One of the three greatest drinks of my life was also the simplest. On the coldest night in January in NYC, Lindsey dragged me into Mayahuel, which was named World’s Best New Cocktail Bar at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirit Awards last week. She sat me down at the bar and ordered me a Pechuga, which is not a cocktail at all, but a mezcal from Del Maguey’s collection of single-village mezcals. It arrived in a little pitcher with a shallow terra cotta cup, glazed on the inside, but moisture-wickingly raw on the outside, so my lower lip stuck to the rim with every incredible sip.
Mezcal has a bad rap, thought of by many as cheap tequila, notorious for the worm at the bottom of many bottles. In fact, mezcal is the term for all agave-based spirits made in Mexico, of which tequila is a subset made from blue agave in certain states. While there is plenty of bad, cheap mezcal on the market, there are also fantastic small-batch, traditional mezcals being produced, where multi-generational distilling families still harvest the agave with machetes, roast the hearts in pits they dig by hand and distill the spirit in a clay still.
But back to the Pechuga. It has an even more perplexing story. I was fortunate enough to share a smoke last week in New Orleans with Ron Cooper, the man uniquely responsible for the rise of quality mezcal in the United States, he who went village to village tasting the local artisan mezcals to choose the finest to be bottled under his Del Maguey label. He explained to me, a story that was hard for me to believe just six months prior. This particular spirit is called Pechuga, meaning chicken breast, because a raw chicken torso is attached to the top of the still, so that as the alcohol is evaporated out of the fermented agave mash, the vapors pass through the cavity of the chicken, which by the end of the distillation process is merely a nickel-sized morsel of dark, dehydrated meat clinging to an otherwise clean ribcage, so all of that juicy chicken, along with seasonal wild apples and plums added to the mash, is carried by the vapor into the bottle.
I called this article “If You Love Me” because if you did, you would pay the $210 that it costs to purchase a bottle of Pechuga for me, because I haven’t been able to justify doing so myself.