Agave's profile on bar lists is growing. 5 home recipes for traditional cocktails that sub it in

LONDON (AP) — Tequila-based margaritas and palomas have long been cocktail-menu staples, but their base ingredient — agave — is working its way into other cocktails for a modern twist on traditional drinks.

While tequila, made from the blue agave plant, is the best-known of the agave spirits, mezcal has also grown in popularity. It's made from a wider variety of agaves across Mexico, and is roasted underground for a smokier flavor.

Alan Uresti Silva, U.K. brand ambassador for The Lost Explorer Mezcal, says that when he came to London from Mexico nine years ago, it was hard to find an agave cocktail on a bar list aside from a margarita.

Longtime bartender Bobby Hiddleston, who co-founded London's Swift cocktail bars, agrees. Back then, he says, he wouldn’t have been able to sell a mezcal cocktail. The change in attitude comes “off the shoulders of good quality tequila,” he says, adding that it’s great to see the agave category as a whole doing so well.

There's more understanding today among bartenders about agave, says Elon Soddu, co-founder of Amaro bar, across town. There are also more variations of agave, which he says makes it easy to swap out almost anything in your traditional cocktail for an agave alternative.

Both blanco tequilas (non-aged tequilas) and young, lighter-smoked mezcals have a bright grassiness or “green flavor” that works well with citrus, says Hiddleston. Uresti Silva adds that these savory vegetal notes can balance or replace a gin or vodka for something light and refreshing.

He also suggests using an anejo or extra anejo tequila or a smoky mezcal to replace a whiskey. An anejo tequila has been aged in an oak barrel between 1 and 3 years, while an extra anejo ages for a minimum of 3 years before being bottled.

Hiddleston says the aged agaves work well as a substitute for darker spirits such as brandy and cognacs, and particularly in stirred-down drinks with more vanilla and caramel notes coming through to bring a different flavor.

Here, five expert London bartenders offer up recipes that replace everyday spirits with agave alternatives. You can experiment at home with your own favorite brands.

NIGHTINGALE - Swift Shoreditch bar

For this agave spin on a martini, Hiddleston uses a reposado tequila (aged 2 months to 1 year in oak barrels). He says you can’t keep it as dry as you would a gin or vodka martini, and the key is to bolster the sweetness.

“We find using the blanco vermouth rather than a dry vermouth carries the flavor really well, and we just have a couple of little accessorizing things, orange bitters, almond,” he says.

Ingredients:

40ml (1.4 oz) Tapatio Reposado tequila

25ml (0.8 oz) Reus blanco vermouth

5ml (0.2 oz) simple syrup

5ml (0.2 oz) Nardini Mandorola liqueur

2 dashes of Orange Bitters

Method:

Mix all ingredients in a glass, stir thoroughly. Strain over a chilled martini glass. Garnish with an olive.

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MEZCAL NEGRONI - Hacha Brixton

At this award-winning agaveria, bar manager Ben Guillou serves up a Mezcal Negroni, a drink traditionally made with a London dry gin, Campari and vermouth, but he swaps out the gin for mezcal.

Ingredients:

1 part The Lost Explorer Mezcal

1 part Campari

1 part Vermouth Bianco

Method:

Pour all ingredients over ice, stir thoroughly. Strain over a glass with ice and serve.

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MEZCAL ESPRESSO MARTINI – El Bar de Cavita

Cavita, one of London’s top Mexican restaurants, features a basement Mexican Bar where they serve up a delicious spin on an Espresso Martini, adding coffee mezcal to vodka and freshly brewed espresso. Chef patron Adriana Cavita feels the mezcal brings a lot of flavor and complexity to the classic vodka cocktail.

“This coffee-based mezcal is made with Mexican coffee, which I think has a lot of aroma," she says. "You can feel a little bit of the cinnamon. Also, I feel like it takes a bit of the sweetness from the drink.”

Ingredients:

40ml (1.4 oz) Faie Quinoa vodka

25ml (0.8 oz) Ojo DeDios Café mezcal

50 ml (1.7 oz) espresso

15ml (0.5 oz) sugar

Method:

Make double espresso.

Combine all ingredients in a shaker, add ice and shake vigorously until a foam forms.

Double strain into a martini/coupe and dust with a little cinnamon powder on top and serve.

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TOMATO BAMBOO - Amaro

Former head mixologist at The Savoy hotel, Soddu brings a five-star bar experience to his west London bar Amaro. One of the bestsellers on his menu is the Tomato Bamboo. Traditionally a lower strength drink made with sherry and two types of vermouth, this recipe switches a vermouth for a mezcal, retaining the dry taste but adding a smoky herbal touch.

“It’s a little bit stronger and gives this nice smokiness on the drink that gives this nice and funky flavor,” he says.

Ingredients:

30ml (1 oz) Los Siete Misterios Doba Yej Mezcal,

20ml (0.7 oz) Tio Pepe Fino Sherry,

10ml (0.35 oz) 1757 Vermouth di Torino Extra Dry,

25ml (0.8 oz) La Tomato liqueur,

3 drops celery bitters.

Method:

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass, stir over ice. Pour in a chilled coupette with a cherry tomato garnish.

NOTE: This recipe has been adapted to make it easier to recreate at home. For the authentic Amaro recipe, all ingredients are clarified in a centrifuge.

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MAESTRO OLD FASHIONED - Mezcalito Brompton

The final cocktail comes from Oliver Castilla-Tristan, co-founder of late-night cocktail bar and club Mezcalito Brompton. He does a twist on the classic Old Fashioned recipe of whiskey, sugar, angostura bitters and water.

“We’re using anejo tequila, which is aged tequila. We use a bit of cacao liqueur, and angostura as well," he says, "bringing both flavors of vanilla, a bit of sweetness, but that robust taste of agave as well, which is very interesting.”

Ingredients:

40ml (1.4 oz) Maestro Dobel Añejo Tequila

15ml (0.5 oz) Créme de Cacao (Giffard)

2 dashes of Angostura Bitters

2 dashes of Orange Bitters

Orange Peel & Grated Nutmeg

Method:

Mix all ingredients into a mixing glass full of ice cubes. Stir for about 20-30 seconds.

Strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with orange peel and a little grated nutmeg.