A room above Whisler’s in Austin opens as a mezcal tasting room Thursday-Saturday nights. The space is candle-lit with small stools and tables along the wall and a standing bar adorned by two lists of mezcal. I am instructed the white list is more affordable and approachable, the orange list is more rare and wild. The bartender, who will play more the role of the educator, starts me with rey campero joven. It is smooth, semi-smokey, and pleasant sipping. I will taste more, one that tastes of a funky fermented cheese. The difference is each type is fascinating. All pours are served in traditional clay vessels and each order is carefully dosed by gently tipping the bottle horizontally until the pot is filled.
“How much do you know about mezcal?” the educator will ask each time. He is helpful and without judgment; no one is shy about admitting their lack of knowledge or familiarity.
We delve under the basics of mezcal, but not too far – my knowledge is intermediate and growing. I listen to his well-articulated descriptions of the mezcal process; he notes all tequila is mezcal. I know that is a simplification, but it seems to help the beginners at the bar.
Two men attempt to order pulque, a traditional fermented beverage of the agave sap. The pours would be upwards of $50 and they decline. “I wouldn’t sell it to you if you were going to shoot it,” the bartender says to the men. One insists he has some at home, their banter treading on disrespect of the agave.
A beginner joins me, sipping his pour with the proper reverence. The time comes to close out and I leave excited about learning and impressed by the upstairs rabbit-hole that welcomes anyone willing to ask questions and sip thoughtfully.