Australia, a country and continent surrounded by two oceans, is about 8,000 miles (12,900 km) from Mexico. It has a population of approximately 24 million. Sydney is its largest city with a population of nearly 5 million people. In my previous post I mentioned that about half of certified mezcal is exported and the United States consumes a whopping 64% of it. You might be surprised to learn that Australia is a relatively significant importer of mezcal. In 2013, Australia was the second biggest importer of mezcal behind the United States (source). However, as of 2015, they have dropped to sixth place and represent 3% of all mezcal exports. That might not sound like much mezcal, but considering the distance from Mexico and the cost of spirits in Australia, agave fans of Australia should celebrate the availability of mezcal down under.
So how much does mezcal cost in Australia? It ain’t cheap. Australia is one of the most expensive places to consume alcohol in the entire world due to excessive taxes. On a recent trip to Sydney, I spotted a 700ml bottle of Monte Alban in a bargain liquor store for $59 AUD ($45 USD) whereas a 750ml bottle can be found for about $25 in the US. Later, I visited an award-winning liquor store, The Oak Barrel, where a 500ml bottle of Bruxo No. 1 sold for $79 AUD ($60 USD). The Bruxo was one of only four mezcals sold in the store.
Okay, so I’m doing a bad job of promoting mezcal from Sydney liquor stores.. let’s look at some bars.
If you visit one bar on this list, go to Tio’s Cervecería in the Surry Hills neighborhood. It’s just south of Sydney’s Central Business District (or “CBD”). Don’t be fooled by the kitschy Mexican decor (pictured above).. Tio’s has an impressive selection of agave spirits, especially tequila and mezcal. Their staff is extremely friendly and well-educated in the world of mezcal. In fact, Tio’s bar staff will in Mexico this month for an agave spirits “work trip”. Sounds like a tough gig.
Their spirits menu, labeled the Agave Bible, has maps of Mexico indicating the different mezcal-producing states.. even better, the mezcals are arranged by agave type instead of brand. The bar manager Alex “Happy” Gilmour lived in Mexico for a number of years and has a true passion for the culture surrounding agave spirits.
All of their mezcal bottles had custom labels that listed the unique attributes of each bottle. Mostly I was looking for stuff that can’t be found in Texas. I tried a tasty Karwinskii (subspecies unknown) from the brand I’d never seen, Ceremonial; it had a lot of earth and funk on the nose which didn’t carry over into the palate. Mexcal Burrito Fiestero was one that surprised me in a good way. It’s made from agave cenizo and tuned to 40% ABV. There aren’t many exported mezcals from the state of Durango. Like the Lágrimas de Dolores cenizo joven, also from Durango, the flavors of buttered popcorn stood out. Burrito Fiestero was a sweeter, more like buttered popcorn jelly beans. This “mexcal” was inexpensive too (especially for Australia).
Happy and the rest of the staff at Tio’s are amazing.. they give you free popcorn too. If you make it to Tio’s in Surry Hills there is a fancy dinner spot NOMAD around the corner. And if you like whiskey check out The Wild Rover speakeasy just down the street.
Barrio Cellar is an underground restaurant and bar in the middle of the CBD. It was packed when I visited for lunch on a weekday. Though it’s a tequileria that serves Mexican food, the bartender recommended the burgers. They had multiple burgers on the menu, including one with mac and cheese! So.. I got a burger and talked to the bartender about mezcal as he made countless margaritas for the lunch crowd.. on Wednesday.. maybe it’s an Australian thing.
When I noticed a ginger mezcal on their menu, I asked about the brand. This was their own creation, a Nuestra Soledad mezcal infused with ginger. As you might expect, he gave me a taste. It was interesting, the flavor of ginger is foreign to mezcal but it was a delicious match though a little on the sweet side. As we continued to talk the bartender said his favorite mezcal was the Agave de Cortes Extra Anejo which is aged for 3 years and 8 months. The Extra Anejo tasted like a decent tequila to me; it was really hot despite the long aging and low ABV. I wasn’t able to visit Barrio Cellar at night, but I imagine it would quite busy. Their mezcal selection was significant and they had even more tequila. On my way out I noticed they had one of my favorites, El Jolgorio Arroqueno, their bottle was batch number two.
Maybe Frank is an traditional Italian pizzeria with an incredible little cocktail bar. I discovered Maybe Frank through an Instagram account (more on that later) and was pleasantly surprised. They have a great looking food menu (didn’t have time to eat here) and a really clever spinning pizza-wheel cocktail menu. I arrived a little before dinner time and started chatting with Stefano who appeared to be running the place.
He was very interested in mezcal and had just returned from a trip to Oaxaca and Jalisco. Stefano had spent time with Roberto Gutierrez Ramirez, the producer of Del Maguey San Jose Rio Minas. He and his staff were bigs fans of Del Maguey. Apart from Del Maguey, the guys had brought back a few bottles Real Minero and In Situ to serve at the bar (thanks!). A bottle that’s a somewhat unique import to Australia was a 100% agave espadin mezcal from Mezcal Derrumbes from the same producer as the Derrumbes Oaxaca. When I got settled in I forgot I was in Australia. The Italian staff combined with the smell of perfectly crisp pizza crust made it feel like Italy. Then the mezcal started flowing and my sense of place became harder to figure out. As more people gathered in the bar area, the tequila shots began to flow and I knew it was time to move on. If you plan a visit, I’d recommend getting dinner here and visiting the bar afterward for a mezcal or two. It’s not really a place where you’d want to spend hours drinking mezcal (but you certainly could!).
Don’t go to Bulletin Place expecting a mezcal paradise, however Bulletin Place is a Shangri-La in this big city. If you do visit Sydney, chances are you will be in nearby in Circular Quay during your trip. This little bar is part of a huge building but tucked away down an alley and up some stairs. The bartenders only stock high-quality liquors for their cocktail menu and a daily cocktail special.
During my visit I tried Sotol Por Siempre for the first time and really enjoyed it. Por Siempre was very earthy with some nice piney notes. While I haven’t seen it in Texas, Por Siempre is imported into the US by the same people that import the Cortes family line (El Jolgorio and Nuestra Soledad). Bulletin Place had a bottle of Estancia Raicilla which I had never seen back home. It’s made from agave Maximiliana at 40% ABV. The company was started by an Australian who moved to Mexico to reunite with his family. If you visit Bulletin Place you will be within a 15 minute walk of the Opera House which looks magnificent day or night.
Who is Phil Bayly?
When researching places to find mezcal in Sydney before my trip, one name kept appearing: Phil Bayly. Mr. Bayly owned Café Pacifico in Sydney, which was considered one of the greatest tequila bars in the southern hemisphere. He was born and raised in Adelaide, South Australia and seems to be the mezcal ambassador of Australia. While I never got a chance to meet him, I was able to contact him through his Facebook page, Agave Love This Town, and visited all the bars he recommended with the exception of Vasco which looks really cool – they have a cocktail with jalapeño mezcal! Check Phil out on Instagram for more ideas on where to find mezcal in Australia. He recommended a few places in Perth and I’m sure he’s familiar with the Melbourne scene too.
As usual, traveling the world and finding mezcal will lead to fun conversations with people excited to talk about this unique spirit. Don’t forget to seek out and enjoy mezcal on your next trip abroad.. no matter how far from Mexico.