Interview with Alexandre Terwagne, Head Barman at Paris’ Secret Mezcal Bar

Hidden away in a secret alcove of the 1K hotel, you’ll find a bar that is part speakeasy, part Latin American party. La Mezcaleria embraces agave based spirits and boasts an extensive range of mezcal.  In celebration of Paris’ first agave festival, Autour de l’Agave, we caught up with their Head Barman, Alex Terwagne.

Alex has hospitality in his blood, with his family having always worked in the industry and owning their own business. He gave up his design studies to pursue this passion, moving to Barcelona to work as a waiter and eventually move on to the bar of a 5-star hotel. It was here that he encountered plenty of Latin Americans and learned to love mezcal.

La Mezcaleria focuses on mezcal, which is a little known product in Paris where Tequila is only just really getting a foothold.  How many different mezcals do you have behind the bar?

Yes, I am the Head Barman of the Mezcaleria bar clandestine. The idea is to work the Mezcal, Tequila, Sotol and the Raicilla. To showcase all of the agave distilled spirits. At the moment, we have between 30 and 40 different mezcals.

Having worked in both Spain and France, did you notice a big difference in the French and Spanish attitudes towards mezcal?

As one imagines, in Spain there is a large community of South and Central Americans so the market exists but it is not in development, as it is in France nowadays.

In France the mezcal market is in full expansion. I think this is due to bartenders who are always looking for new products.  As I repeat so often, if the barman loves the products he works with, he will truly sell it. The advantage of mezcal is it’s one of the most complex spirits but also includes flavors familiar from other spirits, which opens the interest of the customers.

What is your favorite way to serve Tequila, mezcal and raicilla?

For Tequila it’s the relatively classic – but so good – margarita.  For Mezcal, it’s in a straight tasting with oranges slices and Sal de Gusano (worm salt, Ed.), which is the best way to appreciate the aromas in full.  For raicilla, I suggest it with tonic.

Can you tell us something about the traditions surrounding mezcal?

First I like to remind people that mezcal was around well before the Tequila. Mezcal has a spicy, artisanal quality which lends itself to interesting peculiarities. Thanks to the number of types of agave that can be used in the production, mezcal offers a large range of different flavors. This makes it easy to find the right mezcal for any palette.

Can you talk about the kinds of mezcal you are drawn to working with and why?

I do not have a favorite brand. For tastings, I am in love with the Agave Cuishe and Madre Cuishe as their flavor profiles really touch me.  But, I can find happiness among all the varieties that one can find with mezcal. For cocktails, I like to use espadin variety as it’s simpler and less complex.

What do you hope to see happen as a result of this week’s agave festival?

This festival demonstrates the enthusiasm that people have for agave. I hope this isn’t a passing trend because agave has so much to offer. This will be the opportunity to demonstrate that agave and agave distillates are exceptional products when made with love.

Catch up with Alexandre and taste some of his agave cocktail creations at Le Mezcaleria.