The 6 Essentials of Mezcal

Last week was mezcal week, and we are already big fans of the spirit, so we figure now is the perfect time time for the essentials of mezcal. And while mezcal is being treated like an overnight celebrity success right now, it has been around for 10,000 years.

“If it grows together, it goes together. From Nopales to Grasshoppers, it all works.” – Gilbert Marquez

The beverage industry’s new “it” spirit is certainly the popular new kid on the block popping up on cocktail menus and on bottle lists around the country. However, many of you may not know too much about it – and that’s ok!

The 6 Essentials of Mezcal

We are here to give you the 6 essentials of mezcal we mashed up from chatting with some of the expert rockstars in the category.

Thanks to Ivy Mix (Leyenda), Gilbert Marquez (Ilegal Mezcal), Camille Austin (Montelobos Mezcal), Rob Crabtree (Goode Co. Restaurants) and Éva Pelczer (Del Maguey) we have created some crib notes of essential knowledge to help you impress your friends or favorite bartenders when talking mezcal.

1. Mezcal is not tequila but tequila is mezcal

Yes, both are made from agave, but mezcal can be made with any variety of the over 35 different types of agave while Tequila can only be made with Blue Weber. There is also the regionality issue. Mezcal can be made in many regions of Mexico, although a majority is made in Oaxaca, while Mexican laws state that tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and limited municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.

2. Taste the Smoke  

We’ve heard mezcal often referred to as tequila’s smoky cousin or rustic uncle. We’ve already established that they are both made from agave but they differ in how the piñas are cooked. Tequila piñas are steamed above ground while in traditional mezcal, they are cooked in underground dirt pits. The process is kind of like a Hawaiian pig roast, with layered fire and stones under the agave and covered. The entire slow roasting process takes several days, or longer, depending on the producer’s desired result. This certainly gives mezcal a beautiful smoke quality but please enjoy the other other flavors and aromas that often supercede the smoke.

3. All About That Agave, Baby  

Mezcal uses the highest raw material biodiversity of any beverage in the world with more than 40 species of agave. To compound that, cultivating agave for mezcal takes longer than any other raw material for distilling – anywhere from 7 to 40 years.  So clearly, this is making Mezcal is a patient labor of love and as Camille Austin of Montelobos mezcal explains, “Mezcal is the most [chemically] complex drink on the planet.” Another fun fact, compliments of Ivy Mix: “Agaves are not cactus! They actually come from the lily family.”

“Agaves are not cactus! They actually come from the lily family.” – Ivy Mix

4. Worm or nah?

At a recent wine pairing dinner with beverage industry pros, I overheard a guy say, “Yeah, I’ve had that mezcal with the worm. I didn’t like it.” Please people, don’t drink anything with creepy crawlers in it. Worms inside mezcal bottles was a marketing gimmick to get more people to drink it because of rumored properties of an aphrodisiac, or just makes you seem more badass, but if you are actually looking for something to act as sexual enhancer, you better consider a testosterone booster. The worms (gusanos) are actually pesty butterfly larvae that feed off agave plants, but have no place in traditional mezcal. As Eva Pelzcer from Del Maguey mezcal admits, “it’s a smart marketing move, because you have to finish the bottle to get to the thing!”

5. Mix it up

The easiest advice when ordering or making Mezcal cocktails is to swap it out in any cocktail that calls for tequila.  We also think it’s great to use it as a substitute in gin and whiskey cocktails. A well made Oaxacan Old Fashioned or Mezcal Negroni is just heaven. If you want to get creative, Ilegal Mezcal’s Gilbert Marquez has one easy rule of thumb: “If it grows together, it goes together. From Nopales to Grasshoppers, it all works.”

6. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

It may not be as famous as cousin tequila, but mezcal gets major props – and is best enjoyed neat. While cocktails like Oxacan Old Fashioneds or variations on Margaritas are great to gateways into the category, please, please please respect the Mezcal’s heritage and the true craftsmanship that goes into it and and enjoy the experience .

The 6 Essentials of Mezcal

Camille – “Mezcal is Culture.”
Rob – “Mezcal is heritage and a source of national pride in Mexico.”
Ivy – “Mezcal is fire and mezcal is energy! Don’t put this stuff on the rocks!”
Eva – “Lord, please drink it neat if it’s traditional! There is an insane amount of labor, time, and heritage that goes into making these relatively tiny batches of Mezcal.
Gilbert – “For f*ck sake, don’t hide the flavor of Mezcal!”

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