OFFSTAGE: Toby Keith Talks Wild Shot and Worms

(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)

So far, Toby Keith has not written a song about his new Wild Shot Mezcal. He was in Chicago on Saturday (Sept. 24) and was signing bottles of it at a liquor store in the city before his concert and told me that eventually he would come up with a song if he got a good idea for one. But really, what rhymes with mezcal? Mezcal, if you don’t know, is kind of the artsy version of tequila and is said to be like a cousin to tequila. And Keith just wanted to do something different.

“Everybody’s already got tequila, and the whiskey’s all spoken for. But I’ve been going to Mexico for 25 years or something, and all the local nationals down there drink mezcal instead of tequila,” he told me before he went to greet the fans who had lined up to meet him and have their bottles signed. “They say, ‘We export that crap and drink this stuff.’”

And good stuff it is. I was a mezcal virgin but had some while Keith was here, and it tastes a little bit like a shot that’s been sitting in a smoker for a few hours. You kind of have to try it to understand. (And you can’t help but agree with that line from Keith’s “Whiskey Girl,” about how there just ain’t enough good burn in tequila.) Keith told me he found a nice family down in Mexico that makes a very premium product (it sells here for about $50 a bottle), and he brought it up here. And about that worm?

“It’s kind of symbolic,” he said. “The worm lives in the agave plant or feeds off of it. So it makes it authentic.”

When I asked how it’s decided who gets the worm (which is said to have some aphrodisiac qualities, so my husband gave me enough money for 10 bottles), Keith told me, “It’s just the last shot of the night. Whenever he falls out of the bottle. Our slogan is ‘Blame it on the worm,’ because he’s kind of the evil side, the little demon in the bottle.”

His mezcal is called Wild Shot, and Keith did consider putting his name on it but then thought better of it.

“If you ever get to a point someday where you wanna get out and retire, it’s a lot easier if your name isn’t on it,” he explained.

If you do get your hands on some, I recommend drinking it like Keith does.

“I like to put the reposado [mezcal] in the freezer and leave it in there all the time, instead of the liquor cabinet,” he said. “I pour it straight and sip it like scotch.”

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.