That's the Spirit: Sombra Mezcal

Spirit Reviews

New brands and bottles you should know.


Memorial Day is just around the corner, and backyard pitmasters across the country are getting fired up for grilling season. The first cookout of the summer is always a special occasion, but it only comes but once a year. Whenever you start to yearn for the sweet scent of the grill, salvation is only as far away as the closest bottle of mezcal. Sombra ranks particularly high on the list of potable proxies for (or delicious additions to) a sunny charcoal tending session.

Sombra is produced in the Rio Hormiga Colorada valley, just south of Oaxaca, Mexico. Espadin agave are harvested from the surrounding hillsides, and the hearts of the plants are cooked in a rock-lined pit called a palenque. Set over the mesquite-fired red hot rocks, they are covered by a fibrous mat of used agave and a final layer of earth. After three to five days, the hearts are retrieved, allow to rest, crushed, and fermented in wooden vats by wild yeasts. Finally, the resulting liquor is distilled twice and bottled at 90 proof as a blanco, or unaged, mezcal.

This unapologetic spirit smells pungently herbal, with notes of mesquite smoke. It's light bodied but pleasantly creamy, and the smoke is joined by flavors of rich roasted sweet corn and hardscrabble mountainside vegetation. The finish is briny and clean—a touch of smoke does its best to linger but is quickly carried away and replaced by salt. Not for the faint of heart (or palate), it's a fiery, roasty sipper.

Start with some grilled fajitas, throw in a punched-up michelada (just add a shot and adjust your seasonings to taste), and you'll soon be happily glowing like the fading coals in the grill.