by Asya Argentieri
We returned after a long pause that brought us to know a beautiful country like Mexico, and allowed us to confront a fascinating gastronomic culture rich in traditions and history, enriching ourselves with new knowledge and new foods. Today we are talking about a traditional Mexican distillate called Mezcal, a distillate from agave. The name Mezcal has two different meanings: the first refers to the distillate produced with various types of agave, and the second indicates the generic name for the spirits still distilled agave. Therefore, for all those who confuse Tequila with Mezcal, the truth is that Tequila is a typology of Mezcal.
The Mezcal was born in Mexico with the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, who taught the native peoples the art of distillation. It can be produced by eleven different types of agave, all originating from Oaxaca, considered the home of Mezcal as it produces about 60%. They are: quishe, pasmo, tepestate, tobala, espadin, largo, pulque, azul, blanco, ciereago and mexicano, but it must be emphasized that almost all of Mezcal is produced by espadin.
Mezcal gets its smoked flavor during the production process. The hearts of the agave plants, the piñas, are cooked in pits in the ground in a style similar to that for making barbacoa.
The cooked agave is then crushed, combined with water and left to ferment. Proponents of the spirit compare its production to wine. In the past it was called wine de mezcal or wine mezcal, if you have grapes in the wine and you have different names like Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, in mezcal, you have names of Madrecuixe, Tobalá, Espadín, Largo, Cirial, Tripón, Barril-150 . While some of these agave species are grown, most of them grow spontaneously in the countryside. The Mezcal made with Espadín's agave tend to be the most readily available. Unlike grapes, which are harvested each year, producers of mezcal sometimes have to wait decades before the agave reaches maturity. Many of these agave peasants are also known as Mezcaleros Maestro (a term of respect for the artisans who make mezcal), and their distillation operations, called palenques, are very small in size. Since the mezcal is still considered a craft spirit, expect to pay more than you would for tequila. The bottles range from $ 45 to $ 300, depending on the producers
Let's talk now about how to choose the right mezcal. Let's start with the label:
Type I: indicates that the Mezcal is made with 100% agave as a base. If the type is not listed, look for a label that says 100% agave to make sure you get a Type I Mezcal.
Type II: Mezcal must be produced with at least 80% agave. The Mezcal type II is produced with at least the necessary amount of agave mixed with another fermenting ingredient such as cane sugar. This brings a different flavor and will hide some of the flavors of agave.
White: usually means that it is a clear spirit that has been aged for 2 months or less.
Golden: a white Mezcal to which color has been added.
Rested: this Mezcal aged between 2 and 9 months in wooden barrels
Old: anything labeled like this has been aged for a minimum of 1 year, but usually up to 2 or 3 years.
Young: a young Mezcal, probably not aged for more than a few months.
That said, let's go to the discovery of the different Mezcal and related agave.
This type of agave usually makes rather expensive bottles of Mezcal because of its rarity and unusual land requirements. It only grows in rocky/shady areas and must be reproduced through the pollination of birds and bats rather than spreading its seeds. When transformed into Mezcal, the taste is usually rather complex and fruity.
90% of all Mezcal is made with this type of agave. It grows in many different areas, both wild and bred. There is no way to identify a taste because so many producers of Mezcal produce different flavors from this type of agave.
This Mezcal is appreciated for its delicious combination of flavors. Often when it is finished it will have floral or vegetal tastes with a chocolate background.
You probably will not find this Mezcal much, even if it is immensely popular.
The reason is that the wild agave had to mature at least 30 years. The result is a very aromatic Mezcal with an intense flavor.
Although this species of agave grows in different regions of Mexico, it has completely different flavors and names based on where it is grown.
In general, it makes the flavor and herbaceous flavor very pleasant.