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Looking to upgrade your taco experience? Complement with mezcal, which is popping up on drink menus around Sarasota after developing a fierce following in cities like Los Angeles and San Diego. Like tequila, mezcal is made from the agave plant, but while tequila is produced only from the blue agave in the southwestern state of Jalisco, mezcal can be made from 35 or so varieties of agave and has more complex flavors. The recipe also varies from town to town and household to household.

“It’s huge in Mexico, and we’re just getting the first waves of it now,” says Josh Hojnacki, who handles the liquor selection at The Gator Club. He raves about mezcal, which possesses a smokiness that comes from roasting the agave leaves in pits and a minerality that comes from the soil in which the plant grows. The variety of production and the niche traditions make exploring the liquor a never-ending quest. “It’s a very heritage-rich spirit,” says Hojnacki, who currently serves about 20 different varieties at The Gator Club.

The ideal way to enjoy mezcal is to sip it neat from small clay cups while taking small bites from an orange wheel sprinkled with sal de gusano, “worm salt,” a powder made by grinding up worms that live in the agave plant. If that’s a bit intimidating, Hojnacki suggests swapping in mezcal for tequila in your margarita, or substituting the liquor for gin in recipes that call for it. The bar at Sabrosa serves an impressive range of mezcals neat, as well as inventive cocktails that showcase the spirit.

To buy bottles for home consumption, try the Liquor Locker. Un-aged mezcals are best, says Hojnacki, and look for bottles with a proof between 95 and 105. Bottles should have specifics on where they were made and the families who crafted them, too. “If they don’t tell you who made it,” he says, “you don’t want to drink it.”

Three Delicious Mezcal Cocktails

Mezcal Paloma

Ingredients:

2 ½ oz. mezcal

Squeeze of lime juice

Grapefruit soda

Lime wedge

Kosher salt for rim

Directions:

Rub rim of highball glass with lime wedge and dip rim in salt. Fill glass with ice.  Add mezcal and lime juice. Top with grapefruit soda. Stir and garnish with lime wedge.

Mezcal Gimlet

Ingredients:

2 ½ oz. mezcal

½ oz. lime juice

½ oz. simple syrup

Lime wheel 

Directions:

Add all ingredients to shaker and fill with ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime wheel.

Mezcal Last Word 

Ingredients:

¾ oz. mezcal

¾ oz. Maraschino liqueur

¾ oz. green Chartreuse

¾ oz. lime juice

Directions:

Add all ingredients to shaker and fill with ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

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