Header image courtesy of Honky Tonks Tavern (via Facebook)
Mention mezcal and several misconceptions may follow—no, it does not cause psychedelic hallucinations, nor does every bottle have to include a maguey larva to be considered legit.
Oft compared to tequila, mezcal in fact refers to all types of spirits crafted with agave that are produced in Mexico. Its distinctive smoky fragrance is due to a distillation process that charrs the raw ingredients using wood and charcoal. Each drop offers earthen notes with hints of fruitiness or floral twists that can be used to add complex layers to your mixes. Combat the sweltering heat and sample the signature flavour of this curious spirit with the best mezcal cocktails in Hong Kong.
A pioneer in bringing the mezcalería concept to Hong Kong, Coa transplants to the city the intimate vibes of a cosy Mexican watering hole. Its impressive 41-page-long liquor selection is centred around highlighting the dimensions of agave spirits, with a rotating weekly menu of cocktails that bring to the forefront a special ingredient.
For a concoction that evokes the vivid and dazzling elements of mezcal joven (“young” mezcal), La Paloma de Oaxaca ($120) is the choice to go for, blended with tequila blanco, grapefruit soda, lime, and the formidable worm salt. If you want to first become familiar with the liquor itself, the Introduction to Mezcal ($288) series walks you through a multitude of the aforementioned spirit and highlights the diversity of the terroir.
Coa, Shop A, LG/F Wah Shin House, 6–10 Shin Hing Street, Central | (+852) 2813 5787
Its name a reference to the vibrant uniqueness of Pablo Picasso (despite his Spanish origins), this newly opened restaurant and bar re-imagines mezcal with a Southeast Asian touch. Its signature is the mezcal Negroni ($138), which balances the sugary taste of vermouth and bitterness of Campari with the scorched edge of mezcal. For those who crave spice—a sensation mastered by both of Pablo’s formative cuisines—the signature spicy margarita ($128) draws some heat from tequila blanco, blended herbs, and chilli.
Pablo, Shop G80–G85, Tsim Sha Tsui Centre, 66 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui | (+852) 3741 2990
Known as a hipster hangout, this beloved yakitori joint is exactly the kind of place to gather with friends for a casual night out. Conjuring up whiffs of the char-grilled process that goes into producing mezcal is their roster of grilled chicken, each seasoned with perfectly tailored spices and flavourings. Compliment shared plates with a bright and refreshing Del Maguey-based mezcal mule ($160), made special with the Japanese-inspired twist of ume plum.
Yardbird, Shop A-B, Winsome House, 154–158 Wing Lok Street, Sheung Wan | (+852) 2547 9273
Splashed in almost all the hues of the rainbow, the Día de los Muertos-inspired fronting of this establishment will draw you in immediately, setting the tone of cheery fun. As if to complement the loud décor and eye-catching murals, the golden Maracuja ($98) mixes tangy-sweet passionfruit soda with El Macho’s house mezcal and dazzles as the perfect drink for summertime tipples. What’s more, their cocktails are served in delightful glassware inspired by Mexican calaveras de azúcar (sugar skulls)—definitely worth snapping some Instagram stories of.
El Macho, 1 Third Street, Sai Ying Pun | (+852) 2523 2488
Helmed by Daniel Eun, formerly the head bartender at New York’s legendary Please Don’t Tell (PDT), the libations at this contemporary Mexican restaurant expertly meld together innovative yet elegant combinations. Elevating mezcal from its roots as “the poor man’s tequila,” The Weather ($140) incorporates gin, amaro, bitters, and also kombucha to flesh out a journey that traverses the whole gamut of flavours. If you prefer to feel a piquant kick, go for the ruby-hued The Marathon Continues ($140), which dials up the fuego with tajin and adds a zing of ginger for a cool burn.
