11 Jan Understanding Mezcal
Does Mezcal Taste Like Tequila?
We are going to answer that common mezcal question and others about one of our favorite drinks, so read on!
Scotch whiskey, draped in aromas of burning peat, may be the world’s best known smoky spirit. But smoke in the bottle is also available from a much different terrain and climate from Scotland….and even on this side of the Atlantic. The mezcals, distilled in the mountains of Mexico, deliver smoke that comes not from peat but from wood.
At Holy Tequila we offer authentic Mexican cuisine that honors old world flavors and embraces modern culinary ideas. Of course, with a name like Holy Tequila, we have a wide array of tequila (over 50 premium selections), but did you know we also serve its smoky cousin, Mezcal? Most patrons are familiar with our tequila, but many might be in the dark concerning mezcal. We don’t want you to miss out on a wonderful, flavorful drink, so here’s a quick and easy guide to mezcal.
Mezcal has long lived in the shadow of tequila and even was, at one time, dismissed as a second-class substitute. But the US is awakening to what the people of Oaxaca (and a number of other Mexican states) have long known: mezcal is largely a farm-to-bottle spirit offering sophisticated pleasures and artisanal creativity. In contrast to the more corporate tequila, mezcal is a cottage industry in which folk distillers use antique equipment to craft unique spirits that reflect their own village.
There is an old adage that goes, “all tequila is mezcal but not all mezcal is tequila.” More exactly, you could actually say that mezcal is tequila’s daddy. Let us explain.
Differences Between Tequila and Mezcal
Tequila and Mezcal differ in both where and how they are made, as well as the species of agave from which they are crafted.
Tequila comes from a tightly defined area, mainly in the state of Jalisco and near the town of Tequila, for which the spirit is named.
While 90% of mezcal comes from Oaxaca, it can be made in eight other states: Qurango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Michoacan, and Puebla.
Tequila is fermented strictly (by law) from cultivated blue agave.
Mezcal makers may draw from over 30 species of agave, some cultivated and some found only in the wild. Espadin is the most common of the cultivated agave. Tobala is the most prevalent of the wild.
Tequila is produced by cooking the hearts of the blue agave harvested in an oven or autoclave. Most tequila producers extract juice from the hearts using modern equipment.
Mezcal producers prefer to roast the hearts over a wood fire in an earthen pit resulting in woodsmoke flavors. Many mezcal farmers extract the juice by crushing it with a traditional, horse-driven, stone wheel.
Mezcal age designations follow those of tequila: Joven (clear, unaged), Reposado (golden, rested in barrels for less than a year), and Anejo (dark amber, aged in barrels for a year or longer). Most of the barrels used are made of oak.
Tequila fans fancy the spirit’s consistency and purity.
Mezcal enthusiasts are drawn to its eccentricities and diversification.
How to Drink Mezcal
We come to the fun part….how should you drink this delicious smoky stuff? We’ll give you a few tips, but of course, they’re not mandatory.
A Sombra Mezcal
Tip 1: If you want to taste all the different nuances you should drink your mezcal neat.
Tip 2: Once your drink is poured, stick your nose near (not in!) the opening and take in all the aromas.
Tip 3: After taking in the aroma bouquet, take a small sip and swish it around inside your mouth. This will open up your palate to all the outstanding alcohol it is about to receive.
Tip 4: Once you sniffed and swished your mezcal, it’s time to start sipping nice and slow.
Tip 5: You should be drinking your mezcal at room temperature. If you drink your mezcal chilled that will dull its flavor.
Tip 6: Orange/grapefruit/guava slices are great accompanists for your sipping, as are flatbreads and carrots. A little salt doesn’t hurt.
Tip 7: Forget all the above and drink your mezcal anyway you want. Mezcal is also a delicious spirit in cocktails. It can stand in any classic cocktail as a replacement of the original spirit. Try a mezcal Negroni or a mezcal Martini. If you are replacing a whiskey, go with an aged smokier mezcal.
Del Maguey Vida
Twice distilled in wood-fired copper stills. Nose of tropical fruit with a clear, lengthy, spicy, agave taste. A joven with a soft finish. Incredible cocktail ingredient.
Deep agave aromas. Consistently smooth with lingering heat. Smoky, earthy finish.
Aged 13 months in American Oak, French Oak, or bourbon casks. Nose of clove, maple. Suggestion of smoke with a full, rich, cocoa finish.
An easy sipping joven. Reminiscent of a smoky scotch. Salty, vegetal, with a tangy apple finish.
Four months in oak barrels. Velvety texture. Agave notes with chilli smoke. Long and lasting finish.
Notes of black pepper and smoke. Balanced and elegant. Appeals to fans of peated whiskey. Long, silky finish.
We hope this was a helpful guide and we can’t wait to see you at Holy Tequila. We will leave you with this little gem of Qaxacan wisdom, “Por todo mal, mezcal, y por todo bien también.” Rough translation, “For everything wrong, mezcal, and for everything right, mezcal as well!” Enjoy!