By Michelle Zimmerman
Being a year into starting my business, Curating Taste, I am always hunting for new opportunities to share my passion for craft chocolate. While driving around downtown Phoenix, I came across a place called The Garden Bar, which calls itself a “warm and welcoming neighborhood garden to glass cocktail bar” located in an adapted 1914 California bungalow in the Roosevelt South area. Patrons sit in various rooms, and there is also an outdoor dog-friendly patio and porch.
From the moment I saw it, The Garden Bar looked like a perfect place for a Curating Taste event. Its offerings include a curated collection of seasonal cocktails, beer, wine and non-alcoholic options, as well as charcuterie. I decided to introduce myself to the owner, Kim Hassarud, and she said she would love to host a chocolate and mezcal pairing event. Kim introduced me to Abel Arriaga, the owner of Compa Spirits, a Mexican American owned distribution company founded in 2018 with the goal of supporting families from Oaxaca that are building their mezcal brands in the U.S. In fact, the company now supports multiple families across most of Mexico.
Kim and I decided we wanted to do an afternoon event, and we priced it at $75 with a maximum capacity of 30 people. We were pleasantly surprised when the tickets sold out several days before the event—we even had many other people that called and asked if we could squeeze in a few more people or if they could be placed on a waiting list.
Pairing Mezcal and Chocolate
To accompany the chocolate and mezcal, we partnered with a gourmet grilled cheese company called the Fates Bread Co. that offered unique sandwiches like The Sunset—Oaxaca cheese, orange serrano marmalade, Chile salt, mozzarella crust on Chile flaked rustic wheat—and the Right Hand Red—roasted red pepper and tomato chutney, pickled onion, red Leicester and aged sharp cheddar on rustic wheat—for our guests to enjoy. After everyone had finished their sandwich snacks, it was time for the tastings.
I featured six chocolates that were paired perfectly with six mezcals. Mezcal, for those who don’t know, often has a very smokey flavor with very woody and earthy notes. Four of my chocolates were made by Cuna de Piedra—they were a natural choice with the mezcals all featuring darker, earthier notes. We included a Joven mezcal and a Reposado mezcal to pair with two of the chocolate bars. We also used one with coffee and one of their limited-edition bars with a smoked chili flavor. One of the mezcals also had a citrus undertone—it was paired with Karuna’s orange with timut pepper.
Our final pairing was the hands down favorite. It started with a mezcal with mesquite and smokey notes. We paired that with Utopicks milk chocolate with wild pepper bar, and because of the wood, smoke and pepper, when combined it was a beautiful barbecue marriage.
A Delightful Experience
The afternoon flowed naturally. I introduced the concept of craft chocolate to our guests and explained the right way to taste chocolate. Then Abel Arriaga, the owner of Compa Spirits, explain what mezcal is. If you don’t know, it is a spirit made from varieties of agave. Tequila is a type of mezcal made from a specific agave, but mezcals in general are one of the fastest growing spirits in the wine and spirits industry.
Throughout the event, guests learned about where chocolate comes from, how it is made, some of its history and why people should switch from traditional chocolate to craft chocolate. For example, the quality and taste of craft chocolate is far superior to grocery store chocolate, so if you take any sort of time to examine the flavors of what you’re eating, it is an easy switch. When you add in any information about the humanitarian and global issues associated with grocery store chocolate, that becomes an easy sell as well. Also, when people leave a tasting satisfied with eating under an ounce of chocolate, they start to understand that they don’t have to eat a $10 bar in one sitting
Mezcal is artisanal, made without much use of machinery and is created using traditional methods. It’s made like craft chocolate, so Abel and I could play off each other when telling stories. We both talked about terrior, fermentation, sustainability and fair wages. I think people who attended came away with a knowledge of chocolate and mezcal, and I think they are eager to learn more.
Kim and I discussed hosting another event in the spring, and we’ll decide whether to host the same class or try something new. For now, I’ll enjoy sitting back and enjoying some chocolate.
For more information about Curating Taste, visit curatingtaste.com.