11 Westside, 1/F, The Hudson, 11 Davis Street, Kennedy Town | (+852) 9300 8068
Fusing together Japanese culinary techniques with Mexican flavours, Chino brings together the best of the two cuisines, presenting creative combinations of native ingredients. A signature of their beverage programme, the simplicity of their highballs is reflective of letting the distinct tastes of the mezcal itself shine through.
Take the Los Danzantes ($150), a highball cocktail that parallels the customary volcanic accents and citrus peaks with burnt orange, rounded off with the unobtrusive and mildly lemony Wilkinson soda water. A classic option re-imagined with a touch of agave, the mezcal old fashioned ($158) gives you a similar satisfaction of acerbic and sweet, made extra smooth with the woody undercut of the agave spirit.
Chino, 1B-1C New Praya, Tung Fat Building, Kennedy Town | (+852) 2606 0588
Reflecting the punchy and playful ambience of the multi-coloured interiors, the bill of fare at Te Quiero Mucho pays homage to cantina culture, with mixers that highlight the emphasis on fresh flavours in Mexican cooking.
Incorporating an authentic palate that is reminiscent of tacos al pastor, the Achote (starting from $50) draws upon the common spices used in adovada marinades, enhancing the smokiness of the mezcal. For a lighter, more summery option that contrasts the signature mezcal aroma with sweet hints of fruit, try the El Burro (starting from $50), which blends in lime cordial as well as mandarin and bergamot soda.
Te Quiero Mucho, The Sheung Wan, 286 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan | (+852) 3423 3290
Acclaimed for their innovative and unlikely medleys, Quinary offers up one-of-a-kind cocktails that have been thoughtfully infused with culinary stories and cultural histories. Its signature drinks work together to integrate different mouthfeels and scents found amongst the dishes and ingredients of a typical Hong Kong food market.
An extraordinary grouping, the Yuk Bing Siu ($140) mixes mezcal with the eponymous Cantonese rice liquor, which has been treated with pork fat. Amaro, applejack, toasted rice syrup, and a sliver of pre-garnished cheese is added to the mix, resulting in an incredibly complex cocktail for slow sipping.
Quinary, 56–58 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 2851 3223
Flirting with the familiar, Terrible Baby is adept at bending the rules, doing so with an inventive and cheeky flair. Straight from the source, their Oaxacan mezcal is expertly blended into well-loved cocktails to give them a little twist.
Opting to embellish the smokiness of the small-batch Los Javis Espadin mezcal with contrasting tart notes, Tommy’s margarita ($95) is a sharp drink that refreshes as it jolts you with spiced agave. For a highball that packs a similar but slightly subdued spike, the Mezcalito ($105)—calamansi juice muddled with ginger beer—is the way to go.
Terrible Baby, 4/F, Eaton HK, 380 Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 2710 1866
A saloon-style inn that focuses primarily on bourbon and tequila drinks, the mezcal mixes at Honky Tonks Tavern are nonetheless worth raving about. After all, the Wild West did its fair share of encroaching into Mexican and Spanish territory! Mucho Danger ($95) elevates the spicy and sour combination, drawing upon jalepeño for the fire and a tri-citrus mixer of lemon shrub, lime, and orange juice for the tang.
Manifest your ideal destiny by sipping on the auspiciously named Rich & Famous ($100), a powerhouse of a drink that brings together the flavours of bourbon, mezcal, Aperol, and Australian amaro, dashed off with yuzu and lime to tie it all together. If you are a lone ranger looking for a mellowed drink that retains smoke and depth, opt for the tequila-tinged Don’t Drink the Water ($95), which stays light thanks to elderflower, lime, and mandarin shrub.
The familiar La Paloma ($90) cocktail served at the chic tapas bar of the same name replaces the customary tequila for its “smokier cousin,” re-interpreting the compound concoction by using fresh grapefruit and plain soda. Perhaps it stands as a nod to the Spanish influence in the invention of mezcal, as well as a result of the interconnectedness between the remnants of conquistador culture and Mexico today.
La Paloma, 189 Queen’s Road West, Sai Ying Pun | (+852) 2291 6161