and smoke—not surprising given that Del Maguey’s owner, Ron Cooper, only imports mezcals made the traditional way. That means locally grown agave hearts (piñas) slow-roasted under hot coals and then crushed using state-of-the-art technology like millstones, horses and oak bats, depending on the village, followed by fermentation and distillation. The resulting spirit is at once rustic and refined. It knows where it came from. Terroir, the wine geeks call it.

Next up was the Minero, which smelled floral and almost fruity, but delivered a deep, complex flavor that, as McClure put it, “really fills your mouth up.” Vanilla, butterscotch, hints of Mexican cinnamon bark…a worthy sipping spirit. And the Pechuga was even better. Wild mountain apples and plums, plantains, pineapple, almonds, white rice and even a chicken are a part of the distillation process, and the result is as beautiful as it is big. Grilled pineapple, spice, smoked agave…is it worth a price tag that runs somewhere in the $200/bottle range? If you’re already spending that on Scotch or bourbon, definitely. If you’re not, put it on your Christmas list. Should Santa bring a bottle, then, as one reviewer at says, hide it from your Patron-drinking friends.

Dessert was the Crema de Mezcal. It has a San Luis del Rio base but is sweetened with agave nectar, creating a more rounded, viscous mezcal. It was a bit syrupy on its own, but would work well in cocktails or, as McClure and Zellich suggested, drizzled over a tropical fruit salad or mixed into grown-up milkshakes.

McClure will likely stock them all and more at Barrio, the taqueria he plans to open in Westport sometime around Labor Day. The Del Maguey line also includes Vida, Chichicapa, Albarradas and reportedly exquisite Tobala, all of which are waiting to be tasted back in my office (test-size samples courtesy Del Maguey). McClure’s also stocking what he says will be more small batch bourbons than any other bar in the city, plus other tequilas and mezcals. Most will be worth sipping solo, but I’m sure he’ll also have some killer cocktails.

Creating the lists’s a challenge, though, as mezcal’s a tough spirit to balance. If you want to give it a try at home, check out this recipe for the Pepino Picante from Serious Eats: squeeze 1 lime quarter into a cocktail shaker; add shell and 1 more lime quarter. Add 3 slices cucumber, 2 wheels jalapeño with seeds, 6 cilantro leaves and 1 sugar cube; muddle gently. Fill with ice, add 1/2 ounce simple syrup and 2 ounces mezcal (I’d go with Del Maguey’s Vida), shake well. Strain into an ice-filled glass, and garnish with a lime wheel.

Isn’t it nice to make new friends?