The bar at Todos Santos, in the basement of Logan Square Mexican restaurant Quiote
, the Logan Square Mexican restaurant from former Salsa Truck owner Dan Salls, has had a mezcal bar in its basement since it opened early last year. Last fall, though, the bar got its own name along with a new beverage director when Jay Schroeder (formerly of Mezcaleria Las Flores
) came on board. Now known as Todos Santos, the space looks the same as before—wood everywhere, including the floor, ceiling, walls, stools, tables, and bar—but has an entirely new cocktail menu.
Todos Santos could more accurately be called an agave bar, since the menu includes lesser-known agave-based spirits like sotol and raicilla along with mezcal—but, Schroeder says, "agave bar just doesn't sound as good." He prefers the term mezcaleria, though he says he'll include as many nonmezcal spirits as he can. The one agave spirit he won't offer, though, is the best-known of them all: tequila.
"I have no love lost for tequila as a category," Schroeder says. "It has chosen to go directions that are not traditional in order to meet international consumers where they are. Whereas most mezcal being produced today is not necessarily created with an international consumer in mind; it's created the way folks locally would want to have it. The cool thing about the category is we can use it to offer a window into a different world."
The recent popularity of both tequila and mezcal has led to agave shortages
; in the last month alone dozens of articles have warned of impending shortages of tequila since agave prices have more than quintupled in the last two years. Mezcal prices are likely to rise as well, though Schroeder says he hasn't seen it happen yet. Tequila is made from blue agave, whereas mezcal uses a variety of agave types, the most common being espadín. (Tequila is technically a type of mezcal but the production methods for the two are different, as are the results.) Demand varies by type of agave, but for both espadín and blue agave it's higher than the supply—and it takes most agave plants seven years or more to mature enough to be harvested, so planting more now won't help anytime soon.
One solution for mezcal is to use varieties of agave that are less in demand. At Todos Santos, two of the cocktails include mezcal made from the doba-yej agave, while two others feature Banhez ensemble, a mezcal that combines espadín and barril agaves. ("Ensemble" refers to mezcal made with multiple varieties of agave that are roasted and distilled together rather than blended after distillation.) As at Mezcaleria Las Flores, Schroeder's cocktails span a wide range, demonstrating how versatile agave spirits can be. They're fairly complicated—most have seven or eight ingredients—but entirely approachable.
Geodesic Domes, for example, pairs Banhez ensemble with cognac, fresh pineapple, and green cardamom (among other ingredients) for a complex, barely smoky drink with a pronounced pineapple flavor and very dry finish. It Might As Well Be Spring includes cantaloupe but the raicilla, green Chartreuse, and tarragon combine to give the cocktail a savory, herbal quality rather than a fruity one. The smokiest of the drinks we tried was Life During Wartime, which combines mezcal with scotch, apricot liqueur, pasilla chile, and a rim of smoked pepita salt I could have eaten with a spoon. The booziest was Five Steps to Conquer, made spicy by morita chiles, dark and chocolaty by cacao, and rounded out by Calvados apple brandy and Ramazzotti amaro.
The drinks that feature seasonal ingredients will change regularly, Schroeder says, while a few others will be on the menu permanently. Come spring he'll add a few more cocktails to the list to bring the total closer to ten—including a couple he's working on with agave spirits he hasn't been able to include before, like a bacanora that recently came on the market. In the years he's been focusing on agave spirits he's cultivated connections with quite a few producers, which he sees as an integral part of his job. When I talked to him recently, he happened to be in the state of Chihuahua exploring sotol country and meeting producers. "People look to us to guide them through this complex world of spirits," he says. "I take it very personally to be as well informed as I can."