Leave it to the hams at Jose Andres’ Think Food Group to find a way to add some fancy Spanish pork to just about anything.
Consider “Iberico,” the newest label from Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal. The potent 98-proof varietal gets its name and distinctive flavor, of course, from the highly prized black-hooved hogs of the Iberian Peninsula whose meat is among the world’s priciest.
Del Maguey founder Ron Cooper credits this modern Spanish twist on the ancient Mexican spirit to Andres’ deputy Ruben Garcia, the former el Bulli chef who now heads research and development efforts for Think Food. The restaurant group is a big champion of jamón ibérico, prominently featuring the high-end ham on its menus from The Bazaar in Los Angeles to the Pepe food truck in Washington, D.C.
According to Cooper, the collaboration began last Spring, when Garcia was visiting the Mexican village of Santa Catarina Minas, where Del Maguey’s Pechuga variety is made. Pechuga notably differs from other mezcals under the Del Maguey umbrella for one significant quirk in the distillation process, whereby a chicken breast hangs from strings in the atmosphere of the still. The meat marinates in the vapors, lending the varietal its distinguishable flavoring through condensation.
“We tasted the fruit from the Pechuga,” Cooper recalls, “and this crazy Spaniard grabs this chicken breast — that’s like a dried-out piece of jerky by now — and he starts gnawing on it. And he says, ‘I know! I know!’”
Weeks later, Cooper says he received a package, a nondescript black box that he initially hesitated to open. Only after looking up the name of the sender, Spanish exporter Fermin, did begin to realize what was in his possession. Inside, he found a huge honking hog leg, a gift from Garcia and Think Food.
Now, instead of the dangling poultry, the mezcal maker has been using chunks of the jamón ibérico. The switch from chicken breast to hog leg has produced a more “masculine” flavored mezcal, Cooper says. “It makes the Pechuga seem very feminine.”
For a guy who has long refused to name a favorite among his many mezcals, Cooper is rather effusive about his love for the new label. “Unabashedly, I like drinking [Iberico] the best,” he says. “It’s so far out.”
Cooper poured a first taste of the Iberico for attendees at a private party hosted by Andres during last summer’s Aspen Food & Wine Festival, which included such food-world luminaries as Mario Batali, Rick Bayless and Jacques Pepin. “Jose Andres is walking around, putting one-inch dollops of caviar on your hand, and then we’re sipping this stuff, and it was just amazing,” Cooper says.
The official launch is scheduled to coincide with Think Food’s annual mezcal and tequila festival, which kicks off March 10 at Oyamel Cocina Mexicana in Washington, D.C.
Del Maguey has produced only 220 cases of the swine-infused spirit for 2014, according to Cooper, and the retail price will be nothing to snort at, hovering around $200 a bottle.
“Chefs Ruben and Jose” get shout-outs on the label’s inscription. “These guys are just wild and crazy Spaniards — I love ‘em,” Cooper says.
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