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Small but Mighty: A Mezcal Drink (and Dog) Like No Other

This is the story of a girl and her dog, and the drink that celebrates it.

The Small but Mighty is my favorite CCC original. It's the cocktail that can make anyone fall in love with mezcal. I've always been partial to mezcal, but it's a polarizing spirit. Sadly, many cocktails don't know how to complement or highlight tequila's more intense sibling, so it either ends up overpowering everything, or getting lost. Sometimes, it's best sipped over the rocks, like scotch. And like scotch, you either love it or hate it. If you're the latter, this drink is for you.

When John started making passion fruit syrup, we became obsessed with any drink featuring it. To taste passion fruit is to fall prey to its charms. The tart, sweet, intensity lives up to its namesake, and pairs beautifully with mezcal's smoky depth and cool, herbal notes.

Donut Friend serves up some of the best doughnuts in LA. My favorite (besides the apple fritter) combines passion fruit and cacao. We'd be lying if we said we didn't have this in mind when we added creme de cacao to the Small but Mighty. Tangy lime brings balance, and hellfire bitters create just the right amount of heat. This drink fires on all cylinders: smoky, sweet, sour, & spicy. Its complex and crowd-pleasing all at once; a drink that lives up to the dog that inspired it.

On October 25, 2011, I opened my laptop at my first job out of college to find an email titled 'Can anybody take this little guy?'

The email described a small dog found on the streets of Queens. Whoever put him there tied a plastic bag to his collar. Inside was a bone, a food bowl, and a Ziploc of Kibbles 'N Bits.

The email had a photo attachment. I hesitated. I planned on getting a dog someday, but 'someday' was a long way off, after my movie career (and bank account) had a chance to blossom. I come from a family of career animal lovers, but like movies, it's a tough business. I opened it anyway.

It showed an impossibly handsome, tan-and-white chihuahua. His tail was blurry from wagging as he looked up at the photographer, his expressive eyes shining with hope. The bag was bigger than he was. Who knows how long he had been dragging it around, or how far. The only clue was a handwritten note taped to the bag. It said, 'Hi. I Jack. I 4 years old.'

It was love at first sight.

(Jack, the day he was found. Please excuse cellphone photo quality in 2011.)

It was the blurry tail that did me in. As soon as I saw it, I knew two things. 1. It was absolutely the wrong time to get a dog. 2. By end of day, Jack was coming home with me.

When I met Jack, I tried to play tug of war with his bone and he bit me, then ran away. The man who found him put him in my arms, where he promptly farted, and caused me to break out in hives. Once I took him home, he wouldn't eat his food, cried all night, and every time I left the apartment, he howled like a banshee. He guarded me like a precious resource, because to him, I was. Jack was only 8 lbs, but he launched himself at dogs ten times his size, and his bark had the power of one of Pavarotti's arias ('Pupperati' soon became a nickname).

Jack's ferocity sometimes caused him to be misunderstood. He was a fighter. He had to be, in order to survive. The first four years of his life taught him how awful people can be. He knew what it was to be abandoned, to feel unwanted. In spite of all this, he was fearless.

Despite these initial challenges (or maybe because of them), I loved him immediately. It was impossible not to. Jack's affection was like the sun. He launched himself into laps, tail blurring, to people's surprise and delight.To meet him was to fall prey to his charms. After some research, I learned chihuahuas were bred to keep Mexican royalty warm at night, using their bodies like space heaters. The magazine referred to them as 'small but mighty'. When I first brought Jack home, I tried to keep him out of the bed, but that only lasted a week. After all, he had a job to do. Every night after, he slept in my arms, the littlest spoon.

Jack and I spent nine, joyful years together. I couldn't imagine my life without him. Then, a month ago, I was forced to.

In the last two years of his life, Jack fought through multiple health scares, including liver failure, intestinal surgery, and broken ribs from a dog ten times his size. His will to survive never surprised me, but it still amazed me, and our time together felt more precious than ever. Last year, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. As the doctor explained how his heart valve would weaken until blood eventually filled his lungs, I reckoned with the ironic cruelty. How could his heart be sick? His heart was bigger than all of us. It was infinite.

We struggled to give his medication. Jack was never a food-motivated dog. He snapped at us when we tried to force the cumbersome pill into his mouth. We tried different foods to disguise it - so many foods - until he stopped liking that food, and the search began anew. Often he would eat the food but spit out the pill, and we'd have to start over. Each day was riddled with anxiety and frustration on both sides. I finally started using hamburger, even though fatty meat was bad for his liver. I worried he would relapse into liver failure, but I was desperate to give him the heart pill prolonging his life. His body was failing, even if his spirit couldn't. It was so hard, but the worst was yet to come.

He stopped being affectionate with us. For the first time in nine years, he snapped at me when I tried to pet him. He laid on the other side of the bed or couch instead of in my arms. He was restless at night, had accidents constantly, and suddenly became food motivated. He was a different dog. I could handle physical decline, but this was unbearable. After some research, my worst fears were confirmed. He had dementia. It wasn't going to get better.

We said goodbye to Jack on June 30th, 2020. We fed him filet mignon, truffle mac and cheese, and duck fat fries the night before. We held him in his bed in the backyard, wearing masks and nice clothes (his dad wore dress shoes, which made my heart ache), as a vet quietly slipped a needle in his back. He drifted to twilight sleep and laid his head on my arm. I picked him up as I had countless times, but was shocked at how limp and heavy his little body was. I kissed his head. His paws. His nose. I pet his silky soft fur. His whiskers. His perfect, enormous ears. I could finally touch him again without fear of being bit. I swear I still heard his heart beat, even as the vet took his body away. What is infinite cannot die.

As I write this, we're still deep in a pandemic, and I find myself once again swimming in darkness. Only this time, I don't have my comfort, my companion; my soulmate. My piece of the sun has faded. I am unmoored.

But what is infinite cannot die. Between Jack and I, it's hard to differentiate the teacher from student. There's ferocity and softness in equal measure. There's joy. So much joy. Resilience. Especially resilience. There's safety, loyalty, and acceptance too. When we found each other, we found home.

Jack loved everyone, but he was my dog. The moment I laid eyes on him, I knew. In that blurry tail, I saw a relentless will to try again, no matter the cost. Beneath all the bravado was a tender, pure drive to give and receive love in spite of past hurt. It took me years to recognize those same things in me, but Jack saw them right away. I suppose that's how it is with soulmates. I carry those things with me now, in a place that is infinite. Jack was OK being misunderstood. He always knew he was worthy of love, but he taught me the same, and that is the bravest knowledge of all.

Join the Club to get the recipe for Small but Mighty.

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