Cookbook review: Hold the cheap tequila shots

"Mezcal + Tequila Cocktails: Mixed Drinks for the Golden Age of Agave" by Robert Simonson (Ten Speed, $18.99)
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"Mezcal + Tequila Cocktails: Mixed Drinks for the Golden Age of Agave" by Robert Simonson (Ten Speed, $18.99)

‘Mezcal + Tequila Cocktails: Mixed Drinks for the Golden Age of Agave’ by Robert Simonson (Ten Speed, $18.99)

It’s hard for me not to instantly associate the word “tequila” with a pitcher of margaritas, bowls of salsa, and a basket of chips at my favorite neighborhood taqueria. In those situations, I can’t say I’ve ever given much thought to the quality of the spirit.

In recent years, though, I’ve taken notice of tequila’s more sophisticated side showing up on premier bar menus, along with its mother spirit in the agave family, mezcal. Once a lowbrow quaff best known for the worm in its bottle, mezcal has become “this generation’s single-malt Scotch,” Robert Simonson writes in his compact and entertaining new volume, “Mezcal + Tequila Cocktails: Mixed Drinks for the Golden Age of Agave” (Ten Speed, $18.99). Tequila has benefitted from the mezcal boom as well.

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“For much of the 20th century, tequila was known more for shots than mixing,” he notes. “You didn’t savor it; you threw it back.”

Simonson introduces us to some of the cocktail innovators leading that quest to prove “tequila and mezcal maybe deserved to inhabit a better world of drinking, one that wasn’t so reliant on lime wedges and salt and late-night decisions.”

Their recipes, along with some of the author’s creations, are featured and gorgeously photographed in these pages. Most are short and uncomplicated, made with ingredients readily available at any supermarket and liquor store.

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Many are riffs on classics (Oaxaca Old-Fashioned, Mezcal Mule); others are more innovative. Gun Metal Blue, for example, became an Instagram sensation due to its striking aqua hue provided by blue Curaçao, with mezcal, peach brandy, lime juice, cinnamon syrup and a disc of orange peel collaborating to make it a hit at New York City’s Porchlight bar.

I mixed up some agave-spiked refreshments on several sultry evenings: a Spicy Paloma made with grapefruit juice, lime juice, and jalapeno-infused tequila; a Mezcal Negroni demonstrating how well mezcal stands in for gin in the Campari-based classic; and a Red Grasshopper that’s basically a tequila daiquiri sweetened with honey, strained into a chilled coupe, and garnished with smoked paprika.

Simple. Classy. Made to be savored.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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