Amigos, have I got a great new place for you. It’s open late, there are mezcal Paloma slushies on tap, shelves stacked with fine drinks and you can even have a decent conversation with the bartender.
Down a dark stairwell behind the Golden Grill they’re playing loud music and serving liquor – but not just any tipple. Jose Cuervo isn’t welcome and nor is his cousin Jack Daniels.
There are pale Icelandic ales, stouts from Manchester and a shelf glittering with scotches. Stagg & Barber know a thing or two about delicious drinks while Symonds is a mezcal specialist, to the extent that she imports her own brands.
Like tequila, mezcal is made from agave and is gradually becoming more popular in the city. The first one I try is made with espadin agave and produced in Santiago Matatlan – billed as the world capital of Mezcal. It doesn’t disappoint, with the classic smoky flavour of the spirit lifted with a toffee-like sweetness and a peppery earthiness that comes from the volcanic soil in the lush lowlands where this particular agave grows. It is produced by master mezcalero Zosimo Mendez, the latest in his family to produce the spirit.
Like wines and whiskeys the flavour will vary from batch to batch. There are a million different variables – not just those affecting the agave – such as the wood it’s roasted in and, of course, the recipe. In a world where the Ugly Vegetable Campaign even needed to exist, there’s something pleasant about that.
The second I try is made from agave grown on the river bank of the San Juan del Rio, where Don Modesto Hernandez is the fourth generation in his family producing the spirit. This mezcal tastes totally different – it’s floral and nutty and a bit sharper. The agave that goes into this bottle grows in a cooler highland climate, which – I’m told – tends to produce fruitier flavours.
With tastings, World Cup screenings and what promises to be the booziest pub quiz on the cards, number 184 is beckoning.
184 Hackney Road, E2 7QL