Mezcal, Tequila's Smoky Cousin, is Popping Up on Columbus Menus

Anthony Dominic
Mezcal Mule from Mezcal Cantina in Dublin

Smoke, chocolate, dill, cilantro, coffee-welcome to the ever-shifting flavor profile of mezcal. If you haven't already, expect to see more of the lively agave spirit on cocktail menus around the city. This May, Ilegal Mezcal's product line was officially OK'd by the state, thanks largely to the advocacy of local cocktail maestro Cris Dehlavi. Not only does Dehlavi love mezcal's versatility-it's more than a tequila substitute, she says-she's also fascinated by the spirit's culture.

"So many tequila producers are huge like Jim Beam," she says. "Mezcal is distilled by little families in little villages who have been mashing it by horse and wheel for hundreds of years. It sounds cheesy, but it is so old and artisan you just can't help but be amazed by it."

If you're unfamiliar with mezcal, get to know the spirit at Mezcal Cantina & Grill in Dublin. A mezcal tasting flight is served in authentic copitas, tiny clay sipping saucers. "It's like their version of a shot glass in Mexico," says Dehlavi, who crafted the cocktail menu at Mezcal, as well as the one at Prohibition Gastro Lounge in Powell. Tequila lovers will take note of the familiar terminology in the flight's lineup: Ilegal's joven (unaged), reposado (aged four months in American oak) and anejo (aged 13 months in American and French oak).

If you want to put the spirit to the test, swing by Prohibition Gastro Lounge, which opened its doors in October. Dehlavi swapped the vodka in a Moscow mule for Ilegal joven, and voila: the Oaxacan Mule. "The smoke mixed really well with the ginger [beer] and lime," Dehlavi says. "It's not too upfront and in your face, though. It's more of an afterthought."

If you're already a mezcal pro, belly up at Curio at Harvest. The fall menu there includes the Blood & Smoke, a play on the scotch-based blood and sand. Del Maguey Vida brings the smoke and is mixed with a house-made grenadine, Cynar liqueur and blood orange juice. The result, says bar manager Rebecca Monday, is a smoky, sweet, herbaceous cocktail.