Sal de gusano is salt made from moth larvae— and it’s delicious. Paired with Mezcal it’s like a back-in-the-day spend the night party, N64 and all. These two literally grew up together. To make sal de gusano, the larvae that grows on agave is toasted, ground, and then mixed with salt and dried chilies. A sip of floral mezcal finished with savory sal and sweet, watery naranjas has a je ne sais quoi rhythm that just makes you want more.
Whereas tequila is only made from blue weber agave and in Tequila, Jalisco, mezcal can be made from any type of agave spanning nine different regions in Mexico (Tequila included.) Each interpretation of this hyperlocal spirit is a testament to the individual mezcalero behind it. The majority of them curate in small batches and in the past 20 years, thanks to bottlers like Del Maguey, it’s now possible for the world to access these artisan spirits without getting shaken down at the border. (Still pissed.)
Though now, more mezcal comes nicely packaged in glass that is labeled (the more detailed the better), I’d never turn down a plastic water bottle of hooch in Mexico. Because, that’s the real way to get local.
Mezcal is the most outside-of-the-box distilled alcohol that can be found on shelves today. It’s a lot like wine really. The flavor depends on species, smoke application, aging, whether or not a chicken was steeped in the still—yeah, they get creative. And because agave is chock-full of fructose, terroir especially lends to the final product. Just one sip in itself is a taste-trail of its own history.
But unlike wine, Mezcal takes FOREVER to make. It takes at least eight years to grow a solid agave piña, and for some species, 30. Not the same but similar, just this year Fortaleza had to say, nope we’re out until next year because their añejo tequila became so popular. It makes me nervous, really.
The best place in Houston to enjoy this pairing is downtown at The Pastry War. All the brands they stock are handmade—as in nothing coming from a factory. They import their sal de gusano from a legit source. On top of mezcal and tequila, you can taste sotol or my favorite, raicillia. Raicillia, also made from agave, has long-since been considered the moonshine of Mexico because it wasn’t originally government sanctioned.
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All of the bartenders working at The Pastry War are very knowledgeable and will even hook you up with a mezcal flight. Will Ebarb is a fun tour guide. He enjoys the variety that defines mezcal as well as its roots. “Mezcal is a mixture of Aztec fermentation and the introduction of distillation by the Spaniards that yields a product uniquely Mexican.” Before your flight, he’ll start off by asking if you want to stay in your lane or get weird.
You should get weird.