Don't go asking Qui Qui Ri Qui for tequila, they're all about liquid smoke. London's first genuine Mezcalaria, Qui Qui Ri Qui (that’s cock-a-doodle-do in Spanish) lurks underneath a Hackney kebab shop. Their menu is pretty simple, they carry 20 different, artisan made mezcals, available in cocktails, neat, or by the carafe. Be careful with the latter though, some of these bad boys weigh in at 55% alcohol, mezcal is no light weight spirit.
Perhaps the city's mezcal obsession is due to bartenders’ current crush on all things smoky. Cocktails are being made with peaty whiskeys, smoking gun machines, tobacco infusions, lapsang souchong tea and clouds of scented dry ice. Mezcal fits the bill, it is, after all, tequila's smoky cousin. Its earthy smokiness, making it unique from tequila, comes from the production process, when the 'pina', or heart of the agave plant, is generally baked in rock lined pits in the ground. Like tequila it is made from agave (technically, tequila is actually a type of mezcal), but where tequila can only be made from blue agave, mezcal can come from a number of different species of agave, usually a variety called Espadin.
Wahaca, the brightly coloured chain of Mexican street food joints, has recently opened their own mezcalaria in Soho, where you can grab some tasty tacos with your mezcal. Here you can order a shot of Pechuga, a mezcal that has been redistilled with wild fruits, grains and, of all things... a raw chicken carcass! It's a carnivorous ancient process, apparently the fats from the chicken balance out the drink's fiery intensity. The finished product does taste a little like chicken. Hey it's mezcal, the other white meat.
Perhaps the appeal of mezcal is its rustic, homemade character. With big companies not yet jumping on the bandwagon and mass producing it in factories, mezcal is still mostly made by hand, in the manner it has been for over 200 years. It's owned by smaller producers, often families and the liquid in the bottle reflects that with full character, strong fiery and mineral flavours and lovely arty bottles. BarChick's first taste was in Mayahuel, a tequila and mezcal bar in New York's East Village, one of the first bars to bring mezcal into the limelight.
In Oaxaca, Mexico they drink their mezcal as a shot, with a plate of ground up, fried larvae, chili peppers and limes. We personally prefer it the way classier establishments use it as a smoky cocktail ingredient. Oskar Kinberg, bar director at Soho's Dabbous, makes a cocktail called, fittingly, That Drink With Mezcal. He uses mezcal vida, corn whiskey, cynar and passion fruit syrup, stirring the drink and serving it straight up, the passion fruit balances out the intensity of the mezcal and the whiskey.
Oh, and the worm? It's not hallucinogenic, just a marketing ploy to help sell the cheap, lesser bottles to college kids. Sorry dudes!