Everyone loves a well-made margarita, but adventurous foodies are just as likely to be looking for unique cocktails that are as interesting and extraordinary as the food on their plates… Today we’re focusing on the most popular Latin American spirits – tequila and mezcal, pisco, rum and cachaça. Try one (or try them all), just remember to always drink responsibly! 😉
Latin American Spirits
At the heart of every Latin American culture is a drink. THE DRINK. And a spirit that defines the late night vibe of the cities from whence they came.
For purposes of this post, I will focus on the 3 most well-known (at least in my mind):
You’ll find recipes for a margarita, a mojito, and a pisco sour on every website that features adult beverages. I want to “kick it up a notch” with a few unique cocktails for the adventuresome foodies!
Tequila and Mezcal
Often described as tequila’s smoky cousin, the popularity of mezcal (or mescal) is exploding. I have a hunch its popularity is driven by the fact that enthusiasm for craft cocktails is on the rise, and mezcal brings an exciting new flavor profile to “the scene.”
While tequila and mezcal are both Mexican spirits made with agave, they differ in production method, origination, and flavor. Tequila is a type of mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila.
Tequila can only be made from blue agave plants, while mezcal can be made from many different agave species including blue agave. Mexican law tightly restricts regions that produce tequila, and though most mezcal comes from Oaxaca, it can be produced in many more regions than tequila.
The biggest difference is in the production methods and resulting flavor of the 2 spirits. Tequila has a clean, smooth, slightly sweet taste, and mezcal has a more savory, smoky taste.
I do use both in the same cocktail recipes, knowing the flavor will be vastly different with each. Keep this in mine when perusing the following list of unique tequila and mezcal based cocktails.
Pisco (an Aguardiente)
Pisco is Peruvian. Do NOT let anyone convince you otherwise! Lol. Chile tries to lay claim to pisco, but having spent 3 months in the last 2+ years in Peru, I am convinced that historical evidence supports the Peruvian claim!
Pisco is a clear to amber colored brandy – distilled and fermented from grapes. Aguardiente is a generic term for distilled spirits with 29-60% alcohol, coming from many different sources. Spain has brandy, Brazil has Cachaça, Colombia has Aguardiente – an anise flavored liqueur.
Back to Pisco. Peruvian Pisco must be made in the country’s five official D.O. (Denomination of Origin) departments—Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna (only in the valleys of Locumba Locumba, Sama and Caplina)— established in 1991 by the government.
Grapes are distilled in copper basins and aged in steel or glass, and nothing may be added that will alter its flavor. That’s the “reader’s digest condensed version.” I can’t begin to cover it in one post. For more information read All About Pisco.
Rum and Cachaça
Rum and Cachaça are both distilled from sugar cane byproducts; rum is made from molasses after sugar cane is boiled for maximum extraction, and cachaça is made from fresh sugar cane juice.
Both distilled spirits come in unaged (“white” or “silver”) and aged (“yellow” or “gold”).
The caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail and is made with cachaça, sugar, lime, and ice. In 2006 our Brazilian foreign exchange student’s parents sent several bottles made on his grandfather’s ranch. We were totally enamored with our first experience with this cocktail! I have included a couple of interesting recipes in the next section.
I have also featured several rum cocktails originating in countries throughout the tropical regions of Latin America.