A friend of mine doesn't believe in mixing cocktails with mezcal. Recently, while he was telling me all about a fantastic mezcal tasting he'd been to, I politely nodded along, all the while mentally running through a list of great cocktails I've had where mezcal had either starred or, at least, made an appearance. With any spirit that has a rich, fascinating character like mezcal, there will always be purists who prefer to drink it unadulterated. That's great if you want to focus on all the nuances of a single bottle, but there's also something really fun about seeing how much mileage you can get out of the stuff.
One of the reasons mezcal is great for mixing is that it's an all-weather spirit. Although it pours clear into your glass, making it appealing in the warmer months, it also has a hearty (even meaty) quality, making it perfect for a cooler evening, too. If you find yourself in that transitional time of year where you might find yourself wanting a warming drink to brood over in one moment, and a chilly glass of something tall and refreshing the next, this is the cocktail for you: a drink with a foot in both seasons that can be customized depending on the weather or your mood.
First, you need some mezcal. I designed this drink around Del Maguey Vida. It's a wonderful sipping spirit that works really well for mixing, offering a flavor that's assertive without being aggressive. Vida will play nice as long as you have some strong players to mix it with, like bittersweet Aperol, the herbal orangey liqueur that some call Campari's little sister. Sunny Aperol is sweet enough that you don't need to add simple syrup to the drink, but it also adds a balancing bitterness to bring the cocktail together. Freshly squeezed lemon juice contributes a touch of tartness, and the whole thing is topped off with a glug of club soda to mellow it out and give some effervescent pep.
For your fireside variation, the cocktail can be transformed into a slightly savory sipper with the addition of Angostura bitters. Angostura adds spice that complements some of the earthy, cinnamony flavors found in the mezcal. Looking for a refreshing after-dinner-drink? Sub out that Angostura for a few dashes of chocolate bitters. The roasted chocolate flavors in the bitters play up the Aperol's sweet and bitter orange notes and latch into the mezcal's vanilla-scented side.