Ivy Mix, co-owner of the Brooklyn-based pan-Latin cocktail bar Leyenda, shares her thoughts on tequila trends, building a cocktail list with diverse representation and why we should be wary of new production techniques in the realm of agave spirits
We’re really excited about your talk on agave spirits at Imbibe Live – can you tell us a bit more about how you fell in love with the category?
I became a bartender because of my love of travel and Latin America. I started bartending in Antigua, Guatemala when I was 18, working in a tequila and mezcal bar, and I fell in love with these spirits.
I moved to New York after living in Guatemala and I got a job in a cocktail bar because of my knowledge of mezcal. For some reason the cocktails that I made almost always had Latin spirits in them.
To me, Latin spirits are fiery. They’re vivacious, they’re exciting. I have a theory I call cultural terroir: the flavours and fieriness of tequila and pisco are very indicative of Latin culture. That’s something I’m really attracted to.
What innovation do you see in the Latin spirits category?
I’m not interested in innovations of the spirits, because the spirits are hundreds and hundreds of years old and freakin’ delicious, and I don’t want to mess with that.
Generally speaking, hiding them in a barrel isn’t going to make them any better. So you really get to go down to the fundamentals of what’s being done to the base of the liquid. If people are coming up to you and saying this is a brand new technique we’re doing with tequila, I’d be wary.
There are some Westernized fads that have been coming into Latin spirits. [Ageing Latin spirits] has never been a thing traditionally – just distil it and drink it. [Now] you see people ageing their tequilas and mezcals.
You also see people getting kind of geeky into single varietals. Back in the day, when you’re in Mexico making mezcal, you just get a bunch of agave in a pit and you make it. I’m sure you know which [agaves]you’re using, but it’s a variety. Now everyone’s like, ‘what kind of agave is it? It must be a single-varietal mezcal!’ That’s become very popular, and it’s driven from outside.
How do you translate that innovation to Leyenda?
It’s really important to me to represent different countries in our cocktail list. I love having geographically diversity. I visit a lot of producers and try to represent on our menu the things I learn at these places.
People always think that innovation has to be using some sort of scientific equipment, a rotovap or something. We don’t do that at Leyenda. I’m more interested in celebrating flavours and spirits. When we go to places and learn these things, we come back and we think, how do we draw out these flavours that we experienced in the spirit when we were there?
What’s your favourite agave spirit cocktail?
It depends – not to sound cliché, but the Margarita at Leyenda is best Margarita in the world. But I never drink a Margarita going out, because I think people butcher them so horribly.
If I’m gonna go out and order an agave cocktail, I’ll order a Paloma. It’s what you drink when you’re in Mexico. A little bit of grapefruit soda, a little bit of lime, and some tequila, a pinch of salt and call it a day. It’s really good.
To me, cocktails are just a stepping stone to get people into drinking stuff neat.
Are there any London bars where you like to sip agave spirits?
I love the Pink Chihuahua. I used to go there all the time when [renowned bartender]Dick [Bradsell] was still alive, and I just think it’s fantastic. You can get pretty cheap tequilas and mezcals with a really good selection there.
And, of course, we’ve got to ask about Imbibe Live. What are you most looking forward to at the show?
I’ve never been to Imbibe Live before. I’m really excited for the seminar on pisco [referring to the Peruvian Pavilion, stand B90]– people don’t know enough about it.
I’m excited to see what people have to offer and what’s on the table. I really think the bar scene in London is the best in the world right now!
Don’t miss Ivy Mix at the Latin Spirit session at Imbibe Live on 2 July at 12:30 in the Cocktail Lounge.
While you’re here…