What you need to know about mezcal
Mezcal – largely ignored in favor of tequila until a few years ago – is enjoying a global surge in popularity. Its distinct flavor and rich handcrafted-tradition have made their way from the local cantinas, where mezcal is served straight up and unbranded, to a connoisseur’s list of ingredients in cocktail bars around the world.
These are the essentials you need to know:
- Mezcal, like tequila, is a traditional, double-distilled spirit made from the agave plant in México. Tequila is a very specific type of mezcal (and not the other way around).
- Mezcal is a truly handcrafted and artisanal beverage. The high prices reflect the intense manual labor that goes into the process, and the rarity of some of the agaves used in the production, which can take up to 30 years to mature.
- The best way to experience mezcal’s unique smoky and earthy flavor is neat and at room temperature. Mezcal will deliver bold and intentional depth to any cocktail. For mixing, we recommend using agave espadín, which is often farmed and only (!) takes 8 to 12 years to reach maturity, making it a more sustainable variety.
Tequila is a type of mezcal but they are quite different
Tequila is technically a type of mezcal and not the other way around.
Both drinks are double-distilled alcoholic beverages made from the agave plant (also called maguey plant). Both drinks are Mexican and traditional, but their flavor and finish are only two of some important differences.
- Most tequila today is industrially produced. Mezcal is still mostly produced in an artisanal fashion.
- Tequila only uses one variety of the maguey plant: agave tequilana or blue agave. On the other hand, mezcal can be made from over 30 varieties of agave.
- Tequila gets its name from the region of Tequila in the state of Jalisco, México. The word mezcal comes from the Nahuatl word word mexcalli, which means cooked agave (metl, maguey/agave and ixcalli, cooked).
- Only a few states of México can call their product tequila or mezcal.
Mezcal is handcrafted
Mezcal is still produced by independent families and small communities. The agave is gifted by nature, and the drink is skillfully created by the human hand in limited and numbered batches.
Some varieties of agave are cultivated, and others are found in the wild. While some reach maturity in 8 years, others take up to 30 years to be ready for harvesting. The making of mezcal begins with the harvest.
The leaves and roots are cut off using a machete or a coa until only the corazón (heart) or piña (pineapple) is left.
The piñas are then cooked in a stone and wood oven for a few days. This part of the process gives mezcal its distinct smoky flavor.
The cooked mixture is then placed in a stone mill, where, with the help of farm animals, it is ground to extract the juices.
The agave juice is placed in wooden vats where, using only natural yeasts and water, it begins to ferment.
The fermented liquid is then moved to copper stills for distillation. Two distillations – and a careful mix of the resulting product by the Maestro Mezcalero – give birth to mezcal.
Savor mezcal neat and at room temperature or jazz up a cocktail
The best way to honor the efforts taken to produce this spirit is to take the time to appreciate it neat and at room temperature. Kiss the glass gently and let the sweet and rich aroma fill your nose and imagination. Let the smooth liquid enter your mouth slowly. Enjoy.
Mezcal will make its presence known in a cocktail, adding a bold and earthy flavor. Its, sometimes sweet, sometimes savory, tones will complement fruit juices and fruit liquors , floral cremes and strong spices, as well as other distinctive spirits such as absinthe.