Plan an agave-soaked celebration without a single drop of tequila
(Originally published on UpOut SF May 2, 2017. I’ve previously shared bonus information and additional recommendations right this way.)
Did you know that San Francisco is instrumental in defending agave sustainability so future generations can enjoy the plentiful agave beverages we enjoy today? For a city whose drinking history is soaked in pisco, whiskey, and beer, San Francisco certainly claims above-average agave expertise.
If you’re interested in breaking tequila traditions without sacrificing agave indulgence, our list honors cocktails made with mezcal, sotol, bacanora, and raicilla.
(Caveat: While it’s true that a 1990s botanical reclassification means sotol is not technically a mezcal or made from agave, it’s a rare bartender who would belabor that point with you.)
Wildhawk :: Chi Wa Wa
3464 19th Street
Go for the Coco Puff-infused Breakfast Negroni decorated with orange peel stars and birds; stay for the Chi Wa Wa cocktail with Por Siempre sotol, La Gitana Manzanilla sherry, Plantation Pineapple Rum, lemon, honey, and housemade “spicy monk mix.”
In the mood for a sotol taste test showdown? El Jolgorio Sotol is on the spirits list.
Benjamin Cooper :: Soylent Green
398 Geary Street
The only thing predictable at Benjamin Cooper is change. Driven by what’s fresh, new, and delicious, their menu changes daily. Experimental flavors and new-to-the-market spirits are common, and tequila alternatives are no exception. For instance, their April menus included the Soylent Green: Singani 63, sotol, green tomato, dry vermouth, anisette, lime, and soda. No slouches in the mezcal department, the same menu also boasted the Care Bear Stare with mezcal, white cranberry, aloe liqueur, blanc vermouth, lemon, and mint; and the Dust and Daffodils with mezcal, Singani 63, Pamplemousse, Becherovka, gentian, and herbsaint. (Pictured below is the “‘Member Tom Green” which has a similar recipe as the Soylent Green)
Mosto :: Sotol Your Roll
41 Valencia St
Mosto, a tiny adjunct to Tacolicious with a huge agave spirits list, brings us the Sotol Your Roll with Por Siempre sotol, citrus, cucumber, and a cilantro agave nectar. After a refreshing cocktail, educate your palate with their ten-page agave spirits list, which culminates in a selection of sotol, bacanora, and raicilla.
Lolo :: El Yaqui
974 Valencia St
Over in the Mission, Loló is proudly building a legendary roster of agaves. With so much to choose from, it’s no surprise that some rarities make it to the cocktail menu: Loló’s El Yaqui cocktail is the only one on our list to feature bacanora (alongside Lo-Fi dry vermouth, Génépy des Alpes, and a housemade jalapeño tincture). Also worthy of note is the Devil’s Dandruff, a concoction of sotol, yellow Chartreuse, lime, pineapple, almond syrup, and saffron.
Calavera :: Queso Flameado Con Sotol 2337 Broadway, Oakland
Let’s not mince words: Calavera’s beautiful space in uptown Oakland will be packed on Cinco de Mayo. Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t join in the fun because this spot has great food; an agave menu that includes bacanora, sotol, and raicilla for sippin; and the unique appetizer of queso flambéd in Hacienda de Chihuahua sotol with poblano rajas. Eat your sotol!
Rosa Mexicano :: Raicilla Negroni
30 Mission Street
Sure, it’s a chain, but that gives Rosa Mexicano the benefit of a solid spirits list that pleases agave-loving palates coast to coast. Their Raicilla Negroni brings the rare sipping spirit into a classic cocktail format. Built atop La Venenosa Maximilliana raicilla (more or less the patriarch of the U.S. raicilla movement, as it was the first we could legally import), the drink is completed with Carpano Bianco vermouth, Cappelletti amaro, and grapefruit bitters. Pictured below is the Mezcalisco.
La Urbana :: Mezcal Y Chocolate 661 Divisadero St
You deserve dessert. Indulge with La Urbana’s Mezcal Y Chocolate: chocolate ganache, almond streusel, puffed wild rice, mezcal gelee, creme fraiche ice cream and dehydrated milk. They recommend pairing it with El Jolgorio Cuixe, a mezcal distilled from wild agave, for the full experience. We couldn’t find a photo of the dessert but here’s how to find La Urbana.
All Over: Mezcal Cocktail Round-up
You’re in luck! San Francisco cocktail drinkers are virtually swimming in mezcal opportunities. If you’re looking for recommendations, here are a couple can’t-lose options:
- Dirty Habit – Their Southern Atmosphere is a smoky, subtly spicy beauty. Wahaka Espadin mezcal, Lustau Fino sherry, Annatto, blood orange, lime, cucumber bitters, chili salt.
- Camino – Camino’s careful sourcing ensures that every spirit they pour can be traced from field to bottle, so you know your Oaxacan Old Fashioned (tequila reposado, mezcal, agave, and cocoa nib bitters) isn’t just delicious, it’s ethical.
- Brass Tacks – You decide which ingredient is the ugly one in this Hayes valley spot’s Il Buono, Il Brottu, Il Cattivo (mezcal, Averna Amaro, cacao and hellfire bitters).
- 15 Romolo– The Basque Firing Squad combined mezcal with Basque Patxaran, a sloe gin-like liqueur, as well as grenadine, lime, and carnival & angostura bitters.
- ABV – The old tequila/salt/lime combo gets an upgrade with La Botana: mezcal, orange, pickle brine, lime, and beer.
- Nopalito – An all-mezcal-and-tequila cocktail menu stars agave-focused twists on classic cocktails. The Guillotine is a mezcal-forward take on a Negroni starring Del Maguey Vida, Cynar, and Dolin Dry vermouth, while the typically gin-based Bee’s Knees takes a smoky twist in the Killer Bee, a mix of mezcal, lemon, and honey.