Traditionally, Mexicans don’t get very far past a mixture of tequila and store-bought sugary, fizzy lemonade when it comes to cocktails. A Cuba Libre here, a whisky and Coke there. Nothing too exciting despite the exciting variety of tequilas and mezcals the country produces. Even the margarita, potentially created in the UK, isn't that widespread.
That’s why Arturo Rodas, General Manager at Mexico City’s Jules Basement thinks his bar manager, Carlos Soto, is likely the only real professional bartender in Mexico. Carlos will be the first to defend his fellow Mexican bar stars but considering his resume - beginning at the Oceana Clubs in the UK and moving onto several top cocktail bars in Canada where he was awarded 2013’s Bartender of the Year by the Sunday Bar School in Vancouver - it’s highly likely that he’s the only bartender in Mexico with such diverse experience.
The Craft Gin Club sat down with Arturo and Carlos at Jules Basement to chat about cocktails and life in Mexico City. In typical Mexican fashion, their hospitality was fabuloso. And so were the many cocktails they served us.
1. Tequila or Mezcal?
Arturo: There’s a debate between what came first, tequila or mezcal. I opt for mezcal because of its flavour, texture and the fact that it’s the national spirit. They say that agave invented the sun so when you drink mezcal you’re drinking the blood of the sun.
Carlos: I’m an hombre de mezcal, too. It’s in our Mexican heritage, customs and traditions. Thanks to wide variety of agaves, mezcal also has exquisite aromas and flavours and is also used for medicinal purposes.
2. What are your favourite parts of El Dia de los Muertos traditions?
Arturo: My grandparents are provincial so they have all the traditions down pat. What’s most sentimental for me, a remembrance from my childhood with my grandparents, is the smell of burning incense that I carried when I was younger.
Carlos: When visiting the tombs of my deceased relatives, my favourite traditions are the altars and the pan de muerto con chocolate (chocolate “bread of the dead”).
3. What’s you’re favourite thing to do in Mexico City when you’re not at Jules Basement?
Arturo: I actually don’t live in Mexico City but in Puebla, a city about two hours Southeast of el D.F (the city where the Mexican army beat the French invaders on May 5, 1862 - thus Cinco de Mayo). I don’t drink much at Jules so when I get home I’ll have a few cocktails, play with my 12 dogs, spend time with my wife and, in general, relax!
Carlos: My interests are pretty diverse ranging from art galleries to museums and exploring the historical center of the city on my bike to drinking coffee and pulque (a fermented agave drink) in cafes with my friends.
4. What’s your favourite music for mixing cocktails?
Arturo: I’m a soul and rhythm and blues man! Of course, Barry White is great for my wife. But at Jules Basement we have a lot of house, deep house, etc.
5. Name the cocktail bar in the world that you’d most like to visit.
Arturo: As Jules Basement is a speakeasy and difficult to find, I’d have to say the Violet Hour in Chicago, whose door is difficult to find and is also a speakeasy. It’s also one of the best cocktail bars in the US.
Carlos: Cure in New Orleans. Not necessarily for Mardi Gras.
Bonus Question: Have you eaten the worm?
Arturo: Yes! It’s a myth that the worm makes you more drunk but it certainly adds to the flavour of mezcal.
Carlos: Sure, I’ve eaten the worm. I’ve also seen other exotic things resting at the bottom of a mezcal bottle, but I’m not really a big fan.