Mezcal, the smoky, minerally agave spirit from Mexico, spent the latter part of the 2010s as the darling of the bartending world. Whether it was swapping it out for gin in drinks like the Negroni or bringing some smoke to a Margarita, bartenders love substituting it for other spirits almost as much as they love building original drinks with it. The Dante Belpepper came from bartender Julian Cox during his time at the now-shuttered Los Angeles Peruvian-Japanese restaurant Picca. In it, the natural vegetal notes and brightness of mezcal is enhanced with bell pepper puree, cilantro, lemon and agave syrup.
For the spirit base, Cox uses El Silencio Mezcal. This mezcal is relatively new to the American market, having launched around 2013. The Espadin is meant to be used in cocktails like the Dante Belpeppe; it’s a well-priced mezcal that works nicely in drinks as well as on its own. Its name comes from a story about its producer Pedro Jernandez, who reportedly samples each batch of mezcal out in the empty silence of the agave fields at night. With wide distribution it shouldn’t be a difficult mezcal to find, but if it is, or if you’re just looking to use a different brand, other bartender-friendly mezcals like Banhez, Del Maguey Vida and Mezcal Union are all affordable, quality labels.
Of course the crux of this drink is the addition of bell pepper. Though an unorthodox ingredient in cocktails, its slightly sweet, vegetal, peppery profile marries lovingly with the bright smokiness of the mezcal. When making the puree, though, its essential to use a ripe orange, yellow or red bell pepper; green is too vegetal and acerbic to work in this particular drink. Cilantro adds some additional nuance and freshness to the drink, but it can be omitted if you or your guests are the sort of people to whom it tastes soapy. For sweetness, agave syrup steps in for simple syrup, which gives the drink more depth and roundness. This vivid orange drink is then garnished with a carrot top to complete the image.
- 2 ounces El Silencio Mezcal
- 3/4 ounce lemon juice
- 1/2 ounce bell pepper puree*
- 1/2 ounce agave nectar
- 1 pinch cilantro
- Garnish: 1 carrot top
Add the mezcal, lemon juice, bell pepper puree, agave nectar and cilantro to a shaker and fill with ice.
Shake, and strain into a highball glass filled with fresh ice.
Garnish with a carrot top sprig
*Bell pepper puree: Slice and seed 1 orange, red or yellow bell pepper. Chop into smaller pieces then blend with 1 ounce of water. Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove the pulp, and store in a sealed jar for up to four days in the refrigerator.