Mezcal, cachaca and pisco: A bartender's favorite summer things

Mezcal, cachaca and pisco: A bartender’s favorite summer things

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The sweltering summer days will be here before you know it, which means it's time to switch up your cocktail game. As the bartender, it's your duty to provide refreshing and refined libations at the brink of each season. Put down the barrel-aged whiskey. It's time to move on to lighter and brighter ingredients. Think: cachaca, pisco and mezcal.

Restaurant critics have been singing praises of the aforementioned liquors for some time now. But if you're new to the restaurant scene or simply haven't crossed the threshold from server to bartender, you probably don't know much about them. 

Cachaca's charm
​For instance, you might not know that many varieties of cachaca are made from 100 percent distilled sugarcane, yet the makers of this alcohol don't dare call it rum. Further, you may be entirely unaware that if you simply crush four or five limes, add two ounces of cachaca, a spoonful of sugar and shake vigorously, you'd be making Brazil's National Drink – the Caipirinha. 

Muddled fresh cut limes and a scoop of sugar are key elements to a well-balanced Caipirinha.Muddled fresh-cut limes and a scoop of sugar are key elements to a well-balanced Caipirinha.

The Caipirinha is no ordinary drink. Leblon Cachaca stated that making the cocktail is an art form in itself. One slip of the finger and your drink will be too sour, sweet or unbalanced in some other way. Spend some time learning the intricacies of this bold summer drink, then you can move onto cocktails that call for additional labor.

Pisco's pristine presentation
Meander over to Peru to learn about its proud contribution to the food and beverage industry – pisco. As New York Times contributor Andy Isaacson pointed out, Peruvians believe that a pisco made the right way won't give you a hangover. Isaacson, who's tried several variations of the liquor, doesn't agree with this philosophy. 

Still, his feature on a 2012 trip to the Latin country provides excellent insight into not only a juicy back story on pisco, but how to make several versions of the almighty Pisco Sour. In the same way that Brazilian's take the Caipirinha seriously, Peruvians practically worship the Pisco Sour. The light yet strong libation has its own national holiday and has been the drink of choice at Peruvian diplomatic affairs since the early 17th century. The classic recipe calls for lime juice, egg whites, bitters and the star of the show – pisco.

Add a modern spin to the 17th-century cocktail by turning to some of Peru's swankiest watering holes for inspiration. The NYT lauded Enrique Vidarte of Cala restaurant, claiming that his concoctions promised "a perfect showcase" for the spectrum of pisco options.

In a margarita glass, combine mint leaves, a spoonful of sugar, lime juice and pisco Italia to recreate Vidarte's "El Verdecito." You'll have to buy a ticket to Peru to learn more of his secrets, but don't let that stop you from coming up with something entirely your own.

Once you're satisfied with your mental sojourn to Brazil and Peru, your last stop to build the ultimate summer cocktail list is Mexico for mezcal. 

Mama mia, mezcal
It's best to work your way up to mezcal because there are more varieties than you can wrap your mind around. Conde Nast Traveler contributor Stacy Adimando frequented San Francisco's little hotspot La Urbana in 2013 where there are more than 57 varieties on the menu.

Unless the bar where you work specializes in Mexican fare, you only need to know a few key facts about mezcal. The most important is how it's made.

"People often think mezcal and tequila are the same."

People often think mezcal and tequila are the same, but they're not. The primary differences lie in production and location. A liquor is considered a mezcal if it's made from agave plants, while tequila comes from one specific agave plant – the blue agave. 

When deciding which style mezcal to stock behind the bar, mixologists should hone in on a few things. According to La Urbana's bar manager Lucas Rangzuglia, it's all proof and presentation.

"In Mexico, they have an expression that mezcal is meant to be kissed – you're supposed to sip it very slowly, allowing a connection with it," Rangzuglia told Conde Nast Traveler. "They insist it should be something you share and drink with somebody else, not something you rush through."

If that doesn't get someone to try mezcal, what will? Keep the agave-based liquor, cacacha and pisco on hand this summer to offer your bar guests a list of far-flung drink options.

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