Raicilla: Mexico’s Forgotten Spirit

Raicilla, in general, will bring smoke and mild vegetal tones to any cocktail,” says Cole Schaffer, Beverage Director at New York’s Neta. “It’s less delicate than tequila in that way.” When comparing it to Mescals, there is typically a bit more smoke in on the raicilla. “It also stands up to citrus and shaking much better than tequila, but, there are plenty of Mescals that can fit the bill.” Speaking to La Venenosa’s “Costa”, there are big vegetal flavors going, which are stronger than most Mescals and Tequilas. “This is what drew me to the product.”

Raicilla, like tequila and mescal, is an agave-based spirit. What differentiates it from those two is the fact that it isn’t made from blue agave. Raicilla is made from Lechuguilla and Pata de Mula agave.

Schaffer uses raicilla in his cocktail, Amai Doku. “I was messing around with agave spirits in the fall to replace a bright, shaken Mescal cocktail for a more cold climate friendly drink and was determined to find a spirit forward mixture that would drink more like a Negroni, Boulevardier, Manhattan, Old Fashioned etc. (slow sipping, stirred, balanced without juice),” says Schaffer. The Venenosa Costa raicilla had the complexity of a whiskey or gin so I he was drawn to it immediately. “One night as I was going to bed and I was watching Jamie Bourdeau’s Raising the Bar where he did a Reposado tequila, St. Germain, tons of orange bitters.” He called it a Zim Zala Bim.

Pata de Mula Agave

“I was using sweet vermouths and other liquors to bring bitter and sweet to the table and they kept muddling up the spirit too much.” He replaced the orange bitters with a house made bitter with a base of cherries and tonka bean aged on cherry wood and it came out just as he wanted it. “The last thing you should know about the cocktail is that I’m not serving it anymore because it’s spring time. I’m now using the same spirit with in a kumquat shrub with house made yuzu shiso bitters.”

A major thing to note about raicilla is that the varieties available are tiny productions compared to any other Mexican spirits. “Lots of people can identify the difference between whiskeys with smoke and no smoke, or a more floral, juniper forward or dry gins.” With Raicilla, there is so little available in the US market that one brand might not necessarily taste like another and nothing will identify the difference in the bottle.

Schaffer’s repertoire goes beyond lesser-known Mexican spirits. “One of my favorite ingredients that I have used is Eucommia bark.” He claims that it brings an amazing woody and sweet flavor to spirits and can be found in the New York area in Chinatown. “Another fun ingredient combo to use for infusions of any kind is Slippery Elm Bark and Marshmallow root. I discovered this from a great tea I drink called throat coat. It adds this mysterious sweetness that I love.”

Amai Doku (also known as Sweet Poison)

  • 1.5 oz raicilla
  • .5 oz elderflower
  • .25 oz cherry bitters
  • .25 oz rich simple syrup

Stir, serve over rocks, garnish with a lime peel.