Are you looking for something new to explore in the world of alcoholic beverages?
If so, then mezcal may be just what you’re looking for. From its transformative process to the different varieties, mezcal plant to aging and resting, there is much to learn about this unique smoky beverage.
In this guide, we will look at where mezcal comes from, how it's made, and everything else you need to know before diving into one of the most flavorful drinks!
What is mezcal?
Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage that is made from the agave plant. It is similar to tequila, but it is made from a different type of agave and has a distinctive smoky flavor that comes from how it is traditionally produced.
Types of mezcal are typically made by roasting the hearts of the agave plant, called piñas, in an underground pit oven for several days. This process gives mezcal its smoky flavor and aroma.
After roasting, the piñas are crushed and fermented in large wooden vats or barrels before being distilled.
Mezcal drink is produced primarily in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, but it is also made in other parts of Mexico. You can enjoy mezcal types neat or in cocktails, and it has gained popularity in recent years as a unique and artisanal spirit.
What is mezcal made from?
Mezcal is made from the agave plant, a type of succulent native to Mexico.
Specifically, mezcal is made from several species of agave, which are harvested and used to produce the spirit.
Some of the most common varieties of agave used in the mezcal process include Espadín, Tobalá, and Tepextate.
Unlike tequila, which is made from the blue agave plant, mezcal can be made from any species of agave. However, each mezcal agave species imparts its unique flavor and aroma to the finished spirit, so the choice of agave can significantly impact the final product.
To make mezcal, the mature mezcal plants are harvested, and the leaves are removed, leaving only the piña, or heart of the plant. The piñas are then roasted in underground pit ovens, which gives mezcal its distinctive smoky flavor.
After roasting, the piñas are crushed, and the juice is extracted, fermented, and then distilled to produce the finished spirit.
How to drink mezcal?
There are plenty of ways to enjoy mezcal alcohol.
For example, one of the most convenient ways is to sip mezcal cocktails, like a fine whiskey or brandy.
While enjoying mezcal brands, you can use a snifter or a small glass with a stem to hold it by the stem and avoid warming the liquid with your hand. Take a small sip and let it linger on your tongue to appreciate the complex flavors and smokiness fully.
If you prefer a more traditional way of drinking mezcal, you can try it with salt and lime. First, lick some salt off the back of your hand, then take a sip of mezcal liquor, and finally, suck on a slice of lime. This is a classic way to enjoy tequila but it also works well with mezcal.
You can indulge in mezcal flavors in cocktails, including margaritas, palomas, and more. A popular mezcal cocktail is the Oaxaca Old Fashioned, which combines mezcal, agave nectar, and bitters.
Mezcal can be paired with a wide range of foods, especially those with smoky or spicy flavors. Pairing it with grilled meats, spicy salsas, or chocolate desserts may give you the best mezcal taste.
What is the difference between mezcal vs. tequila?
Tequila and mezcal are both distilled spirits made from the agave plant, but they have some key differences.
Firstly, tequila is made from the blue agave plant, while mezcal can be made from any species of agave, although some varieties are more common than others. This means there is more variety in the flavors and aromas of mezcal, depending on the type of agave used.
Second, while both mezcal and tequila are made by roasting the agave piñas and extracting the juice, there are some differences in the production process. Mezcal is traditionally roasted in underground pit ovens, which gives it a smoky flavor, while tequila is typically roasted in industrial ovens. Mezcal is usually distilled only once, while tequila is often distilled twice or thrice.
Their geographic origins are also different. People produce tequila in some areas of Mexico, primarily in Jalisco and parts of the surrounding states. On the other hand, Mezcal drink is produced mainly in the state of Oaxaca.
Lastly, while both mezcal and tequila have a distinctive agave flavor, mezcal has a more complex and nuanced flavor profile. The smoky flavor imparted by the roasting process is a hallmark of mezcal, and the choice of agave species can also significantly impact the finished spirit's flavor and aroma.
Is mezcal stronger than tequila?
Mezcal and tequila are distilled spirits with similar alcohol content, so they have roughly the same strength.
In general, both mezcal and tequila have an alcohol by volume (ABV) of around 40%, although the strength can vary depending on the specific product.
With that, the strength of mezcal and tequila is typically not the primary factor that distinguishes them. Instead, the differences between the two spirits come from factors such as the type of agave used, the production process, and the geographic origin.
It's worth noting that some types of mezcal can have a higher alcohol content than tequila, especially those made using traditional methods that have not been diluted with water.
However, this is not the norm, and most mezcal and tequila products have similar strengths.
Mezcal Aging and Resting
Some mezcal producers do not age or rest their mezcal, just bottle and sale it immediately after distillation. This results in a mezcal with a fresh, vibrant flavor that showcases the agave's natural character.
But “joven mezcal” describes mezcal that has not been aged or rested for an extended period. However, some producers may rest the mezcal in a container made of glass, clay, or stainless steel for a short period to allow the flavors to meld before bottling.
Another type of mezcal drink, reposado mezcal, is aged in oak barrels or containers for two to twelve months. This allows the mezcal to take on the flavors and aromas of the wood, resulting in a mellower, smoother taste.
Añejo mezcal is aged in oak barrels or containers for one to three years. This extended aging process results in a mezcal with a complex flavor profile and a smoky, woody character.
Ultimately, the aging and resting methods will depend on the mezcal producer's preferences and the desired flavor profile of the final product.