Cream liqueurs have been popular for decades. The most well known is Irish Cream, a mixture of Irish whiskey, cream, sugar and other herbs and flavors. Bailey’s, introduced in 1974 was the first on the market. It was followed by, among others, Carolans, Brady’s and Saint Brendan’s.
Many people are fond of Amarula, with its eye-catching exotic elephant label. Amarula uses a distillate of fermented South African marula fruit, cream, black tea and spices. In the Caribbean rum creams are the rage. Jamaica likes to brag about Sangster’s original Jamaica rum cream liqueur while St. Croix produces Cruzan Rum Cream.
During my recent travels through the mezcal-crazy Mexican state of Oaxaca, I was not too surprised when I encountered a wide variety of mezcal-based cream liqueurs. You may remember from last month’s column that mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant, a type of agave, similar to tequila.
As I was hitching from Mazunte Beach, along the Oaxacan Riviera, to the nearest commercial town, San Augustine, I noticed the collective transport truck passed a mezcal distillery. When my local bodega in town ran out of mezcal, I decided to take a ride back to the tienda and investigate.
During a scenic ride along the coast in the back of the truck, my thirst was raging from the hot afternoon sun. As I spied the spray-painted plywood sign outside the shop, I yelled for the driver to drop me off. As I walked toward the small shack, I didn’t see anyone on the premises, except for a friendly dog.
I ventured further down the gravely path towards a table lined with bottles of various colors and flavors. My next reaction was one of disbelief. Not only was there a plethora of bottles on display, there was also a sign offering, “Pruebas Gratis” (free samples) while the owner was sound asleep in a hammock.
My first thought was, “Am I in heaven?” I briefly considered loading up my backpack and catch the next truck out of Dodge, but considering how bad that could be for international relations, I timidly helped myself to a sample glass from an open bottle and woke the man who was clearly enjoying his afternoon siesta.
The owner sleepily wandered over to the table and began to give me a half-awake lecture on the different flavors of mescal creams in his collection I started off with a coffee flavor, which tasted like a white Russian with a smoky kick. The next was a minty green-colored pistachio which did not translate well. The powerful mezcal overwhelmed the delicate pistachio. My next selection, banana, went down with a sweet easy slide, like a frozen daiquiri at a swim-up bar.
The samples kept coming. There were two coffee varieties – mocha and cappuccino. While very rich, they were also heavy on the sweet side. Coconut cream, with its nutty creamy texture, made me long for some pineapple juice. As though he could read my mind, the proprietor immediately poured me a sample of a pina colada that was decadent but strong.
A brightly colored purple mixture followed. Cloyingly sweet, grape, cream and mezcal is not a flavor combination that I wanted to continue imbibing. The lines of bottles on the table seemed to be expanding. So, I knew I was going to have to cut my tasting flight short, before I forgot my way back home. I capped off the afternoon, with a taste of Oaxaca kiss, a pink tropical fruit punch flavor, reminiscent of a TGIF’s blender drink.
I thanked the owner, who had spent the last half hour entertaining me as he wrapped my purchases — a bottle of coconut cream to be enjoyed from my hammock at my beachfront cabana, mocha as a gift for my Peruvian shaman who loves his coffee with lots of sugar and a bottle of aged mezcal for nighttime fiesta on the beach.
While mescal is often noted for its high alcohol content, mescal creams are generally low-proof, averaging between 12 and 18 percent alcohol. Their strikingly pleasing flavor make them a perfect after-dinner treat. Some folks like to enjoy them over ice cream for dessert. Mezcal creams are not widely sold in the USA, but they can be purchased online. Relíquias de Oaxaca, (www.mercadoreliquiasdeoaxaca.com) has a huge selection that includes, maracuya and guanabana (tropical Latin American fruits) pina colada and coffee varieties.