Gema in San Clemente is best known for the elevated Mexican cuisine and cocktails that chef Juan Pablo Cruz presents in the dining room. Now there’s another reason to go.
In the adjoining Pink Room—so-called for its pink shelving, pink bricks, and pink stone bar top—Cruz has launched a mezcal bar featuring nearly 100 mezcals.
Among spirits, Cruz says, “mezcal is the most artisanal, clean, and unique experience that you can get on Earth. The process is completely natural. There are no additives—the process is still really old-school.”
Unlike many spirits, even the better tequilas, most mezcals continue to be handcrafted. Methods have not been industrialized; some mezcaleros still use donkeys to pull stone wheels to crush the harvested agaves.
There are more than 250 kinds of agave. About 20 are widely used in mezcal production—36 if you include smaller producers, Cruz says.
Gema has bottles made from all but one of those 36.
The mezcal menu at Gema lists each holding with origin and price. If asked, those manning the bar will also ascribe accessibility levels from 1 to 6—from easy-quaffing to every sip profoundly engaging—making selection far less overwhelming.
Interesting bottles include the Pechuga Jamon Iberico by Bozal, made with drippings from Spain’s most coveted ham, and Contraluz Espadín Reposado Cristalino, the first mezcal to be aged then clarified.
Prices for a 1.5-ounce pour range from the Madre Espadín, delicious at $13, to Gema’s own Chuparrosa, who-knows-how-delicious at $120.
Gema offers nine mezcals under its own label, small-batch bottlings produced in quantities too limited for use by the larger brands. Two are made from the revered wild maguey tobalá.
You can enjoy half a dozen mezcal cocktails at the bar as well.
Standout on the current menu is the Tecojo-te. The name refers to the yellow hawthorn fruit, a key ingredient, but according to Cruz it’s also a play on words in Spanish that politely translates, “Come take me.”
The Pink Room’s colorful floor-to-ceiling hand-painted mural can be seen from Gema’s entrance; the room also serves as a private dining room and houses the Library, a program that allows guests to purchase bottles and keep them onsite.