When you visit Mexico’s city’s, you will be faced with a vibrant culture of tequilas. For a tequila enthusiast, this is paradise, and feels like the ‘authentic’ way to taste the spirit. But now we’re hearing more and more about mezcal, some other spirit, from the back country of Mexico. And now it’s starting to appear behind the bars of the United States. We hear it’s a full-blown fad down in southern California – but here on Long Island, it’s becoming a necessity to stock mezcal if you want to keep trendy drinkers happy.
So what is mezcal? Many bartenders really can’t answer this question…until now.
Mezcal is a catch-all term for spirits distilled in Mexico from native agave plants. There are many kinds of agave, which gives us many kinds of mezcal. In addition, there are many ways to distill, which gives us even more variety. Add to that the tendency to associate particular spirits with particular regions, as true in Mexico as in the rest of the world, and you’ve got a LARGE category of spirit. It is important to note that mezcal implies that the spirit was distilled illegally, or outside of the regulations of the government. Tequila is, technically, mezcal…made from the blue agave plant.
But while mezcal is a catch-all term, it also refers to a particular version – one distilled from the maguey plant in Oaxaca (pronounced wa-HA-ka). This tends to be what you get when you order Mezcal in the US. How is it different from tequila? It is smokey, strong, & complex. The smokiness comes from the tendency to overcook the mash. The name mezcal actually comes from a Mexican language for ‘overcook.’ Generally consumed straight, American innovation is beginning to see it appear as the primary spirit on cocktail menus.
Other variations include bacanora, made in Sonara’s mountain region. This mezcal is aged in oak and flavored with orange peel – it’s supposed to be exquisite. I have yet to try bacanora, but I hear it’s begin distributed in the United States now. Other kinds of mezcal sure sound adventurous. Bootleggers in Chihuahua include a rattlesnake in the jars, which is supposed to give the spirit healing properties. From what I understand, the rattlesnake corpse only results in an oily spirit that causes constant, smoky burping after consumption.
Ultimately, mezcal is a drink for tequila lovers. If you need sour mix and triple sec to stomach tequila, this ain’t for you. But for those of you who are looking for more of a flavor punch than straight tequila can offer, mezcal will make you very, very happy.