Friday 03 May, 2013

5 Ways To Drink Better This Cinco De Mayo: Mezcals, Margaritas & More

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I just returned from a birthday trip to the gorgeous Maroma Resort (an Orient Express property) in the Riviera Maya on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, which was eye opening in many ways. While the upscale property’s food and beverage program–led by award-winning Chef Juan Pablo Loza and the iconic “Freddy The Bartender” (pictured below)–is […]




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I just returned from a birthday trip to the gorgeous Maroma Resort (an Orient Express property) in the Riviera Maya on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, which was eye opening in many ways. While the upscale property's food and beverage program--led by award-winning Chef Juan Pablo Loza and the iconic "Freddy The Bartender" (pictured below)--is certainly geared toward its international clientele, it is also focused on offering 'authentic' flavors of Mexico. And that's where it veers into interesting territory, with uses of a local liqueur, tantalizing margarita variations with local juices, and nearly as many Mezcal offerings as Tequilas. There's more to say about the property elsewhere, but for now, I wanted to take what I learned and enjoyed and share--just in time for Cinco De Mayo--five alternatives to "traditional" tequila shots and margaritas.

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1)  Think Mezcal: For years, Mezcal was considered Tequila's country cousin, "the one with the worm in it" (which started as a marketing gimmick) and a macho shot alcohol only, both in Mexico and abroad. Not anymore. Mezcal, like tequila, is an agave-based spirit, but made outside designated Tequila areas, by pit-roasting rather than boiling the agave pina, and using other agaves than Blue Weber. Parallel to the craft spirits movement worldwide, Mexicans and others are learning to appreciate the variations in Mezcal expressions which come from the differences in agave types (including Espadin, Dobadaan and even wild mutations), differences in terroir, and differences in distillation. While Maroma's extensive selection may not be representative of the other Riviera Maya resorts, Chef Loza says it's becoming totally common in the 'hipster' bars of D.F. (Mexico City) to see more Mezcals than Tequilas. You could write a book on the variations, and somebody probably is, or has. But for now, explore the variations of Jovens and Anejos available under the Del Maguey label, Ilegal, or the harder-to-find but worth seeking Pierde Alma and  Alipus which I am thrilled to see do have some US distribution, even while made in batches of about 1000 bottles. Vanilla, roasted corn, mesquite, poblano, tomato notes...it goes on and on. Good bottles are in the $40-80 range, and comparable in value to good Scotches. Yes, I'm serious.

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2) Explore liqueurs: In the Yucatan, Mayan descendents still make a honey and anise-flavored liqueur called Xtabentun ("Eshtabeentoon"), which Maroma uses for their house margarita variation (it's not even really a margarita--but more on that below). It gives the cocktail not only a mellow sweetness but a nice mouthfeel and complexity, with flavors many don't necessarily associate with Mexico. Yes, you can find it here but, you could just as easily approximate the experience with equal parts Barenjager and Pastis, in a pinch. Mexicans also enjoy a Crema de Tequila liqueur, Pomegranate-tequila liqueurs, and of course the well known coffee liqueurs like Tia Maria, Kahlua and Patron XO.

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3) Tome Otras Cervezas: Despite the fact that Corona dominates so much it actually has an ad on the side of the Cancun airport air traffic tower--that, Sol, Modelo, and the slightly-less-innocuous Tecate varieties are not in fact the only beers made in Mexico. It appears they have a craft movement just as much as we do North of the border. Quality? Not sure, because I only got to try a couple. But I'd take a soft, smooth Montejo (made by Modelo) over another Mexican pilsner any day. Nice food beer. (P.S. How do you like those hand blown beer chillers they have at Maroma? I guess a 'coozy' doesn't have the same effect)

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And Click Here To Read My Story About Mexican Wineries in Baja!

4) Switch up your Margarita: While most Mexicans don't even 'claim' the Margarita (even if it was invented, allegedly, in Acapulco, it was by a Gringo), they give in to the fact that most visitors expect to drink them there. Maroma offers a long list of "Margarita" variations replacing or augmenting the Cointreau or sour mix with a variety of indigenous fruit juices for an alluring spectrum of results. Tamarind, for example, makes a fantastic sweetly savory mixer, and other interesting cocktails use zapote, beetroot, saramuyo, piloncillo sugar and of course papaya, mango, grapefruit and chile serranos. Mix up your choice of mixer: look for these in Latino markets either whole or sometimes already in puree or nectar form.

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5) Go 'Bandera' or Go Home: If you do insist on straight tequila this weekend, consider this: Most Mexicans, by a rough poll, don't 'shoot' tequila unless they are celebrating something big, or really upset. More typically, they sip it slowly, just like you might enjoy a Scotch or Bourbon. My new friends at Maroma also really frowned on the practice of licking salt off your hand as a bit unsanitary (that's right, Mexicans just called Gringos dirty. Deal with it.) Instead, they suggest the 'bandera' style, modeled like so many things after the three colors of the Mexican flag: First, you dip a lime wedge in salt and squeeze that in your mouth, then you SIP the tequila, then you follow that with a bit of sangrita (Here's a basic recipe courtesy one of my favorite Mexican sons). Not only is it more fun, and more tasty, but it also makes you measure out your drinking more slowly, and puts something in your stomach besides booze.

 

So there you go: five ways to make your Cinco de Mayo more interesting. Whatever you do, remember to toast the spirit of freedom and self-determination that the holiday represents. Sabores!

Maroma Resort And Spa

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