Once you become a mezcal fanatic, you look for it everywhere. I’m sometimes surprised to find a special bottle awaiting my enthusiasm at a unassuming bar off the beaten path. Likewise, a night hunting for mezcal in a new city can yield disappointing (and thirsty) results. Thankfully the internet can assist in these types of situations. Earlier this fall, before I headed to Europe to meet my family for a 10-day vacation, I naturally turned to Google to find some mezcal in Amsterdam.
One place stood out immediately, the restaurant and bar Sal Muera… and it appeared again and again when clicking around the first page of Google results for “mezcal in amsterdam”. Sal Muera is located near the city center, so I decided to grab some mezcal (and dinner) there on my first night in the city. From viewing their menu online, I was excited to see some new mezcal brands that aren’t found in Austin like Mezcal Los Siete Misterios and Mezcal Enmascarado. I was dying to finally taste Pierde Almas Conejo which was listed on their menu for an incredibly reasonable 13 Euros a pour. I arrived early and sat at the bar. Their staff was incredibly friendly and spoke perfect English (as do most Amsterdam locals). The bartender was excited to talk about mezcal.
One of his favorites was the Los Siete Misterios Coyote. The coyote reminded me of a tobala with more of a punch. While I didn’t get to try their full lineup, from what I tasted I found their Doba-Yej really enjoyable. It’s priced like an espadin and full of flavor. Mezcal Enmascarado is an interesting brand; they have two espadin offerings in badass bottles. The espadins are identical with the exception of being calibrated with spring water to an alcohol-by-volume percentage of 45 and 54 respectively. The bartender and I both agreed the 54% was smoother than the 45%, oddly enough. While sipping the 54% pour the bartender politely asked if I was hungry (hint). After devouring three amazing empanadas I moved on.
As I re-scanned the mezcal selection in the candle-lit bar I noticed a Del Maguey that looked unfamiliar; it was the San Pedro Taviche, a limited-release ensamble of espadin, tobala and tepextate. Unfortunately Del Maguey is not releasing many (if any) ensambles these days so I felt fortunate to taste this and wow, what an interesting blend. The initial taste is the soft and vegetal tobala and then it finishes like a hot peppery tepextate. Last but not least, the Pierde Almas Conejo was… sold out. I wasn’t completely surprised all things considered; still, he didn’t need to show me the empty bottle to prove it, that just made it worse. Alas, the search for Conejo continues.
I had arrived around 5pm that evening to catch the bartender before he got slammed with cocktail orders and could no longer socialize. A few hours (and mezcals) later the restaurant was packed and it was time for me to move on. I was recommended a few bars to check out for mezcal, ones that didn’t surface in my Google searches, and left on foot… at this point a bike would not have been the best idea.
A bar on the short-list, Tales & Spirits, was a 15-minute walk so I headed over. After a quick stroll down the cobblestones streets along the canals, I arrived at what I would later learn is an award-winning cocktail bar. It was packed and I felt a bit awkward taking the one seat left at the bar to drink mezcal alone. That feeling quickly disappeared after I was greeted by one of the most talented and good-natured bartenders I’ve ever met, David Trampe, who runs the place (as far as I could tell). David is a cocktail wizard behind the bar… making multiple drinks, communicating to his staff, and telling jokes to customers.. all at once! Check him out on Instagram. David confirmed they had mezcal and after preparing some amazing-looking cocktails for other guests (one had a garnish of cotton candy!), he then showed me some of their mezcals. These are definitely not available in Texas and some are not sold in the United States for that matter. The standout brands were the Lagrimas de Dolores, Pescador de Sueños, and Aprendiz Mezcal (which I believe is from the same distillery family as Pescador de Sueños).
Lagrimas de Dolores is from Durango and made from Duranguenses agave. Since my trip, the Lagrimas Joven has become one of my favorite mezcals and reminds me of buttered popcorn. The Aprendiz I tried was an 80/20 blend of espadin and tepextate. I really enjoyed this blend because the price was reasonable and the tepextate flavors really shined through the espadin. I hope to find this one in the US soon. For better or worse, I think ensambles like this could become more common as the prized wild agaves, like tepextate, become harder to find. Next, the Pescador de Sueños tobala was an incredibly funky tobala. David told me an interesting story about the bottle and the meaning of the symbols on it… unfortunately I didn’t take notes and was a bit distracted by the amazing taste of this tobala. Sorry David! As the night went on David told me he had taken many trips to Oaxaca and elsewhere in Mexico, he has spent time with the El Jolgorio family at their palenque, and on each trip he brings a ton of plastic bottles of premium mezcal back to Amsterdam. I was eager to talk more and David suggested I return the following night for something special.
Twenty-four hours later, David took out a plastic bottle and poured some El Jolgorio Tepeztate 52% which was a unique batch he brought back from his travels. Before the first sip, David showed me the traditional Oaxacan toast before enjoying some of the best mezcal I’ve ever tasted. After the tepeztate we had a taste of the El Jolgorio Jabali, extremely rare.. extremely good. I was flattered by David’s willingness to share his experiences (and special mezcal) with me. A week later, David was on a plane to Oaxaca for his 6th trip.
The following day my family arrived in Amsterdam and we began our National Lampoon style vacation in a van across Europe. I didn’t have much luck finding more mezcal, but the few places that had a bottle or two were very excited to discuss mezcal. If Google turns up dry, I recommend searching Facebook to find bars with mezcal. Public posts will usually have a location tagged and the date will give you an idea of how “fresh” their selection might be. Using Facebook, I was able to find a fun jazz bar in Munich, Germany with a few bottles from Real Minero, Alipus, and La Venenosa. My eldest sister tried mezcal for the first time (she enjoyed the Alipus Santa Ana) and I polished off an already-well-consumed bottle of Real Minero Barril (so delicious) while listening to a Charlie Parker tribute band. If heaven exists it will be a mezcal jazz bar.
Wherever you travel next, get online, keep your eyes open, and talk about mezcal… you might meet some great people and drink great mezcal.