Posted on August 19 2014
The best way to explain mezcal is to compare it to tequila.
- Mezcal has a smoky aroma because it is smoked. Tequila is not smoked.
- Tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco, Mexico and four very limited areas of four other states. Mezcal can be grown in 8 states but mostly comes from Oaxaca.
- Tequila can only be made from 1 type of agave - blue agave. Mezcal can be made from over 25 types of agave.
- Both Tequila and Mezcal have their own Domination of Origin BUT Mezcal has to be made with 100% agave while Tequila can be mixed with up to 49% other alcohol.
- Mezcal must be bottled in Mexico. Most Tequila is bottled (and aggregated alcohol) outside of Mexico.
- Tequila can only have blue agave. Mezcal can be made up of a blend of agaves (mix 2 or more agaves still resulting in 100% agave).
- Mezcal has a worm!
- If you are in Oaxaca BUY mezcal; a $40 usd bottle there can easily cost $120usd in the USA.
Most mezcal is made with espadin agave but you can easily stop by any good bar and find mezcal made with the following popular agaves: madrecuixe, barril, jabali, tepeztate, arroqueño, and tobala. Each one has its specific tasting profile. Remember to also try the ensambles, the blends that are made with different agaves. Here are some of the agaves/maguey where mezcal can come from:
What is the process of making mezcal? The maguey needs to be chopped into smaller pieces and placed in a pit of coal and rocks; the rocks prevent the maguey from having direct contact with the coal. This is then covered with plastic then a heavy coat of dirt. It is allowed to sit here and get cooked/smoked for 6-8 days. After this, the maguey is removed, allowed to cool then ground in a mill, usually powered by a horse or donkey. The pulp is then placed in a wooden container with fresh water. This will ferment for a few days then get moved into the distilling tank. Here there is another opportunity to add some flavor. Some mezcal is distilled with a corn cobs or chicken breasts, the latter would be called mezcal de pechuga. The resulting mezcal surprisingly doesn't have chicken breast taste.
Mezcal is my favorite spirit; I can enjoy it straight with a slice of orange and sal de gusano but I prefer it mixed as a cocktail with tamarind water, passion fruit juice or mint/cucumber water.
My amazing friend, Alvin Starkman, who is going to donate his metate collection to my museum one day, is the utmost expert in mezcal, please visit his website for a thorough lesson on this spirit or to coordinate a tour with him in Oaxaca.