The Tasting Panel magazine

June 2015

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 53 of 136

june 2015  /  the tasting panel  /  53 A LONE STAR LIFE F rom outside and downstairs, the side steps at Whisler's appear to lead up to just a small storage room. This craft cocktail bar on Austin's East Side is located in a large corner building, dating to the early 1900s, and there's likely several closets and secret spaces amidst its exposed stone walls. But in fact, anyone climbing the stairs out of curiosity will find Mezcalería Tobalá, the only dedicated mezcal tasting room in Austin. Only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, Mezcalería Tobalá is set up to resemble an authentic mezcal bar from Oaxaca (the smoky spirit's epicenter), including candles and religious totems; there might even be a flamenco guitar player in the corner of this intimate space. Sean Skvarka, who does ordering, party planning and cocktail creation for Whisler's, takes special interest when working the cozy upstairs venue. "It's the vibe; it's a unique experience," he says. "There are other bars around that have larger mezcal selections, but this is a one-on-one experience that's all about the spirit and its long history." The small but impressive lineup of mezcals focuses on rare and limited- production brands, such as Mezcal Vago, Mezcalero and Del Maguey Single Village, arguably the brand most responsible for introducing mezcal to this country. There is also the very traditional clay-pot-distilled Alipús; Skvarka says that only 12 bottles of Alipús were allocated to the state of Texas, and Mezcalería Tobalá got six of them. "Because we are pretty much the only bar doing anything like this in all of Texas," he says, venturing further that, "There may not be any other place in the country focusing on this tasting-only format like we do here." Although downstairs Whisler's serves mezcal in several cocktails, upstairs, it's strictly a tasting bar, showing how the various smoky, herbal expressions are based on different types of agave, like madrecuixe, arroqueño and tepeztate. The artisanal mezcals are served in shallow ceramic bowls called copitas and traditional votive candleholders known as veladoras, and accompanied by orange slices dusted with worm salt and ground up crickets, traditionally used as a palate activator. Yet, even with Austin's grow- ing appreciation of mezcal, some conditions continue to bug mezcal enthusiasts. "I get people every night I work asking about the worm," says Skvarka, referring to a decades-old marketing practice by some produc- ers to add worms (and other critters, like scorpions) to mezcal bottles. Depending on whom you ask, the ploy has either raised mezcal's reputation as a singular, if somewhat notorious, spirit, or sullied its other- wise elegant and refined character. Skvarka's perspective is obvious: "It's a gimmick and not a sign of great mezcal. We'd never bother to carry a mezcal with a worm because it's not what mezcal is about." Mezcalería Tobalá Helps Austin Rise to Its Mezcal Moment . . . EVEN IF IT'S STILL FIGHTING THE WORM by Anthony Head / photo by Kirk Weddle At Mezcalería Tobalá in Austin, TX, guests taste through a small, but impressive lineup of mezcals.

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Tasting Panel magazine - June 2015