September 22nd, 2023
The Pour with Bad Birdy
Renowned bartender Bad Birdy is here to help us navigate the complex flavor profiles of the agave-based spirits mezcal and tequila
After decades of unfair disdain in this country, tequila and mezcal are getting their well-deserved moment in the sun. The nuances of the two cousin spirits were once lost to a lack of understanding and relegated to the sickening-sweet sludge of frozen margaritas. But creative bartenders like Bad Birdy have sung the praises of agave-based spirits for years, and the masses are finally coming around. Unique flavor profiles and an explosion of brands to choose from makes the current market particularly daunting for first timers, so we hit up Bad Birdy to give us a crash course.
What piqued your interest in cocktails?
I’ve been in the hospitality industry since I was 16 and the transition to cocktails and working behind the bar happened in 2014. I fell in love with cocktails because [the craft] is similar to cooking. It allows you to explore different ingredients, techniques to manipulate those ingredients, and culture.
What is it that appeals to you about mezcal and tequila?
For me, Mexico has always been one the most beautiful places in the world, rich with culture and the art of making mezcal and tequila. What I love most about these spirits is that the terroir of where they are made is evident in every sip. Even though there are about 200 species of agaves, tequila can only be made from Blue Weber agave. Mezcal could be made from any species of agave, but roughly 40 to 50 are commonly used.
I have a saying for mezcal: “Classic cocktails are great, but mezcal makes them better.”
Please tell us about your collaboration with La Luna Mezcal.
In October 2022, I was invited to La Luna’s palenque in Morelia, Michoacán. While I was there I collaborated with them on a limited-edition batch that was just released early this year. I chose to distill my batch with four ingredients—two to represent my Cuban heritage and two to represent my Mexican family.
For my Cuban side I used guava and plantain, for my Mexican side I used chaya leaf and cempasúchil (marigold), the flower of the dead. The finished product lends incredible tropical notes on the nose and subtle sweetness on the palate with hints of pepper and anise. I am so proud of the final result and honored to have collaborated with La Luna on this special release.
What are your favorite tequilas/mezcals for sipping?
Tequila: Fortaleza, Tequila Ocho, Alquimia
Mezcal: Derrumbes, La Luna, Madre Mezcal
With so many different brands on the market, it can be overwhelming for someone just getting introduced to tequila/mezcal in a manner beyond just doing shots. What are some things they should look for when choosing a bottle?
You always want to make sure your tequila is 100 percent Blue Weber agave and additive-free. The next step is to decide the age of the tequila you prefer—if you’d prefer a tequila that’s bright and crisp, deep and complex or somewhere in between. Another helpful tip is to look at tequileros that have been in the business a long time, people who are third-, fourth- or fifth-generation tequileros. These people have a history in tequila making.
Mezcal is incredibly diverse, as it can also be distilled across several different regions and microclimates and made from 50 species of agaves. The more information on the bottle the better—look for a proof of 45 percent or higher, the mezcalero or mezcalera who made it, the species of agave and the region.
Can you give us a tequila/mezcal-based cocktail recipe we won’t mess up at home?
Before you make a cocktail with your tequila or mezcal, be sure to sip it on its own. This is how the distiller initially intended for you to try their liquid. This is where you will taste all the subtle nuances of the terroir.
An easy cocktail you can make at home would be The Cantarito, a blend of fresh citrus juices that is extraordinarily refreshing.
- Tajín seasoning (for rim)
- 2 ounces reposado tequila
- 3/4 ounce grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed
- 3/4 ounce orange juice, freshly squeezed
- 3/4 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed
- 1 pinch sea salt
- Grapefruit soda, to top (about 3 ounces)
- Garnish: chopped orange and grapefruit
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