The still-spreading 21st century cocktail renaissance — the movement that over the past two decades has taken us from Long Island back to Manhattan, from White Russian back to White Lady — means you can get real drinks these days even outside of major cities.
A decade ago, bars in the Yakima area didn’t bother to stock Campari. Now they have Negronis on their menus. This is good, and we should appreciate it.
But we still lag a few years behind places like Seattle and Portland. We only have two dedicated liquor stores in the Yakima Valley (Xpress Liquor & Wine in Yakima and the More Cafe & Liquor Store in Selah, god bless them both), and the selection at supermarkets tends to lean more toward flavored vodka than amari and craft spirits. I get it; market forces and whatnot. But it’s kind of a drag for us drink enthusiasts who read about trends for years before we’re able to actually get in on them.
So it is that we find ourselves just now catching up with a mezcal boom that began nationally and internationally at least five years ago. I looked all over Yakima for mezcal a couple of years ago and found one bottle — I don’t even remember the brand — on the shelf at a Fiesta Foods. No one else had any at all, not even the liquor stores.
Well, I’m happy to report that these days, mezcal, which in broad terms is to tequila what Scotch is to bourbon, is much more widely available on Yakima store shelves. The selection is still limited — there are no rare single-village bottlings, and I haven’t seen the bartender-favorite Del Maguey Vida — but you can buy mezcal here now pretty easily.
And here’s what you should do with it: You should make the Division Bell cocktail invented in 2011 by revered New York bartender Phil Ward. It’s a drink based loosely on the The Last Word, swapping out that drink’s gin and Chartreuse for Mezcal and Aperol, and it’s a great way to try mezcal without being overwhelmed by the smoky complexity of the spirit on its own. If you like it (and you WILL like it) you can move on to a mezcal Negroni or a Naked and Famous or any of the other hip mezcal drinks of the past few years. From there, it’s a short trip to sipping it neat and seeking out hard-to-find brands.
You won’t find them around here, of course. Not yet.
The Division Bell
1 ounce mezcal
3/4 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur
3/4 ounce lime juice
Combine liquid ingredients in shaker with ice. Shake 20 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Twist strip of grapefruit peel over drink to express oils, then drop it in the drink.
Ingredient notes: Phil Ward’s original recipe specifies Del Maguey Vida mezcal, which you can’t get in Yakima. I used Silencio Espadin, which is rougher around the edges but worked well in this. You can get it at Fred Meyer. For maraschino I used the standard Luxardo brand. Xpress Liquor usually has that.