Houston-based mixologist Alba Huerta gets us way beyond the margarita. Alba is a celebrated Mexican-American mixologist who puts the wonder of the world behind every drink she pours. Her Houston bars, bourbon-centric Julep and the mezcaleria Pastry War, have won her nationwide acclaim (including as one of Food & Wine's top 10 mixologists). We asked Alba about the craft and culture behind Mexico's unique alcohols.
Mezcal has been around for a very long time. The reason for its popularity is that it’s created in a way that really exemplifies the soul of Mexico. Its production is very artisanal. It begins in the fields and produced in an open area. So it has a real attachment into really soulful, artisanal approach to how something comes from the earth. It’s not heavily mechanized. It’s like a single-village process. We could talk about that for hours!
I think it happens for any spirit. You can visit Cognac and see how it’s produced. Enjoying sherry in Spain is very different than enjoying it in the United States. So yes, I think that can be a great experience for most people, because I don’t think most people have seen the production of any spirit. The captivating part of mezcal is that it does come from a very beautiful part of Mexico.
We gotta get into what’s myth and what’s real. Mexico is filled with all sorts of different ways of rehydrating. So naturally, yes, you can find all kinds of cures in Mexico. Depending on your palate, I’m a huge fan of eating nopales (cacti). Is it really a hangover cure though? Yeah, well so is eating and rehydrating yourself. But I think nopales are a very nice touch to that morning after. They can be the most heart-warming comfort you’ve ever had.
Aguas frescas. They’re seasonal and can be a great sample of what’s growing at the time and where you are. They are supposed to be loving, a great alternative to any kind of soft beverages. As a kid growing up in Mexico, I loved having the frescas because it meant we were having family over, we were having some party of some sort. They’re a great example of things that are heartwarming and beautiful about Mexico that can be so simple.
I’m a big fan of a cantaloupe fresca. When we were kids in Mexico, there was Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day but no Kids' Day. So in my neighborhood we started a Kids' Day on the last day of April. And it was my responsibility to bring cantaloupe fresca to the gathering.
Mexico has a lot of beverages to offer. But a well-harvested pulque is one of the things that I can’t get anywhere else. It’s a little grimy as a drink. Depending on how it’s harvested, or how the agave is chosen, it can be very delicate. It’s very low alcohol, more in the beer range, but is really a reflection of the earth. So if you get a good pulque, it means somebody really cared!