Upscale Mexican chain Rosa Mexicano is rolling out a new beverage program that takes a deep dive into agave-based spirits, such as tequila and mezcal, and also uses more traditional Mexican elements, including the worm.
“Everyone thinks of Rosa Mexicano, and they want their pomegranate frozen Margaritas and their tableside guacamole, and that will never go away. But as we are all evolving, and the cocktail world evolves, for me it’s important to have a variety for all the different cocktail styles,” said Courtenay Greenleaf, a certified mezcalier who is New York City-based Rosa Mexicano's corporate beverage director.
“We really just wanted to start acknowledging the spirits of Mexico,” Greenleaf added.
At the heart of the new program are leather-bound “agave bibles.” Each page of the book is dedicated to a producer of agave spirits, including not only tequila and mezcal, but also lesser-known alcohols such as Bacanora, sotol and raicilla.
Each page includes information about the distillery, production notes including what types of ovens are used, juice extraction, fermentation and distillation, along with tasting notes and information on how the spirit was aged, including the types of barrels used and how long it was aged.
“So it kind of reads like a wine book,” Greenleaf said.
The "bible" is being introduced at all 14 of the chain’s locations as a resource for staff as well as customers.
Additionally, the chain is introducing a new "El Gusto” line of margaritas. Customers can choose from one of 13 different tequilas that are mixed with lime squeezed to order and agave nectar.
“We brought in some Hamilton juicers to squeeze the limes à la minute,” Greenleaf said.
“I chose some tequilas that will lend more citrus, fruit-forward, bright notes, and then there are selections that have more peppery, herbaceous characteristics. I’ve incorporated one in particular, the Don Fulano Fuerte, which is their high-proof expression, so it’s 100 proof. As it is a lowland tequila it will naturally lend a more earthy, peppery note, but having it be high-proof I thought it would be a nice little addition to the selection,” she added.
Although unaged, or silver, tequila is the traditional spirit used in margaritas, Greenleaf is also offering some aged, or reposado, varieties in the El Gusto lineup “to lend those other vanilla, caramel, subtle oak notes, and to lend a little bit more depth and complexity to the Margarita,” she said.
The new agave program started at the chain’s newest location, in the Manhattan neighborhood of Tribeca, which opened in October 2015 and includes a cocktail lounge serving more than 400 agave spirits, compared with the 85 to 90 varieties at other Rosa Mexicano locations.
Greenleaf is expanding that selection to around 150 varieties at six of the chain’s locations — the other three restaurants in New York City, as well as the Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., units. The expanded line includes more artisanal tequilas, mezcals from 25 different producers, three raicillas, a sotol and a Bacanora.
“So now we have all the proper different agave distillates from Mexico,” Greenleaf said.
Those six locations will also offer flights of agave spirits. The tequila flight will be three 1-ounce pours accompanied by housemade sangrita, which is a sweet, sour and spicy fruit drink traditionally used as a chaser for tequila shots.
The mezcal flight will be served with orange slices sprinkled with sal de gusano, or worm salt, made with salt, chile, and ground worm — the same kind of worm (technically not a worm, but a caterpillar or other insect larva) found at the bottom of some mezcal bottles.
Sal de gusano is also on the rim of one of the chain’s new margaritas, which includes new housemade orange bitters.
“We’ve also created a salt program, which is a way of incorporating different flavors into your cocktail without adding volume to the drink,” Greenleaf said.
Those include a lime zest salt, one with arbol and guajillo chiles, a pink peppercorn variety and a salt blended with hibiscus.
Another signature cocktail is the new raicilla Negroni, which replaces the gin with a little-known agave spirit.
“It’s a single-distilled distillate from these back mountains in Jalisco,” Greenleaf said. “It’s made in this tiny little shed in the middle of nowhere, and I just think it’s so cool that that little distillate is now available in a Negroni.”
That drink also has Cappelletti instead of Campari and Carpano Bianco instead of sweet vermouth.
Greenleaf also is offering a strawberry margarita with a pink peppercorn salt rim, and is working on a rotating line of barrel-aged cocktails.