At Mexico City’s buzziest cocktail bar, Handshake Speakeasy, seemingly minimalist drinks disguise layers of unexpected flavor. A crystal-clear concoction served over a large rock conceals notes of matcha and yogurt that bolster the unassuming gin cocktail; a diminutive bunch of hinoki mushrooms offers the only clue to the umami-packed profile of the bar’s Old-Fashioned. Utilizing in-house distillates, infusions and clarified cordials, renowned Dutch bartender and owner Eric van Beek consistently introduces creative methods and ingredients to his high-concept menu.
“The cocktails we serve use innovative techniques … while still being recognizable through familiar flavors, such as coconut and tomato,” says van Beek. The bar’s best-selling—and most mind-boggling—cocktail, the Mexi-Thai, epitomizes Handshake’s approach to drink development. On paper, the drink reads as a combination of blanco tequila, coconut, makrut lime, tomato water and basil oil, but the guest-facing description only reveals so much.
The tequila in question has been coconut oil–washed, while the makrut lime flavor comes courtesy of a housemade distillate; the tomato is imparted via clarified tomato cordial. The resulting cocktail is completely transparent and arrives in a coupe garnished with three drops of basil oil. Though it has a Martini-like appearance, the profile is tropical with a savory edge. “The drink’s appearance often leaves guests taken aback, as they typically expect something more traditional,” says van Beek.
The inspiration for the drink was tom yum soup, a dish van Beek enjoyed often while living in his hometown of Amsterdam. The coconut-washed tequila and lime leaf distillate, made with ingredients sourced from Mexico, serve as a nod to his new home. “Using common cultural dishes like this as a way to connect with guests helps them understand the types of flavors to expect from our progressive drinks,” says van Beek.
While many of his cocktails take weeks of research and development to perfect, the Mexi-Thai was an anomaly, as it took just five tries to nail down. “Sometimes we are messing around with ingredients and something just clicks,” says van Beek, who notes that adding the tomato cordial was what tied the drink together. “The Mexi-Thai was one of these moments.”
Ever since, the drink has become one of the bar’s most popular—and divisive—menu mainstays. “Even though it’s our current best-seller, guests either hate or love the drink,” says van Beek. “There’s no in between.”