On New Year’s Day 2019, Tarik Trotter wanted to see if he could go a whole year without drinking. So now when he does feel like partaking, he wants his cocktails to be of the highest quality. “It’s not even worth drinking unless you’re drinking the best stuff, you know?”
Trotter, who goes by Black Thought and is frontman for Grammy Award-winning group The Roots, is a self-professed “alcohol enthusiast.” He even went so far as to get a fully functioning bar built in his dressing room at The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where The Roots are the official house band.
When shaking up drinks at home, the musician has a few trademark cocktails. One of his recent favorites is a Spicy Mezcal Margarita, made with jalapeño and fresh lime juice. It has “the smoke from the mezcal and the spice from the pepper with the cold crispness of citrus,” says Trotter. “I’m all about refreshing refreshments.”
This Margarita has made several appearances when he is entertaining his bandmates. “I wouldn’t consider myself a bad influence, but I’m an influence,” he jokes. He also likes to make the drink for his wife, Michelle. “It makes any occasion special.”
Coming up, Trotter stars in The New Group’s Zoom production of Waiting for Godot, the classic stage play by Samuel Beckett, which will premiere on May 6. (Full disclosure, my mother is the head of the board of the theater staging this play.) “It looks and feels like nothing else that has been done.”
Here are all the details on how Trotter makes his special Spicy Mezcal Margarita.
Trotter has tried a number of the mezcals available, but he’s settled on Clase Azul’s bottling. “It gives me shot-of-tequila-on-a-barbecue-grill vibes,” he says. The traditional process of slow-roasting agave in a pit of hot rocks provides mezcal with its signature smoky notes. “It tastes unearthed,” he says. “It’s perfect, man.”
To get the spiciness in his Margaritas, Trotter likes using a jalapeño-infused mezcal. To make the infusion, he only uses the flesh of the pepper and not the seeds, to keep the spice from overpowering the other flavors in the cocktail.
Trotter admits he’s received looks of horror when he uses a premium spirit for a mixed drink. But it goes back to his philosophy of only drinking the finest things. “The best cocktails are comprised of the best elements of all the independent ingredients.” Though he confesses, “the heart wants what it wants.”
Using fresh limes is the secret to a good Margarita and Trotter likes to hand-squeeze his citrus. “I’m actually reaching out and able to touch part of the flavor profile or whatever it is that I’m about to consume,” he explains. “It makes me feel more connected.”
For the sweetener, Trotter makes his own simple syrup with organic sugar and uses just enough to bind the cocktail together. “I’m not big on really sweet drinks. I think that’s for the birds.”
Trotter admits he doesn’t have an exact recipe for his Margarita. At the beginning of a night, “I’ll probably start with the jigger and be more precise with my measurements.” But as the evening progresses, “I just start eyeing it out.” That’s especially true if he’s making cocktails for a crowd, since he doesn’t want to play bartender the whole time. “To give the drink a little longer life for folks to sip on, I might pour with a little heavier hand,” he chuckles.
Even if his jigger isn’t used frequently, Trotter has a wide selection of stylish props at his disposal, including shot glasses made from pink Himalayan salt, bar tools with crocodile-skin handles and linen cocktail napkins with Questlove’s likeness on them. “I like to break out unique accoutrement that’s going to start a conversation,” he says.
Trotter always shakes his Margarita and serves them on the rocks in an Old-Fashioned glass. He believes that ice is often overlooked as an essential cocktail ingredient, so he only uses ice made from spring water for both his shaker and the glass. “If you’re sparing no expense with what it is that you’re drinking, you don’t want some run of the mill dollar bag of ice.”
He then stops himself and laughs. “Folks are going to read this and be like, ‘I didn’t know that guy from The Roots was so bougie!’”
Trotter likes serving the drink with a partial salt rim. “Sometimes I get tricky and use a smoked salt,” which provides one more level of depth of flavor to his Margarita.
Finally, to top it off, he garnishes the cocktail with a lime wedge and a sprig of cilantro, to add fragrance and a touch of class. “It’s going to make your experience with the cocktail a little more dynamic.”
In our new monthly column, House Drink, we talk to people about their favorite cocktails to make for themselves at home.
Illustrations by Olivia McGiff