I’m slowly falling in love with mezcal and this Grapefruit Mezcal Summer Sipper is proof! I started this cocktail with a whiskey base – Old Forester 100 – and it was fantastic. Then I decided to see how it worked with mezcal and it took the drink from great to amazing.
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I’m continuing my Quarantine Cocktail series with Summer Citrus Sippers today, but if you want to see the others we’ve had this week: Lavender Lush – Apricot Lavender Sour and Toes in Sand(box) Spiced Pineapple Summer Cocktail.
If you’ve ever had a Brown Derby you know how well bourbon and grapefruit play together, and that cocktail was my starting point today.
What is Mezcal?
All tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Mezcal is a spirit made in specific areas of Mexico – just Oaxaca, Durango, Puebla, Guerrero, Michoacán, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, and Guanajuato. Like tequila it must be made from the agave plant. But unlike tequila it can be made from any variety of agave plant, not just Blue Weber agave.
Mezcal traditionally has a smoky flavor because the hearts of the agave (called the piñas) is roasted before it is fermented and distilled. Traditional or Ancestral mezcal is made with the piñas roasted over a fire in a large pit that is covered with earth. It might roast for two to five days before the piñas are ready to be exhumed, crushed, fermented and distilled.
The smoke flavor in mezcal is distinct from the flavor in peaty Scotch. It’s earthy, sometimes very herbal and often with notes of pepper in the spirit itself. While in Mexico tequila and mezcal are enjoyed neat rather than in cocktails, if you’re just getting introduced to mezcal, try making your favorite tequila cocktails with a split base of tequila and mezcal.
You can find out more about mezcal here.
What is Italicus?
Italicus Rosolio Di Bergamotto an Italian liqueur flavored with bergamot, a fragrant and bitter citrus extract from the dwarf Seville orange fruit. If you’ve had Earl Grey tea, you know the scent I’m alluding to. It’s the aromatic, floral flavor you smell as you sip on a cup of Earl Grey tea.
I’ll admit I bought the bought of Italicus just because it’s beautiful, but once I started to add it to my gin cocktails, I was hooked. The bergamot flavor pairs exceeding well with London dry gins and modern gins with floral and citrus-forward flavors.
But I’ve been intrigued by the aromas of bergamot and grapefruit together and I have a bottle of Italicus I’ve hardly used.
Flavors in this Grapefruit Mezcal Cocktail
We already know that grapefruit and tequila go together famously because of the Paloma. It stands to reason that mezcal, with a similar distillate base, would play well with grapefruit as well.
So, I started with an even ratio of bourbon, Italicus and Aperol. Which was high refreshing, by the way, but missing something. I added in some fresh grapefruit juice and it stepped up a level.
But have you ever had a drink you just knew was missing something? This cocktail was good, but it needed a little more complexity. A little more fullness to it. I decided to try some mezcal instead of whiskey and it was a huge shift. It removed a little of the sweetness and blended in lovely smoky notes.
It also pushed down the forwardness of the grapefruit, which with the bourbon was very perceptible. I find mezcal slightly salty – and not nearly as sweet as bourbon – so it balanced out the drink just the way I like it.
But Whiskey is Another Option with this Grapefruit Summer Sip
Now, if you’re a bourbon drinker, definitely try this cocktail with bourbon first and see what you think. But if you like tequila, especially mezcal, try this one out. With the mezcal, you get a slight aftertaste of smoke, but I taste more of the bergamot from the Italicus on the finish, and it’s got a more balanced taste to it.
This drink probably won’t be for everyone, but for me, it’s a keeper. Lucky for me I just bought a huge bag of grapefruits and my mezcal is nearly full. One note: if you have very smoky mezcal, you may want to make the cocktail a split base with ½ tequila and ½ mezcal.
(For those of you curious about the other recipes in the Quarantine Series, I’ll put them here before you skim past to get to the recipe. We had Quarantine Highball week (Highball Whiskey Spritz and a That’s No Moon Lavender Orange Highball, It Ain’t All Sunhine and Peaches, Petals to the Metal Hibiscus Highball and a Root Beer Highball. ) Quarantine Donut cocktails (Maple Caramel Long John, Pecan Sticky Bun cocktail and Blueberry Cake Donut, Boston Cream Cocktail and Apple Fritter Cocktail). Quarantine Juleps, (Breakfast Julep, the Pineapple Sage Rum Julep, Elvis Julep (peanut butter-banana), Root Beer Float Julep, and the Persian Julep (rose-apricot) ). Quarantine Old Fashioneds (Breakfast Wakey Wakey, Smoke and Spice, Home School, Taco Truck, and Campari/Bitter Lessons ). Quarantine Manhattans (Balanced Perfection (Perfect Manhattan), Coffee Manhattan, Chocolate Ginger Manhattan, French Quarter Manhattan, and the Caramel Orange Manhattan.) Quarantine Whiskey Sours (Blackberry Sunset, Whiskey Tiki, Blue Mood Orange, Ya Basic, and Peach Rosemary). Quarantine Smashes (Whiskey Smash, Blackberry Sage Smash, Pineapple Tiki Smash, Strawberry Basil Smash and the Coffee Cherry Smash.)
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You probably already have these, but you may need them, too:
Smoke and Sigh – Grapefruit Mezcal Sipper
- 1 oz mezcal if you prefer less smoke, split between mezcal and your favorite tequila
- 1 oz fresh grapefruit juice
- 1 oz Aperol
- 1 oz Italicus bergamot liqueur
- 8 drops Crude bitters “Rizzo” rosemary-grapefruit-peppercorn bitters
- Garnish: fresh grapefruit slice sage flower or sage leaf
- Combine mezcal, grapefruit juice, Aperol, Italicus and bitters in a shaker and fill with ice.
- Shake until so cold it’s painful to hold the shaker, about 10-12 seconds.
- Double strain into a rocks glass with a large ice cube.
- Garnish with a fresh grapefruit slice and sage flowers or a sage leaf if you have one.