Mezcal 101: Why You Should Start Ordering This Mexican Spirit

July 5, 2017

If you’ve been paying attention to the drink menus at top watering holes like we have, there’s a Mexican spirit (that isn’t tequila) that has been gaining prominence across the country. It’s mezcal. You might start to see names such as Gem&Bolt, FidencioIlegal, and Vago. Keep reading to educate yourself on what makes this spirit so significant. And the next time you’re out with the guys, order one and impress them with your newfound mezcal knowledge.

Agave field (Credit: Gem&Bolt)

Like its cousin, tequila, mezcal is made from the agave plant. But unlike tequila, which is only produced in the Tequila region, mezcal can come from anywhere in Mexico. However, it’s typically made in Oaxaca and espadín is the most common variety of agave found in the region.

Roasting the agave (Credit: Gem&Bolt)

The agave plant is pollinated by bats and can take eight to 12 years before it is harvested. 70 kilos of harvested agave might only end up producing seven bottles of mezcal, so it’s a process that requires a lot of patience. After harvesting, the agave is then cooked for a few days in underground wood-fired pits lined with hot rocks. It is this process that gives mezcal its smoky quality. Once the agave is slow-roasted, it will then be crushed and milled into a fibrous pulp under a large stone wheel pulled by a horse. This is literal horsepower at work. The agave fibers are then placed in barrels to ferment with water from a well, but no yeast is added. The liquid is then distilled in copper stills. After distillation the mezcal is aged in oak barrels. These time-honored practices remind you just how precious of a spirit is mezcal.

Agave is fermented in open barrels (Credit: Gem&Bolt)

Because of mezcal’s signature smoky flavor profile, many compare it to an Islay scotch, which tends to be more smoky and peaty than scotches from other regions. Similar to a top-shelf scotch, or any good quality liquor for that matter, a nice mezcal is best enjoyed neat. However we always say that you should drink it how you will best enjoy it. If cocktails are your jam, then definitely order a mezcal cocktail.