Over the last few years, premium mezcals have found their way into a bevy of craft cocktails as well as home bars. To some, this cousin to tequila offers a stronger presence and a more playful spirit where flavor is concerned. It was that sense of playfulness that inspired Jonathan Barbieri, a former artist, to lay down his paintbrushes and create drinkable works of art. His pièce de résistance, Pierde Almas, is a line of boutique mezcals, to which he just added +9—the first mezcal-gin hybrid. “I wanted to move away from the cool turpentine of London-styled gin and give the other ingredients a chance to come forth,” says Barbieri. “This so-called democratization of the botanicals is really achievable using a mezcal base, because unlike a neutral grain-alcohol base, mezcal lasts a long time on the palate.”
Mezcal is made similarly to tequila, but production practices call for cooking the agave hearts in underground ovens heated by wood charcoal. This imparts levels of smoke that one typically would find in peaty Islay single malts. Behind that char are the spirit’s base flavors—cooked agave, citrus, and rich fruits.
As one might guess, Barbieri’s +9 begins with nine common gin botanicals: juniper berries, coriander, star anise, fennel seed, orange peel, cassia bark, angelica root, orrisroot, and nutmeg. Some of the ingredients are macerated with the mezcal in a copper pot still for 24 hours, while others are hung in a large tea bag in the steam head, where they work to create a delicate, floral finish. In the final step, Barbieri combines the botanical distillate with a double-distilled mezcal in a copper pot alembic still.
The result is a pleasing blend of powerful agave flavors and refined hints of juniper and gin’s other botanicals, and it may just be the most original way to savor Cinco de Mayo.