Wine & Spirits: Tequila and Mezcal Festival at Oyamel

by WL Author

Celebrate Mexico’s agave-based national spirits with creative cocktails and inspired cuisine.
By Kelly A. Magyarics

Oyamel's Tequila and Mezcal Festival runs through March 18, 2012.

If you haven’t yet stopped into Oyamel Cocina Mexicana (401 7th Street Northwest, 202.628.1005) for the Tequila and Mezcal Festival, don’t wait too long. The two-week long celebration—now in its fifth year—began March 5, and ends March 18. Last week, the focus was on smoky, dark, intense Mezcal. But Tequila lovers take note: from March 12 to the 18, it’s all about you. On Monday, March 12, Oyamel is hosting a complimentary cocktail session, “Highlands vs. Lowlands: A Cocktail Story,” from 4 to 6 PM, which takes guests on a tour of the two main Tequila origins.

From Tuesday, March 13 through Thursday, March 15, guests are invited to attend complimentary tastings each day fro 4 to 6 PM, with premier Tequila producers including Siembra Azul, Tequila Ocho and Otto Hoernig III of Casa Noble. On those evenings, Oyamel will also host a dinner series, beginning each night at 7 PM. Each dinner is priced at $90 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuity. Contact Oyamel for reservations for these dinners, as space is limited.

During the festival, Oyamel is offering special antojitos served only at the bar to savor while sipping Tequila or Mezcal, including Garbanzo fritos (crispy roasted spiced garbanzo beans), and Alas de pollo con salsa naranja (chicken wings in a sauce of orange, spices and chile pequin. Chef Omar Rodriguez is also crafting a special menu to highlight the flavors of the Oaxaca and Jalisco regions in Mexico, including Pozole de camarón, shrimp and hominy soup with Hawaiian blue prawns, guajillo and ancho chilies, served with garnishes of onion cabbage and slice radishes;  Lomo de cerdo relleno con chorizo en mole manchamanteles, chorizo stuffed pork loin with a mole of almonds, chilies, tomatoes, plantains and pineapple; Tortitas de patas de puerco, crispy pork trotters served with a salsa of tomatillos, avocado, Serrano peppers, and cilantro; and Chuletas de cordero en chileajo con frijoles borachos, grilled lamb T-bones marinated in Guajillo chiles and garlic with drunken navy beans with pork belly and Negra Modelo.

And, of course, the innovative beverage team has created unique cocktails for the festival. Libations featuring Mezcal include Oaxacan Swizzle, Del Maguey Mezcal “Vida”, Ruby Port, Fresh Pressed Apples, Lime, Ginger and House-made Orange Bitters; El Bahio, Sombra Mezcal, Roasted Pineapple juice, Lemon and Cardamom; Joven Avocado, Avocado Infused Mezcal, Cocchi Americano, Grapefruit Syrup, Grapefruit Juice, Hellfire Bitters, and Avocado Leaf; and the High Tea, Los Nahuales Reposado Mezcal, Chamomile Tea, Honey, and House-made Tobacco Bitters. Drinks starring Tequila are the Mexican Tailor, House-infused “Gin-quila” Fresh Pressed Apples, Lemon and Spanked Basil; El Pescador, Herradura Tequila three ways, Fresh Grapefruit Juice, Curacao, Maraschino Liqueur, Honey and Velvet Falernum, and the Champs–Elysees; Don Julio 70th Anniversary Añejo, Remy VSOP, Green Chartreuse, Lemon, and Peychauds Bitters.

If you try one of the cocktails at festival, and want to mix up a batch at home for a Mexican-inspired dinner party, the beverage team at Oyamel was gracious enough to share the recipes with me. While some of them require advanced technique and difficult to find ingredients, there are also a few that are easier to replicate in a home bar–here are two of them:

Champs-Elysées cocktail at Oyamel.

Courtesy of Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, Washington, D.C.
In this drink, complex aged Tequila and mellow Cognac get an herbal kick from green Chartreuse.

1 oz. Don Julio 70th Anniversary Anejo Tequila
½ oz. Rémy Martin VSOP Cognac
½ oz. Green Chartreuse
¾ oz. lemon juice
¼ oz. simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
3 frozen grape halves, for garnish

Add all except garnish to a cocktail shaker. Add ice, and shake vigorously until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a skewer of frozen grape halves.

Oaxacan Swizzle
Courtesy of Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, Washington, D.C.
The aroma and flavor of multi-layered, smoky Mezcal gets tempered a bit by the addition of berry-tinged Ruby Port.

Oyamel's Oaxacan Swizzle.

Fresh apple juice adds mouthwatering appeal, and ginger syrup gives it a spicy kick.

1 oz. Mezcal Vida
¾ oz. Ruby Port
¾ oz. fresh pressed apples (can substitute high quality apple juice)
¾ oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. ginger syrup (see Note)
2 dashes orange bitters
2 Dashes Angostura bitters
Dried apple chip and cinnamon stick, for garnish

Add all except garnish to a cocktail shaker. Add ice, and shake vigorously until chilled. Strain into a tall glass with fresh cracked ice. Garnish with apple chip and cinnamon stick.

Note: For the ginger syrup, combine 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, and add a handful of peeled, chopped ginger. Steep until desired taste. Strain out solids, and store syrup in the refrigerator in a container with a tightly fitting lid.

Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website,, or on

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