Reprinted with permission from “Mezcal and Tequila Cocktails: Mixed Drinks for the Golden Age of Agave,” by Robert Simonson, copyright © 2021. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.” Photos by Lizzie Munro

Robert Simonson, who writes about cocktails for the New York Times, will be at Hunt & Alpine from 5-6:30 p.m. Thursday to promote his new book, “Mezcal and Tequila Cocktails: Mixed Drinks for the Golden Age of Agave.”

The event is free and open to the public, and reservations are not required. In addition to signing books, which will be available for purchase at the event through Portland bookstore Print, Simonson will make remarks and take a few questions.

Simonson describes himself as “pretty much unexposed to Maine” and is excited to be traveling through the state with his wife for five days on their first vacation since the pandemic began. The cocktail spots on their wishlist include The Honey Paw in Portland, Aragosta at Goose Cove in Deer Isle and The Wallingford Dram in Kittery.

Q: Which elements make you go back to a particular bar?

A: The lighting and the music set the mood, but the most important element (aside from the quality of the cocktails) is recognition. People want to be acknowledged fairly quickly, whether through eye contact or the quick placement of a napkin or coaster in front of them. They want to feel, “They want me here.”

New York Times cocktail writer Robert Simonson will be at Hunt & Alpine in Portland on Thursday.

Q: What got you interested in doing a book about mezcal and tequila cocktails?

 A: I’d been watching the rise of tequila in U.S. bars as it gained in respect, moving past shots and margaritas. Bartenders helped change its reputation. It was like a snowball going down a mountain. Mezcal, previously unknown to Americans, has even more breadth and variety.

Q: What are some of your favorite cocktail books?

A: “Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails.” A 1927 book called “Barflies and Cocktails,” by Harry McElhone of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris – the recipes hold up and are very user-friendly. “Regarding Cocktails,” by the late Sasha Petraske, who founded Milk & Honey.

Q: What exciting cocktail trends are you watching?

A: The pandemic had a big effect on everything, including bars. We’re seeing a wider variety and better quality of canned, bottled and even boxed cocktails now. Because so much outdoor dining is taking place in the heat, several bars have invested in slushy machines and are now doing artisanal frozen cocktails.  I hope that they make to-go cocktails permanent – they’re a great option for customers, and we’ve always been able to take beer away in growlers.  Why should cocktails be any different?

Q: Lots of people had bad experiences with tequila when younger. Is there a “starter” recipe in your book that could bring them back to the fold?

A: Yes! The Siesta, a variation on a Hemingway Daiquiri, invented by Katie Stipe at the Flatiron Lounge in NYC. It’s a refreshing summer sour, and I have not met one person yet who doesn’t like it:

1.5 oz blanco tequila

0.25 oz Campari

0.75 oz fresh lime juice

0.5 oz fresh grapefruit juice

0.75 oz simple syrup

Shake over ice, then strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with a lime wheel.

Q: Do you have any Mezcal recommendations for beginners?

A: Artisanal Mezcal Del Maguey, one of the first Mezcals to reach the United States – Vida is their entryway brand. Lots of Mezcal is made in small towns and goes undiscovered. New Mexico artist Ron Cooper brought Del Maguey to the U.S. and turned lots of people on to it. It’s good for sipping straight or in cocktails, and a bottle costs about $35.

Q: What were the most fun and the most challenging parts of writing this book?

A: I love history, so the most fun part for me was exploring the modern history of agave cocktails. The most challenging part for me was choosing which recipes to include. I knew half the cocktails immediately. Finding the other half was harder. I wanted them to be good and relatively simple, with a minimal amount of syrups you have to make, etc. This book is for the reader – if they’re not going to make the drinks, the book has failed.

Retired diplomat Angie Bryan writes about Maine’s cocktail bars while making as many puns as her editor allows.


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