Mezcal has taken the world by storm. Everyone wants to drink the Mexican liquor today. Over the past decade, the drink has undergone a massive transformation. It has finally been recognized as a high-quality artisanal product that shares the traditions of the people of Mexico. If you want to learn more about America’s new favorite liquor, you have come to the right place.
What Truly Is Mezcal?
According to Mexican law, Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic drink that must be made from the agave plant. The slow-growing succulent is found in Mexico and some parts of Texas. The history of Mezcal goes back to the 16th century when it was first distilled by the conquistadors who made getting drunk by using local ingredients a priority in the hostile territory that they were trying to occupy. Eventually, the Mezcal-making tradition became an integral part of Mexican culture. However, not many people knew about Mezcal outside the country until prohibition in the mid-20th century led to thirsty American tourists visiting Mexico to drink.
Production of Mezcal
Mezcal is produced in various parts of Mexico. However, most of it is produced in Oaxaca. Only nine Mexican states are permitted to produce Mezcal. Thus, agave grown in only those areas is used. It is important to note that there are more than 200 subspecies of agave. However, less than 50 varieties are used for producing the drink. These include jabalí, madrecuixe, te
peztate, arroqueño, cirial, cu ish, tobaziche, and cupreata. The wild-grown tobalá or the king of agaves is also used for making Mezcal.
Espadín is a variety that is mostly used. It takes six to seven years to mature, unlike other agaves that require up to 30 years to offer similar results. There is also blended Mezcal that is made using different types of agaves mixed together. The labeling of the bottle comes down to how the Mezcal is produced. Generally, it falls into three different categories depending on whether traditional or modern production methods are used. Mezcal artisanal is also popular as it heeds traditional methods and opts for a laxer production process of milling the agave. Moreover, Mezcal is defined by its class as mentioned below.
• Joven (young or white as formerly known) is unaged Mezcal.
• Madurado en Vidrio (matured in glass) is Mezcal that is aged in a glass container for at least a year.
• Reposado (rested) is Mezcal that is aged for a minimum of 2 months up to a year in wood.
• Añejo (vintage) is Mezcal that is aged for more than a year in wood.
• Abocado (semi-sweet) is Mezcal that is infused or flavored.
• Destilado Con (distilled with) is Mezcal that had additional ingredients or flavors added to it during additional distillation.
The most widely consumed Mezcal in Mexico and other parts of the globe is Joven Mezcal. It is the most popular drink. It is not a traditional drink and has to be consumed within a short period as it loses special characteristics after a while. The Mezcal distillation process leads to the creation of liquor that ranges anywhere from 38 percent to 55 percent alcohol by volume and varies in terms of quality and flavor regardless of the class or category of the Mezcal.
The variety of flavors offered by Mezcal are truly mind-boggling. The taste of Mezcal depends on three things as mentioned below.
• The agave.
• The area where it is grown.
• The Mezcalero.
Agave is grown in different parts of Mexico. If it is grown close to water, it has a more saline taste and if it is grown in the highlands, it has a more vegetal and herbal taste. The Mezcaleroare the people who harvest, ferment, and distill the drink. They have their own way of doing things and put their stamp on the liquor with their traditions and skills along with the flavor they aim to achieve.
Differences between Mezcal and Tequila
There are plenty of key differences between Mezcal and Tequila that will make you realize that the two Mexican spirits are not the same thing even though they are both made from agave. The fact that agave is used to make the spirits is the only similarity between the two beloved drinks. The following differences will make you realize just how different Mezcal and Tequila are.
1. Tequilas are Mezcal, But Mezcal are not Tequila
A major difference between Mezcal and Tequila is that all Tequila is Mezcal, whereas, not every Mezcal is a Tequila. The truth is that Tequila and Mezcal is much like how bourbon and scotch are types of whiskey. Mezcal is actually an agave-based liquor. It does include Tequila that is made in specific parts of Mexico where only blue agave can be found.
2. Made Using Different Kinds of Agave
Another notable difference between Mezcal and Tequila is that the two spirits are made using different kinds of agave. Mezcal is made from over 30 varieties of agave. The most commonly used varieties of agave for Mezcal include espadín, arroqueño, te
peztate, tobaziche, and tobalá.
3. Produced In Different Regions
The next difference between Mezcal and Tequila that you need to know is that the two spirits are produced in different regions. Although there is some geographical overlap between the two, Mezcal and Tequila come from different parts of Mexico. As mentioned above, Mezcal is produced in nine different areas in Mexico which include Oaxaca, Puebla, Michoacán, Zacatecas, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosi, Guerrero, Guanajuato, and Durango. On the other hand, Tequila is produced in five places that include Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Nayarit, Guanajuato, and Michoacán.
4. Distilled Differently
In addition to the above, Mezcal and Tequila are distilled differently. The harvested core of the agave plant is used for the production of the two spirits. In order to make Mezcal, the agave is cooked inside earthen pits that are filled with wood and charcoal and lined with lava rocks. Then it is distilled in clay pots. As for Tequila, it is made by steaming the agave inside an industrial oven after which it is distilled in copper pots two to three times. Although some large-scale producers of Mezcal use modern methods, artisanal Mezcal makers rely on traditional methods which allows for the smokiness to be produced.
5. Labeled Differently
Lastly, Mezcal and Tequila are both labeled differently. After the distillation process is complete, both Mezcal and Tequila are aged inside oak barrels. But, the aging categories of the two spirits are defined in a different way.
For example, Mezcal is grouped into three categories by age which includes Joven (up to 2 months), Reposado (2 to 12 months), and Anejo (one year or more). Tequila is also categorized into three varieties that include Blanco (up to 2 months), Reposado (2 to 12 months), and Anejo (1 to 3 years).
Top 3 Mezcal Brands
The top Mezcal brands are widely available today. The following are some of the most popular options.
1. Mezcal El Silencio – Espadin
Mezcal El Silencio was founded back in 2013 and is widely consumed. The company pioneered the art of making Mezcal at a small distillery and producing it in Oaxaca. With careful attention to detail and small-batch production, this Mezcal showcases the best that the brand has to offer. You will find the complex and robust flavor to be much sharper than what you might be used to. It is stronger on the nose yet smooth on the tongue. Thus, it is possibly one of the most intense Mezcal out there. It features notes of earthy greens and citrus, the subtle sweetness of sweet potatoes and roasted figs, and a hint of pepper. The Mezcal El Silencio can be used to make a number of cocktails such as a Mezcal Negroni and a spicy Margarita. It is the earthiness of the Espadin that makes the drink truly wonderful. It should either be sipped slowly in a traditional copitas or with an ice cube.
2. Bozal Mezcal Ensamble
The Bozal Mezcal Ensamble is a beautiful Mezcal that is perfect for anything searching for a unique spirit. Three types of agave are used to make it. Its complexity is what makes it worth trying. The main agave used to make this approachable Mezcal is Espadin. It is also supported by Barril for its floral and citrusy notes. Besides the two, Mexicano agave is also used for its earthiness. The Barril and Mexicano help balance out the smokiness and make this Mezcal an excellent choice for both newbies and aficionados.
3. Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal
Lastly, Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal is an excellent Mezcal that you have to try at least once. It is a premium Mezcal that will is extremely soft on the palate and has a sweet and citrusy taste that is followed by a smoky, rich finish. It can be used for preparing cocktails and sipping neat. You will find it to be the perfect standalone Mezcal for your home bar. Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal offers an authentic drinking experience that is only possible because the company follows ancient distillation processes.