The Bar Exam: What We'll Learn About Mezcal with Holy Ground's Agave Expert Gustavo Zamora

Gustavo Zamora of speakeasy “steakhouse” Holy Ground is ready to pour our Leisurely class some delicious mezcal. If you’re unfamiliar with this south of the border spirit, it’s the one made from the agave plant in select regions of Mexico. If you’re still drawing a blank, it’s the one you’ve heard celebrities like George Clooney and now Nick Jonas are investing in. But before you go buying a brand based on your love of the least talented Jonas Brother, we think you should learn a bit more.

That’s why Leisurely interviewed Zamora in advance of his Monday night class. Read on about why the agave expert loves teaching people about mezcal, what brands he enjoys the most, and why you just might want to have a pineapple handy the next time you crack open a bottle.

You are leading an experience with Leisurely called Smoke on Smoke: A Guide to Mezcal. Why do you enjoy teaching people about mezcal? 

I enjoy teaching people about mezcal because I like to help with changing their perspectives. Most people haven’t had the right experience with mezcal and often confuse it with tequila or just assume that it’s a smoky liquor, which is true. However, there are different varieties of mezcals. Some can be less smoky and not too intense. Aside from teaching the differences between tequila and mezcal, it also brings great pride to be able to expose and educate guests about a unique product from Mexico, and how the mezcaleros have been doing this for generations and will continue to do so. 

Why is this Leisurely class unique? 

This Leisurely class would be unique because there will be different expressions of mezcals, from mezcals that can be more on the floral, less smokier side, to those that are intense and about more expressions. We would also be pairing the mezcal with different foods and fruits to eat. Aside from the food pairing and the different variety, we would also be talking about five different mezcals and go into detail describing it and what makes each of them different from each other.

Can you describe the first time you tasted mezcal. What was it like? Did it take you awhile to fall in love with the spirit or were you immediately hooked?

The first time I tasted mezcal, I was immediately hooked. I was able to learn about its history and the bartender gave me the right one. I was educated on how to drink it and it made me appreciate its taste as well. From what I can recall, the mezcal was smokey yet it had a floral taste without it being too intense. 

What are some of the mezcals you enjoy the most? What types of mezcal will Leisurely members get to taste?

Don Amado. Agave Pechuga, Banhez Espadin, Rey Campero Jabalí and Madre-Cuishe.

My two favorite mezcals I enjoy the most are El Rey Campero: Agave Mexicano and Vago Agave Elote. The reason why I enjoy El Rey Campero: Agave Mexicano is because it’s a mezcal that has more of a body meaning it’s more smokey and its intense with some green pepper notes and caramel, I am also a huge coffee lover and this mezcal has some coffee flavor. However, Vago Agave Elote has roasted corn which reminds me of back home. Another reason why I love Vago Agave Elote is because it’s unique way that its cultivated. Throughout the process, in between the distillations the mezcalero (Aquilino Garcia Lopez) adds roasted corn to the Mezcal. 

What are some things to keep in mind when pairing mezcal with food. Do you have any favorite foods you like to eat specifically with mezcal? 

Some things to keep in mind when pairing food with mezcal, one should be aware that certain foods enhance the flavor of the mezcal. In the other hand, there are certain foods that would clash with the mezcal flavors. My favorite fruit to pair when sipping a mezcal would either be pineapple, passion fruit, maybe even some pomegranate, it would depend which mezcal I am having and what fruits are in.

Do you have any advice for people who really want to get into mezcal or agave based spirits? What are some helpful tips you can share with people who want to drink mezcal at restaurants or purchase them for their home bar? 

My advice for guest that would like to get into Mezcal is that I would first start with an Espadin like Yola, Rey Campero Espadin or maybe even a Jolgorio Espadin. Espadin is an agave that takes 6-8 years for the plant its self to mature and is more on the lighter side, not to smoke or intense, have more floral notes and easier to enjoy. I would always recommend to start with a small sip ‘ a tap kiss” leave it in your pallet for up to 5-10 seconds savor it and slowly pass it through... never take “shots” of mezcal since its a liquor of higher proof alcohol. 

If you could create the perfect mezcal drinking experience, what would it look like? How would you make the drink and how would you enjoy it?

If I could create a perfect mezcal drinking experience it would be in the middle of agaves field. There would be picnic tables which different types of foods (guacamole, ceviche, mole, tacos) and fruits (pineapple, passion fruit, avocado, but not a lot of citrus fruit since it can distract your pallet from the actual mezcal) that would be perfect pairing with Mezcal. I would have different agaves that would include mezcals for beginners, mezcals for intermediate drinkers, and mezcals for experienced drinkers.