There are plenty of bars that double as shrines to single categories. Think Amor y Amargo’s dizzying selection of amari or the rum archives at Smuggler’s Cove. But at Mírame in Los Angeles, bar manager Bryant Orozco has dedicated the entire beverage program to Mexican distillates—tequila and mezcal, yes, but also bacanora, pechuga, pox, raicilla and sotol. He even fills his bar wells with Mexican-made spirits, right down to the whiskeys, gins and liqueurs. If a category isn’t available from a Mexican producer, Orozco will doctor a replacement. For example, he makes Mexican-accented vermouth flavored with dried chipotle and Mexican oranges and replicates the spice of rye by dosing Abasolo corn whiskey with Salmiana-based mezcal.
Orozco started his career as a biochemistry student, jumping from nursing to home-brewing to pursuing his WSETs. “I left before the exam, because culturally wine did not resonate with me,” he says. “I dropped everything but my bar tools and a backpack and left for Mexico on a whim.” Weeks turned into months of Orozco sleeping at hostels, beaches and the homes of extended family “all while hunting the agave spirits I had read about,” he says.
These spirits and their stories now have a permanent home at Mirame. “It's a work in progress, but we’re trying to encapsulate the spirit of Mexico with, well, the spirits of Mexico,” says Orozco. Here, he talks about the challenges behind sourcing and stocking all-Mexican bottles and how he’s persuading his guests to ditch celebrity tequila.
How did your background influence what you’re doing now?
I grew up listening to stories about my family in Mexico and learned about their involvement in the world of agave spirits. My extremely pious nondrinking Sonoran nana would tell me stories about making tepache for the fiestas at the rancho. She knows every single step and process to make bacanora; she refers to it as vino or mezcal interchangeably.
Summers were spent on our family’s land in Nayarit, running in between rows of sugar cane, corn and blue weber agave. My dad told me that's where tequila was made and that someday I would be able to drink it.
How did you build the bar?
When I joined the team, there was already a bar selection available, but I didn't feel like it represented the Mexico I know and researched. Using the bar that was already in place, we slowly cycled out items for better or smaller producers. Trying to keep our concept of 100% Mexican products in our bar, we reached out to Mexican coffee producers, roasters, brewers and winemakers. We even use Mexican products in our well, where we rock Mexican-made whiskey, rum, gin and liqueurs for our cocktails, though we’re still hunting down a Mexican vodka.
How do you educate your guests about these products?
I always disliked the stuffiness of wine service. I feel that in a relaxed, casual environment, people take better to education. I sit down with the guest, and if they’re doing a flight, either from the menu or customized, I pour directly from the bottle to make the experience casual.
I start by asking what they normally drink and what flavors they like or dislike. It sounds simple, but I rarely hear people get asked what they don’t like. It’s the key to picking out something great for a guest.
I also let the guest educate me with their experiences. I hear what they’ve tried before, where they’ve traveled and who they are. Get to know a guest, joke with them and ask them about their cultures, and you break down borders and barriers. It makes it easier to curate a selection.
If they drop big-name brands, I ask why they like them. I’m amazed by the reception we’ve received. Regulars who came in months ago drinking celebrity tequilas are now enjoying rarities like cucharillos from Oaxaca and dasylirion agave blends from Chihuahua.
Do you have any tips on integrating more niche spirits into a bar program?
You have to know your clientele and understand the program you’re running. It wouldn't make sense for me to bring Malört into our place. But if guests know you for your Mexican distillate program, then by all means research the crap out of it, know it inside and out.
And network. Like any network, what you take you must reciprocate. It's about being a healthy member of the community. If you know of a product others can’t find, be an open book and help them out. One day, you may need their help as well.
What do you use for gin?
For gin, we are using Katun from Yucatán. Except for the juniper berry, all of its botanicals and spices are sourced in the Yucatán peninsula. We’re also working on a project to make our own gin with a local distiller using Mexican and Californian botanicals.
If a spirit isn't produced in Mexico and you want it at the bar, what do you do?
This is where creativity and palates come into play. We wanted to make a riff on a Manhattan (our La Condesa cocktail), so we took Poli rosso vermouth and infused it with dried chiles and citrus to give it a cochinita pibil [a Mexican dish of slow-roasted pork that’s marinated in citrus juice and a variety of spices] kind of feel to it.
Since I have not seen any rye (centeno) whiskey in Mexico, we had to modify our Abasolo corn whiskey with a hint of mezcal made from salmiana agave, known for its green chile and vegetal flavors, to replicate the flavor of rye.
As much as we shoot for a 100% Mexican bar, there will always be things we have to just lean into and use because their flavors match ones found in Mexico. We’re starting to work with Chinola, an extraordinary passion fruit liqueur from the Dominican Republic.
I’m also working on creating our own liqueurs using medicinal herbs I remember from the ranchos in Mexico. Given that the bar is aiming to be entirely Mexican, our food also exhibits a Californian sensibility. In a way, working with Mexican distillates has opened up a door for exploring what a Californian flavor is as well.
What are some highlights?
For me, it's the positive reception from our guests, seeing their eyes light up when they try flavors they’ve never experienced. It's receiving messages from guests telling me that they're looking forward to another personalized tasting or asking me to pick out bottles for their home bars.
It's receiving positive feedback from my friends and family back in Mexico, the product of years spent back and forth trying to learn about Mexico, its food and drink, its history and politics. It’s working with a chef who has acted as a mentor, teaching me flavors and giving deeper insight into how flavor and texture are perceived. It’s learning about myself and my family history and expressing that via a distillate list.