If you fancy exploring the amazing variety mezcal can offer and discover its potential in cocktails, there is only one place in the world to go from late September – a Japanese robatayaki restaurant in Fitzrovia, with a bartender from Spain, obviously.
At first it might seem odd for The Lost Explorer mezcal to team up with Shochu Lounge, beneath Roka on Charlotte Street, to create a cocktail list to pair with Japanese food. However, shochu is a spirit that can be made from rice, barley, buckwheat, sweet potatoes and even carrots! Although mezcal can only be made from agave, it is not limited to one varietal as tequila is with Weber Azul. So, as with shochu, there can be a world of difference between mezcals. Besides, since its launch in 2020, The Lost Explorer has tended to be unconventional in its way of doing things.
Unconventional, however, does not mean rejecting tradition – the agave piñas are hand-harvested only after 8-12 years’ growth, when mature, and are cooked in a volcanic rock-lined pit in the old way. One tradition that has been abandoned is a donkey-powered milling stone, but the mezcalero does ferment in open-topped oak barrels before distilling in copper alembics.
The Lost Explorer produces three mezcals – each 100% from a distinct agave varietal: Espadín (£62.50 a bottle) is sweet and fruity (especially apple) with subtle smoke; Tobalá (£104.99) is all cigar lounge – rolled tobacco leaves, a hint of smoke, leather, chocolate; the rarest varietal is Salmiana (£139.99) – a huge agave plant which is a big effort to retrieve from where it grows at altitude. It offers the most complexity – grapefruit with green chilli heat, strong herbaceous notes and a subtle, pleasant garage-forecourt aroma of spilt petrol.
Shochu Lounge head bartender Carlos Perez has taken these three very different mezcals and created twists on well-loved cocktails, incorporating some Japanese flavours too. ‘Yuzu-kosho Paloma’ highlights the Salmiana, with yuzu-kosho (chilli-citrus) rectified grapefruit and agave syrup. ‘Shishito Mezcalita’ pairs Espadín with sweet potato shochu, kasu (sake lees), shishito pepper, citrus and agave. Tobalá Fashion is Tobala, something called Kaneshishi from flavour makers Empirical, yellow chartreuse, agave and Aztec chocolate bitters. And Lost Espresso uses Tobalá, adding red miso coffee liqueur, and fresh espresso awamori (a rice spirit).
Whether you think those sound weird, or amazing, you are correct either way. And the Japanese flavours create a connection to a food menu teaming with sushi, sashimi, robata-grilled meat, seafood and vegetables, among other dishes. The Lost Explorer mezcal cocktail menu is available from 20 September.