Mezcal cocktails have seen a serious rise in the last several years, popping up on bar menus around the country in the form of exotic elixirs (think: Ruby Port, cardamom, and ginger liqueur) and timeless classics (fancy a Paloma, señorita?) Mixologists at The Mill House give Mexico’s smokiest spirit an inspired twist with Down Mexico Way, a refreshing tribute to charred-agave that has an utterly unforgettable kick.
Curious to know the magic behind this South-of-the-Border mélange? Here’s the lowdown on The Mill House’s favorite way to say olé:
Ingredient #1: Cucumber
For years, cucumbers were a drastically overlooked addition to cocktails, finding their way as a garnish in Bloody Marys here and there while only a relative few had even heard of a Cucumber Collins. The more innovative mixologists got, the more this summer spear starting making a star appearance in drinks around the world, perhaps most notably in basil-edged gimlets. Plantation-grown cucumbers are used in Down Mexico Way to splendid effect: Muddled well, they give the libation a juicy, refreshing riff.
Something to Chew On
Cucumbers have rich roots: The salad bar staple and fourth most cultivated vegetable in the world got their start in India—even making an appearance in the sagas of Gilgamesh— before making their way through Ancient Greece, China, and Europe. Romans were particularly fond of this green gourd, using it for everything from treating poor eyesight to nursing scorpion bites. Explorers to the New World brought cucumbers aboard their ships, bartering it with Native Americans for local agriculture and introducing the Dakota tribes to its crispy goodness. Comprised of 90% water, they provide a dose of savory succulence to The Mill House’s artisan drinks.
Ingredient #2: Jalapeño
Spice is nice, ‘specially when it’s mixed into a killer cocktail, giving imbibers a brilliant burst of flavor and a warm, oh-so-welcome flush. Muddled with the cucumber, jalapeños offer Down Mexico Way a streak of heat—making this baby taste like a sombrero in a glass.
Get the Ball Rolling
Perhaps as pungent as it gets, jalapeños are the Kings of Chili Peppers, with origins dating back to the Aztec era prior to the Spanish conquest. The state pepper of Texas has a curricula vitae as wild and compelling as its taste, going down in history for having flown in space aboard the Columbia shuttle in 1982 before the notorious drug lord El Chapo opened a cannery in Guadalajara in order to ship cocaine-stuffed peppers to the United States. A top ingredient in a number of salsas, jalapeños' hotness is measured by a system called the Scoville Scale. As of 2016, the Carolina Reaper ranked the most blistering in the world—coming in at an insane 2.2 million units of heat.
Ingredient #3: Lemon
With its bright, tangy flavor, ornamental beauty, and fresh, invigorating scent, lemons might be the world’s most versatile and celebrated citrus fruit. Here they play a starring role in Down Mexico Way. Dashed with cold-pressed sugarcane, they simultaneously cut the bite of the mezcal and tequila while enhancing the cocktail’s potent, zesty flavors.
Thank Christopher Columbus for that piece of lemon meringue pie: Sources report that the bold voyager is responsible for bringing lemon seeds to the Americas in 1493 when he sailed into port on the Hispaniola. The New World took to the Italian fruit like bees to a bloom, with lemons starting off as a medicinal plant and decorative gem before massive cultivation began in Florida and California. Its frequent appearance in cocktails and dishes extends far beyond its sunny taste: Its citric acid neutralizes, tenderizes, preserves, and hydrolyzes, accomplishing everything from nullifying sweetness in baked goods to keeping avocados green in guacamole. Lemons first arrived in Hawaii in 1813 and are now grown as upstarts in leafy backyards and large orchards throughout the islands, with each region determining the taste and intensity of these tart jewels. Try them Hawaiian-style during your stay: Wet, pickled peels are a local fave.
Ingredient #4: Gran Centenario Plata Tequila
Aged for 28 days, this beautiful tequila—and Down Mexico Way’s key touch—is a blanco (or clear) tequila turned pale gold, thanks to the oak barrel in which it matures. Balanced and creamy with luscious undercurrents of pepper, vanilla, and pear, Gran Centenario’s sexy blue agave blend gives this cocktail a full-body bounce and a pineapple-y bite.
Impress Your Friends
Obtained from the heart of agave, true tequila—much like France’s champagne—must be Hecho en Mexico, where anything manufactured outside of the Spring Break mecca is technically called an agave spirit. Genuine aficionados rarely drink this swill as a shot, let alone disguised in Jell-O—especially for investors of the most expensive bottle in the world, which goes for a whopping $225,000 (in other words, the price of a colonial in Houston). Avid fans, take note: During the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918, doctors prescribed this party spirit with lime and salt to ailing patients. We’ll toast to that. Or, rather, Arriba.
Ingredient #5: Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal
Mezcal—a distilled spirit derived from agave plants in Mexico—takes center stage in The Mill House’s most uncommon take on the margarita, lacing the captivating cocktail with a subtle layer of depth and smoke. The quality of all excellent cocktails relies on the provenance of its booze—which is precisely why The Mill House reaches for the top shelf for its handcrafted drinks. Del Maguey’s Crema de Mezcal is an extraordinary blend of Miel de Maguey—unfermented syrup of the roast agave—and Mezcal San Luis del Rio, which is double-distilled from 100% mature agave. Together, this exceptional spirit carries a bouquet of alluring flavors, from almond and vanilla to coffee and pear.
Mezcal gets its brawny, ethereal flavor from its Oaxacan roots, with the vast majority of the spirit coming from the espadin variety of agave. Unlike tequila—which is roasted in large ovens and generally manufactured in factories—mezcal is often handmade and roasted in rock-lined pits, giving it that signature smoldered flavor. Considered tequila’s quieter, more cultivated cousin, production of this Mexican spirit began in the 1500s when Spanish conquistadors introduced the concept of distillation. And that worm at the bottom? It ain’t just a myth: A marketing ploy from the 1940s, it’s the mariposa worm—a harmless larva that feeds on agave and is considered a delicacy in some parts of Mexico.
Craving something lighter, singing cowboy?
Just say the word: Mocktails at The Mill House are just as delish as their alcohol-infused libations. Swap out the mezcal and tequila and you have yourself spa water with a tantalizing spin.
Comment: Do tell: What's your favorite mezcal or tequila cocktail?
All photography was either taken by Mill House staff, from owners that have given us written permission, and/or purchased for use. We have all the rights necessary to use these images on our website.