Following the round up of Atlanta's best mezcal cocktails, here's bartender Navarro Carr of the Sound Table on the spirit and how to appreciate it, plus his favorite bars in the city, bartending as an "acceptable career," and more.
Why should we be drinking mezcal?
For two reasons, the first being the smokiness it imparts. Second, mezcal is perhaps the closest connection to the Old World in a spirit. People are still producing these small batches the way they have for hundreds of years. I love tequila, but it's more modern, a more updated process. Sipping mezcal really makes you feel like you are tasting this special expression from a small village. It's truly artisanal, and I like that.
What do you like about using mezcal in cocktails?
Definitely the smoke it adds. I use small amounts to add richness to a cocktail. A little goes a long way; it keeps the proof but adds depth.
Where does a beginner start with mezcal?
Knowing the difference between mezcal and tequila and maybe having an appreciation for tequila or Scotch is the way to begin. Both have the sweet agave flavors but mezcal's agave plants are slow-roasted in pits. This gives it the smoky earthiness of scotch. Tequila is a cleaner, brighter flavor.
Taste different varieties alone and explore the different small batches. Try different price points; evaluate the color, smell, and flavor. Sometimes in a cocktail you can't get all of that. An un-aged Joven is a good start.
What do you do best behind the bar?
What I try to do is listen and get cues from people about what they like and then turn that info into crafting the best drink for them. People choose cocktails for different reasons, rarely for ingredients. It is up to me to genuinely, in a polite way, steer them to or prepare them for something new. We all play a part. If you can introduce someone to something new, it is one step in the right direction of cocktail culture
What's your go-to drink and where would we find you sipping it?
That would probably be an old fashioned— a classic with few ingredients— or a daiquiri. On a summer day, a perfect daiquiri is refreshing— sour, heavy on the citrus, and clean. Usually, though, I am a straight sipper with beer or wine. I don't like to be fussy at the bar at all. A couple of my favorites are Paper Plane and Holeman & Finch. [For food], I like to keep it in the neighborhood with Miso Izakaya, One Eared Stag, H. Harper Station, and Gato Bizco. Condesa Coffee is a great place with beer on tap. I sit there with a cup of coffee and read. I sip my coffee and can switch to pilsner on a summer day. It's the best of both worlds.
You recently led a session and technique lab at The Atlanta Food and Wine Festival. How was that?
It went great! The people and energy were awesome. The history and techniques involved added to my knowledge of cocktails. I am always learning and always trying to push my boundaries. I love to see people trying new things. My technique lab with Miles Macquarrie was on the use of bitters. Preparing for it pushed me to understand the history. I have never made bitters, but maybe I will. One of the best moments [of the festival] was during the Southern Cocktail session when Greg Best [of Holeman & Finch] spoke of how this is now an acceptable career path. Good bars need good bartenders, and we are all dynamic, diverse people. You can see it in our cocktail names, with their references to music, literature, culture, and politics.
What's next on the horizon?
Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival! I am working hard on the challenge to craft an amazing tomato-based cocktail with tomatoes coming from a farm near the restaurant. Always learning.
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