Ilegal Mezcal & Eryn Reece

Banzarbar is one of our favorite spots to hide away at the end of a particularly long work day, with a stiff drink and exceptional service. First, you need to find Freeman’s, a stalwart, multi-story, multi-room converted house at the end of Freeman’s Alley in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Provided you phoned in for a reservation, you’ll be led up a winding, wooden staircase to the top floor.

Banzarbar is a tiny attic reprieve, where the talented Eryn Reece rules the roost. She’s won numerous awards for her efforts behind the bar, including being a Speed Rack National Champion and an inductee to the Dames Hall of Fame at Tales of the Cocktail, an annual gathering of the best-of-the-best in the booze industry.

She’s also got a real penchant for exceptional mezcal, which has only grown on her travels down to Oaxaca.
This month, we have Ilegal mezcal spotlighted in our Smoke, Spice & Ice box on Vices Reserve and we’ve got Eryn Reece on our radar, as our bartender to seek out.

We found a stool, grabbed a glass and peppered her with pertinent questions. It is October, and we find this the month that mezcal was made for. There’s a delicious, dark, dreamy quality to that hint of smoke and that earthy nature on the palate. She was kind enough to share incredible recipes for your next gathering.
Read on, then order a box. It will arrive at your doorstep just in time for the freaky festivities.
RV: Hey Eryn …
ERYN: Hi, Vices …

RV: So, we loved watching you compete in Speed Rack and we’ve known you since your Death & Co. bartending days. We are excited to sit down with you here and chat mezcal. When did you first start bartending?
ERYN: I conned someone into letting me finally bartend at Mona’s Bistro & Lounge in Seattle. I had no idea what I was doing but I loved it!
RV: What’s the one thing you are reaching for to play with these days that might surprise us?
ERYN: It changes all the time, lately its been Calvados. I love apples. Especially in fall. 

RV: We are super into mezcal lately. (Takes giant sip.) What do you love about mezcal?
ERYN: I love how much it varies, instead of being something that is always blended to keep consistency. The very essence of mezcal is so dependent on the plant. Depending on the varietal, the region, what was near it while it was fermenting and during distillation all makes it wildly different and delicious.
RV: Is there anything you dislike or find troubling about mezcal? 
ERYN: The amount of brands that are flooding the market. Tequila got so popular over the years and keeping up with production was tough, yet when they finally got caught up they had an abundance of agave, thus driving down the price. It’s very much affecting the livelihood of those who are a part of this production. Mezcal is already wildly popular, and this seems like something that would very likely to happen, as well as more devastating when it does. As opposed to these being huge tequila houses, the mezcal producers tend to be typically family-run palenques.
RV: Why is mezcal more interesting than a lot of the spirits out there?
ERYN: There are so many different varietals and the flavor profiles are vast. They are constantly allowing new growing regions, as well as inducting new varietals into the mezcal category. I feel like I’m always tasting something new. 
RV: Given that we’ve got a bottle here in front of us, tell us why you personally like Ilegal mezcal.
ERYN: I really love how much Illegal is committed to giving back. They’ve done a lot of direct relief in Guatemala, specifically Para los Ninos, which built the first non-profit elementary school in Guatemala.

RV: Of their lineup, do you have a favorite?
ERYN: I don’t enjoy aged mezcal. Blanco mezcal for me only please. 
RV: Have you been to Oaxaca at all and can you tell us why it’s a lovely destination? We are dying to get down there.
ERYN: I have been, and I love it! Wonderful food and beautiful people. The markets are by far my favorite to go and sample food and get a glimpse of their culture.

RV: If (cough: when) we head down to Mexico, what other places should we check out in the name of beautiful agave? Also, please clue us in on the best options for food, cities and exploring!
ERYN: I recently visited Durango. This one was quite exciting. When I was a child, my father watched quite a few Westerns. Durango is where they filmed a majority of them. Beautiful, rocky and mountainous. The food was outstanding, the regional specialty is gorditas, and they are delicious! I really enjoyed sampling their mezcal varietal, Cenizo as well as their sotols.

RV: Now we are pumped! What’s the easiest mezcal cocktail to make, for someone who is new to it? Can you just give us the recipe, please?
ERYN: I love strong and spirited cocktails. So, this is a simple twist on a Manhattan. This drink, while simple, tastes complex and has great depth.
The NightHawk
2 oz. Mezcal
3/4 oz. Sweet Vermouth (I recommend Carpano Antica)
1/4 oz. Coffee Liqueur (I recommend Cafe Lolita)
Method: Build all ingredients over ice in large mixing glass and stir until well chilled. Strain into a coupe. Garnish with a citrus twist.

RV: Awesome. And, if we move on to a highball?
ERYN: A highball is one of my favorite ways to drink spirits lately. For this one, I use an amaro called Pasubio. It’s a wine based amaro that has notes of alpine and a little jam-forward, blueberry that I think pairs perfectly with the smoke and fruit that you can find in mezcal. 
October Highball
1 1/4 oz. Mezcal
1 1/4 oz. Pasubio Amaro
1 Bottle Seltzer
Method: Built ingredients in order in the glass. After topping with the soda, give a gentle stir and garnish with an orange twist
RV: We love an Old Fashioned when we come to drink with you at Banzarbar. Can you give us the recipe for a great Mezcal Old Fashioned?
ERYN: Sure!

The Mezcal Old Fashioned
2 oz. Mezcal
1 Tbsp. Agave Nectar
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters (I sometimes sneak in a dash of Mole bitters as well!)
Method: Stir all ingredients in a mixing tin with lots of ice. Stir swiftly and well until everything is chilled. Strain into a Double Old Fashioned glass and garnish with both a lemon and an orange twist.

RV: We’ve loved having this chat. Could you, pretty please, give us one recipe that’s awesome in large format, for entertaining on Halloween night?
ERYN: We just had our Fall menu come out at Freeman’s and one of my favorites right now I think fits the bill for exactly what you should be drinking on Halloween night. It’s bright, refreshing, and tasty … with very festive hue. Courtesy of Edgar Hernandez.
Uxmal City Punch
9 oz. Mezcal
3 oz. Blood Orange Puree
3 oz. Ancho Reyes
1 1/2 oz. Lime juice
1 oz. Agave Nectar
1/2 oz. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
6 oz. Seltzer Water
Method: Freeze some large ice in your freezer a few days before. This is easy to do using Tupperware filled with water. When ready to build, dd all ingredients in punch bowl and give a good stir. Slice a few lime wheels for floating in the punch and add the ice. To serve, ladle into Rocks glasses either neat or over ice. Garnish with a lime wheel.