(Photo credit: David Halloran)

Our moods are subject to the land around us. A rocky, steep terrain can hatch the idea to go off-road. A calm, blue sea equals a day of fishing that’s equally about drinks and conversation.

In every premium agave spirit, there’s personality from the land as well. Just like a fine wine or Scotch, the spirits from Mexico are deeply imbued with notes of earth and sea, pepper and spice, or citrus and herbs.

You’ve no doubt befriended (or possibly sworn off) tequila already, but have you had one of the world’s best? How about experimenting with the smoky brilliance of mezcal? There’s also now their distillate cousin, raicilla. Pronounced rye-see-ya, this sour, floral spirit is now on American menus.

We’ve caught up with a few of America’s best bartenders for recipe ideas as perfect pairings for your red snapper ceviche.

Tequila
Our Pick: Clase Azul Plata
“The vegetal, herbaceous notes in tequila are a perfect complement to the sweet, fresh flavors of red snapper ceviche,” offers Gaby Mlynarczyk, author of Clean + Dirty Drinking and head bartender at L.A.’s Loving Cup.

Mlynarczyk combines the fresh citrus of pineapple and lime with a little spice and salt, as well as one of the best tequilas on the market –– Clase Azul. Produced from 100-percent organic, Blue Weber agaves, Clase Azul is distilled in the town of Jesús Maria, in the highest terrain of Jalisco. The agave hearts are slow-roasted for 72 hours, and this un-aged tequila is clean and bright, with herbal tones and a hint of sweetness.

The El Barrio Chino
Courtesy of Gaby Mlynarczyk, head bartender at Loving Cup in Los Angeles

2 oz. Clase Azul Plata tequila
1 oz. premium pineapple juice
1 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1 pinch sea salt
1 cm piece red Thai chili
1 sprig of cilantro

METHOD:
Muddle the chili and cilantro with simple syrup in the bottom of a shaker. Add all remaining ingredients and a few ice cubes. Shake hard. Strain into a glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Mezcal
Our Pick: Montelobos Mezcal
Technically, all tequila is mezcal. However, to be called “tequila,” it must be made from Blue Weber agave. Mezcal is a spirit made from dozens of varieties of the agave plant, usually marked by notes of smoke –– thanks to baking the agave in underground ovens.
Hailing from Santiago Matatlan Oaxaca, this brand uses 100-percent organic agave espadín that’s roasted in a stone pit and allowed to naturally ferment. The flavor has wonderful notes of ash, lemon and very light rosemary.

“For a boozy and stirred cocktail, the Matador de Mezcal is incredibly bright and easy to drink,” Beverage Director Houston Eaves offers. “The herbaceous and citrus notes of vermouth and Curaçao, combined with the smoky and grassy notes of Montelobos mezcal, are very complimentary when paired with a fresh ceviche.”

The Matador de Mezcal
Courtesy of Houston Eaves, Beverage Director at The Esquire Tavern, Downstairs and El Mirador – all in San Antonio, Texas

1 3/4 oz. Montelobos Mezcal
3/4 oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz. Dry Curaçao

METHOD:
Combine all ingredients in mixing glass with ice and stir well. Strain over a large ice cube in a Rocks glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

Raicilla
Our Pick: Estancia Raicilla
Raicilla is new to the American market, but in Mexico, it’s been around for centuries. Marked by lightly sour flavors and intense fragrance on the nose, raicilla is technically a mezcal––created in a specific section of Western Jalisco. When the Spanish crown wanted to tax the indigenous distillers in the 16th century, the distillers adopted the name raicilla and carried on making it in secret. Bottles began arriving in America in 2014. Estancia is widely sold and distributed around New York State, and you can also find a bottle via the online retailer Mash & Grape.

The Raicilla Paloma
Courtesy of Alex Valencia, bartender/owner of
La Contenta L.E.S. and La Contenta West in New York City

1 1/2 oz. Estancia raicilla
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
1 bottle of grapefruit soda (Squirt or Jarritos Toronja)

METHOD:
Rim a tall glass with lime juice and salt. Fill with ice. Add raicilla, fresh lime juice and grapefruit juice. Stir lightly. Top with grapefruit soda, give one more stir and garnish with a lime wheel and a straw.

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