My personal mescal journey started in Guatemala, in the colonial city of Antigua, where there is a bar called Café No Sé, which is famous for its range of tequila and mezcal, which initially was imported illegally over the border from Mexico, the smoky taste suited both the evening and location perfectly.
Like tequila, mezcal is made from the agave plant and its history goes back centuries to the Aztecs and possibly to an even older tribe, the Olmecs, who made a ceremonial drink “pulque” from fermented agave pulp. In the 16th century, the invading Spanish brought with them a taste for brandy together with distilling knowledge and when supplies of their own imported brandy began to wane, they used the native agave plant to make “mezcal wine”.
Similarly to tequila, there are two types of mezcal, 100% agave and mixto which may just be labelled mezcal and may contain up to 20% non-agave sugars. Mezcal can be made from more than 30 different types of agave, the most common being Espadin,
Tobala and Madre Cuixtle. Mezcal can be made in the following five states - Oaxaca, Durango, San Luis Potosi, Guerrero and Zacatecas, with the majority being produced in Oaxaca.
To make mezcal, agave is traditionally slow roasted in lava rock-lined earth pits which are heated by wood and or charcoal for about three days before being double or occasionally single distilled in pot stills made of either copper or occasionally clay. Today, some large mezcal producers have turned to more efficient production methods but many still use this time-honoured process which gives mezcal the smoky flavour that it is known. Regulations of what may or may not call itself mezcal are controlled by the Mezcal Regulatory Council and like tequila, brands carry a NOM (Norma Official Mexicana) on their label. Mezcal must be bottled at the point of origin and may not, unlike tequila, be exported in bulk.
Mezcal is synonymous with the worm, this is a moth lava that can be found in the agave plant that is added to some mezcals. There are no requirements for mezcal to include a worm. Some believe it adds flavour, others say that it is a mark of authenticity, or incorrectly that it has hallucinatory properties and others merely put it down to a marketing gimmick. Try mescal neat, in an Old Fashioned, Espresso Martini or as a replacement for tequila in a Paloma or other fruit-based tequila cocktails.
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