The Consumption of Style: Mezcaleria Las Flores
Name: Jay Schroeder
Title: Bar Director/Partner
Hometown: Indianapolis, IN
Favorite Mezcal: Generally something I've brought back in my suitcase that may not be easily obtained
Shook Ones PT1: Mezcal vida, kailani coconut liqueur, fresh lemon, simple syrup, cacao and sesame salt on rim, absinthe rinse (above right)
Unknown Death: Wahaka Joven Espadin mezcal, Amaro Montenegro, Ancho Reyes, fresh lemon, Creme de Noyaux, dehydrated orchid powder (above left)
When and where did your passion for mezcal begin?
I first encountered mezcal while working at the Drawing Room. At that time, all spirits were relatively new to me, and all of them were vying for my attention. It wasn't until I started working at Mercadito that I really focused on agave and began to understand the complexity of both spirit and the surrounding tradition.
How would you explain mezcal to someone who has never tried it before?
If I were explaining mezcal to a space alien, I'd have an awful lot of ground to cover. The nice thing is, most folks have had tequila before and you can use that as a starting point. Literally every aspect of the process diverges in some way from tequila, but one quick way to explain it is that it's similar in flavor to tequila, but it's a bit smokey, rustic, and has a big personality.
Are there any interesting facts about mezcal that you’d like to share?
It's the spirit of a diverse group of peoples, it's a consumable window into local culture, and it represents the thousands-year-long, inextricable relationship between the native people of Mexico and agave plant. No big deal. It's also delicious.
What’s one thing about Mezcaleria Las Flores you wish you could share with everyone?
We don't take ourselves too seriously and the concept is built from the ground up to be accessible. From the atmosphere, to the demeanor of the staff, to the pricing scheme, this is meant to be an every day place. We love to share our knowledge, but folks having a good time is kind of important too.
What kind of atmosphere can guests expect while sipping mezcal at Mezcaleria Las Flores?
Very relaxed, yet knowledgeable. We love what we do and we want you to love it too.
Can you elaborate on your relationship with Johnny’s Grill?
When working with Sarah Jordan (Johnny's Grill) on how this was going to come together, I felt it was really important to let the spirits speak for themselves. Chicago has a lot of great Mexican restaurants that have amazing selections of tequila and mezcal, but it's not the main focus. That's not to deride other Chicago establishments or to put us up on a pedestal. I just felt that it was only right that at my place, spirits take first billing. We've dabbled with a bit of Mexican cuisine occasionally, and have a very successful Taco Tuesday that highlights different regional cuisines, but that's a sideline to what we do. I've found it has a big impact on how people approach us and how receptive they are to indulging in cocktails and spirits.
How do you source mezcal? What do you look for when selecting it?
Number one is sourcing and ethical concerns. If you give me a reason that I might not want to carry your product, I won't. Number two is quality. If I don't believe that the product is well made and interesting, it's not going to end up on the shelf.
What is your inspiration when you are creating a new drink menu? How important is curating the different elements that go into the presentation of the drinks?
That's a tough one. My philosophical take is that inspiration comes in many forms, and one should never turn a blind eye to any of them. The starting point always includes Mexico conceptually, though ours is a decidedly post-modern take.
If you could only visit one place in Mexico for the rest of your life where would it be?
That is a drastically unfair question. It's a toss-up between Oaxaca and Mexico City. Oaxaca because you see the greatest diversity of spirits production and it's the ancestral and spiritual homeland of the agave. Spirits-wise, I think if you understand Oaxaca, everything else in Mexico flows from that. Mexico City only because of it's role as cosmopolitan cultural aggregator. You can see elements from most of Mexico's diverse cultural centers, all in once place.