Whether you consider yourself a dedicated aficionado, general enthusiast, or newbie, there’s still plenty we can all learn about mezcal, the Mexican agave distilled spirit whose popularity shows no sign of slowing down.
This is why Jon Bamonte, lead bartender of Vernick Fish, the sustainable seafood restaurant on the ground floor of Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at Comcast Center, just introduced a new mezcal program featuring Mezonte, a nonprofit promoting and preserving the production of traditional agave spirits.
Because the surge in mezcal demand has also, unfortunately, come at a cost to the spirit’s identity and legacy, Bamonte hopes to clear up some common misconceptions. The first is about aging. “With most agave spirits you’re not aging in wood, you’re growing the agave itself,” he says of the succulent’s maturing process, which can take decades. And though some correlate an easy-to-drink profile with higher quality, Bamonte says that’s false: “Agave spirits are not meant to be smooth. They are supposed to be bold and assertive with complex flavors.” Also, don’t be fooled by ornate packaging or chic labels. He explains, “Another common misconception is that a nicer bottle translates to a better product; however, in most cases that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Bamonte discovered Mezonte during a trip to Guadalajara with his close friend and fellow bar manager, Dan Suro of Philly’s popular Tequilas restaurant, last year. After discovering the transparent and ethical way Mezonte operates—think consumer education, production in small batches to not put undue pressure on the mezcaleros, and sustainability of the communities producing the mezcals and ecosystem—Bamonte knew he needed to bring Mezonte’s products and stories back home. “I love that Mezonte is essentially true to the nature of the spirit,” he says. “They are environmentally and economically conscientious.”
At Vernick Fish, guests can dive into the world of Mezonte with customizable flights. One to three one-ounce pours are priced at $30, $70, and $110 respectively, with a single two-ounce pour costing $70. Bamonte even collaborated on custom-made copitas with local artist and glassblower, Eric Hernandez—who used to be a barback at Vernick Fish—of Eastfalls Glassworks for a richer experience that engages all the senses. Of the end result, Bamonte comments, “The design is a traditional silhouette with a round smooth rim and a generous open bowl, which allows the nose to get close to the mezcal while also making it easy to sip.”
At the end of it all, Bamonte just wants guests to be more aware of mezcal’s rich history and culture, and also, to be comfortable with drinking smaller amounts—but far better quality. As he puts it: “We’re showing guests a new way to consume, to sip and almost revel in it. Taste where it came from, try it with some raw oysters, or a crisp or two. Engage, learn, and enjoy the many different ways to pair food with different spirits.”
Vernick Fish is now offering the following six Mezonte products:
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