Mezcal, The Artisanal Spirit To Have In Your Spirits Collection

REPOST: Wine Warehouse by Brian Lee, Spirits Specialist

When I moved out of my small one bedroom apartment and into a house, I decided to take stock and get organized. As it turns out, working in the liquor business means that most of your cabinets, closets and bookcases become overrun with bottles of various types of booze. Among my collection, can you guess what I had the most of? You might be surprised to know it’s mezcal.

How could I possibly have so many—every expression just tastes like smoke, right?Not necessarily! In my opinion, mezcal is the epitome of the small-lot, craft production, artisanal spirit most distillers strive for, for three distinct reasons.

First, mezcal can be made in eight different Mexican states from almost any agave, although a massive amount of mezcal is made in Oaxaca from the agave Espadín. Espadín is closely related to Blue Weber Agave, the plant used exclusively to make tequila. Some producers, like Mezcal de Leyenda, showcase the agave that is most common and indigenous to the state: Oaxaca has excellent Espadín, but to ignore their wild agave Cupreata from Guerrero with its gentle smoke and tropical fruit notes would be a crime. Other producers, like Bozal, choose to focus on each agave varietal and create single agave mezcals for several different families. Instead of showing the terroir from each state, they showcase the distinct and individual flavors from each specific plant. In recent years it’s become common to create “ensambles” or a blending of several different varietals. Like many fine wines, adding other varietals to a mix can bring a complexity and softness that’s rarely found in many single agave expressions.

Second, mezcal distillation practices vary wildly from village to village. It is not uncommon for distillers to be the third or fourth generation, using the same procedures their great grandfathers did in the early 20th century. Small things can make a massive difference: native yeast from wild fermentation, the fuel source for smoking agave pinas, whether a still is made from copper or clay—to name a few. Changing just one of these facets can create wildly different products. This is what makes mezcal such a unique spirit; no product is the same and each distiller puts their own fingerprint on each product. For example, while Salmiana agave mezcals carry a heavy green chili note, Mayalen Machetazo’s variation tastes significantly more vibrant due to the distillers using vapor to cook the agaves instead of smoke. The result is a mezcal that is so bright and lively that it’s often described as refreshing.

Finally, mezcal is a family process. Mezcals have been used for hundreds of years for many different purposes, varying from drinking for pure enjoyment to ceremonial purposes, disinfectant for tools, field aesthetic, and the list goes on.