5 Things I’ve Learned About…Mezcal

Though it’s a wee bit early, the December 1, 2010 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine is out today, and it includes (among other things) my review column on Mezcal.  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio. (While you’re browsing, check out “Hot Dram!” — my article on Scotch whiskey trends, on p. 74!)

This is another category that seems custom-made for my chilehead brethren — mezcal has loads of bold, smoky, spicy flavor. Some almost taste like they’re infused with jalapeno peppers, even though they’re not.

Here’s what I learned in the course of researching the mezcal column: 

1.  Worm = bogus. Quality mezcals don’t have turd-like worms at the bottle of the bottle. And two corollaries to that thought:

     a) Worms and scorpions are gross.  A girly reaction? Perhaps. But I can think of no justifiable reason to put insects or invertebrates  in a bottle of anything intended for human consumption.

     b) A knowledgeable friend explained that the worm’s purpose once was not mere shock value, but it to absorb distillates and impurities. “Think of the worm as the grease trap for the bottle,” he said.  If true, that just compounds above-mentioned grossness. 

2. Mezcal is like tequila. Except when it’s not. They’re like cousins, sharing that agave DNA, but they’re not identical twins.

3.  This is one spirit where you really taste what goes into making it. Agave = sweetness (think of the honey-like agave nectar you buy at the health food store) ; Roasting the pinas = smokiness/spiciness; and barrel aging = caramel/vanilla tones.

4.  The expressions of mezcal are really wide-ranging.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out they’re not all rough, tough smoke-bombs. One tasted almost like bourbon; another was delicate, like gin. But all have an underlying agave flavor.

5.  I think mezcal is best in either the silver/joven or the reposado expression. A lot of the anejo mezcals just don’t work – they lose agave character and just become overly strong and overpowered by caramel. Anejo works better with tequila, which has more natural sweetness.

Do you have a favorite mezcal, mezcal cocktail, or mezcal drinkin’ story? Please do share the love in the comment box below. I’m told you can also use that space to tell me I’m full of crapola, if you prefer.

4 thoughts on “5 Things I’ve Learned About…Mezcal

  1. I am an experienced mezcal drinker and I find your article very good.
    In Mexico City, it is becoming very trendy to drink mezcal in bars and restaurants. And the way we drink mezcal is straight, slowly and sometimes it is served with orange peels. Very good.
    My favorite brand is Mezcales de Leyenda. I was told by one of the owners that they will be introducing the brand in NYC at the beginning of 2011.
    In NYC, I have seen people drinking it in cocktails, which is not my style, but I respect and encourage people to drink it in cocktails so they can be introduced to this new spirit.
    Other brands that I like are: Pierde Almas, Alipus, Enmascarado, Del Maguey and Nahuales.

    • Let’s not forget Ilegal Mezcal….Which I think is quite amazing.
      So much so that it can be found in most of the top 10 bars/restaurants in NYC.

  2. I had the pleasure of trying the whole Del Maguey line at the Ultimate Cocktail and Spirits Blast, and I loved most of them. As much as I enjoy drinking a good mezcal straight (like Del Maguey’s Santo Domingo Albarradas for $70), I’m a fiend for smokey cocktails, so I’d also like to get a cheaper bottle (like Del Maguey’s Vida Mezcal for $35) to mix and experiment with. I’m on a tight budget, so the latter is probably the more realistic. Anyone know of other worthwhile mezcals in the $25 to $40 range?

    PS- Clover Club in Brooklyn has two of the tastiest smokey mezcal cocktails I’ve ever had. One was the Eleventh Hour ($12): reposado tequila, mezcal, aquavit, yellow Chartreuse, lime juice, and cane syrup. It’s amazing.

  3. C&C…Iin addition to Vida, which you’ve already discovered, you might want to try Scorpion silver ($38). Though for not too much more (around $45) you can upgrade to a bottle of Sombra or the Scorpion reposado.

    why don’t more bars combine mezcal with yellow Chartreuse? that sounds genius. I love smoky and herbal flavors together!

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