The Secrets to Agave-Based Cocktails

From the top bartenders to drink makers at home, here are some of the best-kept secrets to help you up your agave-based cocktail game immediately as summer heats up.

Got (Coconut Water) Syrup Game?

Yes, the sweetener in your agave-based drinks will likely define how you first interpret the recipe. Our brain is so well trained to detect sweetness early. Everything else that follows is typically forgotten or takes second place.

But not all sweetness is created equal. The reason bartenders experiment with demerara, white, agave, maple, and other sugars is that it provides variety, as it can be prepared at different dilution points, for example.

Maceration is another technique we follow a lot these days. However, syrups are typically more precise to work with and offer endless possibilities for mixing. Keep experimenting!

Starting with the underlying assumption that syrups are mixed 1:1 (equal parts of granular sugar + water), you can begin to create variations that fit both the palate and the occasion.

The CM 2:1 Demerara Coconut Water Syrup

  • 3/4 cup coconut water
  • 1 cup demerara
  • ½ teaspoon extra virgin coconut oil (for aroma)

In this version, we’re mixing demerara sugar with coconut water at slightly imbalanced proportions. It results in a syrup with an earthy aroma, which can be added to a margarita or any agave recipe calling for sweetness (not all do!).

Since the coconut water has a high sugar content of its own, we scale back from the 1:1 ratio to account for the extra sweetness. This syrup works well for drinks that require more dilution, like stirred cocktails.

Mix the ingredients in a clean, well washed small pot or kettle (you don’t want your syrup to taste like last night’s onion soup). Cook over low-medium heat until solids are dissolved. The oil is entirely optional, though, as it is added for increased aromatics. The small amount won’t be detectable in a mixed cocktail other than by scent.

Spice Up the Margarita, or Whatever Else You’re Cooking

Some of us were born with the unique talent of ingesting hot peppers without showing any sort of remorse after the fact. If you’re like me, you’re washing your hands like crazy after touching some of these fiery vegetables while experimenting with them in different types of spirited agave drinks.

For beginners, we’re personally huge fans of the serrano pepper, but some can go beyond that without much trouble. We found this to be an excellent guide in exploring Mexican chiles to complement the drink recipes you may have in mind. If you’re a fan of heat, you can’t go wrong. And there’s always room to increase the heat if you’re unsatisfied.

The jalapeno is the standard for anyone who’s enjoyed a spicy margarita, and habaneros add life and color to any recipe. Chile arbol is our absolute favorite; chipotle, a close second. Still, these are only a few among so many distinct options.

Build Recipes Using Seasonal Flavors You Love

Adding seasonal fruits is an easy way to add flavors you love to proven recipes mastered over time. That simple margarita everyone always compliments you on will be up for a second round of praise with a simple twist or addition that subtly changes the drink’s entire character.

A simple strawberry, when muddled into a margarita, will add color, tartness and structure to the final mix. These days, we’ve been digging the early summer vibes with plenty of seasonal fruits. We have started to macerate them into our mix before shaking it or simply diluting the fruit into a lovely syrup. Here are some ideas:

  • Mango: tartness, yellow color, balance
  • Pineapple: sweetness, foamy top, freshness
  • Peach/Apricots: earthy tones, citrusy, floral finish
  • Papaya: raisin, earthy, creamy notes

Find Combinations that Complement Each Other

Tequila and mezcal can be easily combined to create an entirely different category of agave-based spirits. We’ve seen a lot of margaritas topped with mezcal, but that’s scratching the surface for what the two agave distillates can do together. Nonetheless, it’s so much fun to begin a margarita with a splash of good mezcal and feel the taste dissipate into the mouth as the drink goes down. Who’s thirsty?

Mezcal typically ranges much further than tequila, so the possibilities are endless when you start familiarizing yourself with the options. Due to its less limited geography and innovative aging techniques, you are left with several options, like the youthful joven and the more mature espadin expressions. They exemplify the range of the category and what it can do to a simple drink recipe.

Now, Pause for A Drink

Putting some of these tips together in an innovative riff to our beloved Oaxacan Old Fashioned is quite easy. These small variations are ultimately a few of the building blocks you can use right now to put together a better drink than you did last time. 

La Bifurca (Proverbial Fork in the Road)

  • 2 oz. Casa México Tequila Añejo
  • ⅓ oz. Coconut Water Demerara Syrup
  • Aromatic + Apricot Bitters
  • Barspoon Dash of Madre Mezcal over the large cube
  • Salt
  • Chile Arbol

Mix tequila, bitters, and syrup and cracked ice, diluting well for about 45 seconds. Transfer to your chosen vessel over a large cube of ice, previously laced with salt. Garnish with a dry chile arbol. 

This is a simple drink featuring our most aged expression, with one year of cask time. Two sips in, and we’re reminded that we may be at a proverbial fork in the road. 

Note

Let’s face it: 2020 has been full of surprises and a great time of reflection. Continuous improvement has room in every aspect of our lives. Whichever task, skill, hobby or chore we’ve been putting off, this time has given us all a moment to reflect and reassess…we hope that you’ve used this time to do something better. If not, there’s always room for improvement the next time. 

For our service professionals everywhere, we stand with you. Thank you for the tips, we hope to come to see you all soon.

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