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Mezcal Is Having Its Moment at Lloyd Taco Factory

You won’t find a margarita on the list of signature cocktails at Lloyd Taco Factory. But what might seem like a glaring oversight was actually a purposeful decision, according to co-owner Peter Cimino.

“Why waste a menu slot on a drink people will order anyway?”

And people do. In fact, margaritas—made at Lloyd sans simple syrup or sour mix—are the restaurant’s second-highest seller. But in time that may change—that is, if Cimino and bar manager Yuri Polyachenko succeed in their efforts to locally champion Mexico’s other agave-derived liquor: mezcal.

Owners - Pete & Yuri
L-R Pete (owner) & Yuri (bar director)

Mezcal is a perfect fit for the first brick-and-mortar operation in the Lloyd empire because it aligns with the company’s values and philosophy toward food. For its tacos and burritos, Lloyd seeks out the best possible ingredients grown, raised, and produced under the best possible conditions, all while avoiding factory farms and potentially harmful additives. Mezcal is, for the most part, made in limited batches on family farms using traditional, artisanal methods that date back hundreds of years. Tequila, by contrast, has become so popular that the market is overrun by corporations who have industrialized the distillation process to produce high quantities of homogenized tequila at low cost in order to cash in on the enormous demand.

But that isn’t the sole reason for Lloyd’s mezcal leanings. Unlike tequila producers, who, by law, can only use blue agave, mezcal producers have at their disposal an array of other agave species, which leads to greater variety in the flavor profiles of the end product. And whereas tequila producers steam the cores of agave (called piñas) in stainless steel autoclaves, mezcal producers roast the piñas over wood fires deep in the ground, in effect caramelizing them and imparting a telltale smokiness.

Mezcal-Buffalo-NY-Lloyd-4

And while smokiness can be very prominent in mezcal, it can also be subtle, and it certainly isn’t the sole discernable flavor. Careful sipping and tasting of the spirit generally reveals nuance that tequilas often lack, which can largely be attributed to terroir. One mezcal producer might grow agave near the water, another might grow it inland on a hill. The differences in soil composition and climate conditions lend the plant distinct characteristics that are carried through the distillation process. If the mezcal is unaged or aged very little, the earthiness and vegetal funkiness of the particular crop used will shine through even more.

For the Lloyd team, mezcal’s relative obscurity, diversity, handcrafted nature, and cultural significance make it an appealing focus of the restaurant’s bar program. According to Cimino, there is also something about the spirit that defies easy description.

“There is a certain edginess, mysterious, sexiness to drinking mezcal. I don’t know; it makes me feel good.”

Love & Hate (left) and the Green Hornet
Love & Hate (left) and the Green Hornet

No wonder, then, that four of the 12 cocktails on the Lloyd menu feature mezcal, and at least two of those were designed with an eye toward introducing it slowly and carefully to people who either have never tried mezcal or had a bad experience with cheap mezcal in the past. One of those cocktails is Love & Hate, which combines mezcal with crème de cassis, Lillet, and lemon. The top-selling mezcal cocktail is the Green Hornet, which marries the smoky spirit with St. Germaine, honey simple syrup, and a spicy tomatillo shrub. Cimino’s favorite, though, is the Lonely Bull, with bitter Cynar and fino sherry—a cocktail that is geared more toward veteran mezcal enthusiasts.

But all this talk about mezcal shouldn’t deter you from Lloyd if smoky liquor just isn’t your thing. The bar also features signature gin, vodka, and whiskey cocktails, as well as local draft beers and a small but thoughtful wine list.

“Everyone can feel comfortable here,” Polyachenko said. “You don’t have to come for cocktails.”

But if you are curious about mezcal and hesitant to branch out, just talk to your bartender. Polyachenko insists he loves when people ask about mezcal or any of the spirits on the menu and is more than happy to offer up some talking points and a taste. When he does, he finds some people hate mezcal at first, while others really dig it. Either way is okay with him.

“As long as people try it. We want people to ask questions.”

Cimino agrees. He encourages people to hang out, relax, sip slowly, and learn to taste and enjoy what they’re drinking—whatever that might be.

“At the end of the day, I want people to be happy.”

Lloyd Taco | 1503 Hertel Avenue | Buffalo NY | Facebook

Written by Caitlin Hartney

Caitlin Hartney

Caitlin has covered local food and drink for Buffalo Rising since 2015, having previously written for Artvoice, the Public, and the Buffalo News. She works full time in marketing communications and is earning her master's degree in history at University at Buffalo, the latter of which occasionally informs her writing. Most importantly, she likes the word "moist" and doesn't care who knows it. How else do you describe a great piece of cake?

View All Articles by Caitlin Hartney
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