Novice restaurateur Josh Phillips is on a spirited crusade to change the way diners think about mezcal, stocking his bar with 90-plus varieties of the firewater distilled from the agave plant. But the visionary behind the new Espita Mezcaleria in where-else-but-Shaw is focused more on winning converts than in touting numbers, as any conversation with the missionary or his staff demonstrates.
Above all, Phillips, a master mezcalier, wants us to stop thinking of his drink of choice as a smoky cousin to tequila and surprise us with mezcal’s range. Mezcal, Phillips says — and a flight of samples attests — is “more akin to wine than it is to tequila.” (One brand, La Venenosa Sierra del Tigre, smells of Parmesan and tastes like chocolate-covered cherries.) Probably the restaurant offering the most mezcal now, Espita Mezcaleria buys only artisanal spirits, made in small batches and supportive of the farmers at the source rather than factory owners.
(You may wonder how someone becomes a certified mezcalier. In addition to written exams, aspirants are also required to identify varietals of agave in the field, cook with the spirit and even make it.)