What Is Mezcal? Everything You Need To Know About This Spirit

Informational

Shot of mezcal

You're invited to a party, and you don't know what drinks to bring. Should you go with the classic wine or beer? What if your friends want tequila shots instead of whiskey sours? With so many alcoholic options, it can be hard to decide! Well, we have a suggestion for you: mezcal.

Mezcal is produced from the agave plant, which is a desert plant with over 200 species. Mezcal may be manufactured from 40 to 50 different species. Mezcal, a spirit with different flavors and has an interesting history, originated in Mexico and has been consumed there for generations.

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What is the Difference Between Mezcal and Tequila?

Mezcal tequila shots

Mezcal is commonly referred to as tequila's smoky cousin. Not all mezcals are tequilas, but all tequilas are mezcals. Tequila is created from a unique kind of agave called blue weber agave. Mezcal, however, may be manufactured from a variety of agave plants, several of which are native to Oaxaca.

Tequila is a type of mezcal produced by roasting agave in industrial furnaces before distilling it 2-3 times in copper pots. On the other hand, Mezcal is distilled in clay pots after being heated in earthen pits lined with lava rocks and loaded with charcoal and wood.

Because of the piña's cooking method, mezcal has a stronger taste than tequila. Some tequilas are so silky and delicate that they can stand in for vodka in any drink. But mezcal is more distinct and is used in cocktails or as a substitute for a powerful spirit like whiskey.

How is Mezcal Made?

Pit used in mezcal production

Harvesting the agave, cooking the piña, fermenting the agave, and distilling the agave are the four basic stages in the traditional technique of producing mezcal. The outer leaves of the agave plant are chopped away from the piña or the heart of the agave plant, which the distillers utilize to manufacture mezcal. 

The piñas are roasted in an underground pit filled with hot rocks for many days. Mezcal gets its smokiness from the extensive roasting process. 

The piñas are allowed to rest for a month while the juice ferments within the piña husk. To make mezcal, the liquids within the piña are distilled twice. After distillation, some distilleries would age their mezcal in wooden barrels, resulting in a darker spirit known as aejo mezcal.

History of Mezcal

Terraced field in Oaxaca

Mezcal is a Mexican distilled beverage created from the agave plant, with Oaxaca accounting for 90% of production. It's one of Mexico's most southern areas, featuring a lengthy stretch of Pacific Ocean shoreline. The state is naturally diversified, including woods, sandy beaches, and desert topography.

The Incas used the juices of the maguey plant, a relative of the agave, to manufacture an undistilled alcoholic beverage called pulque, which dates back to roughly the year 250 CE. When the Spanish conquistadors came in the 16th century, they started distilling the agave liquids to manufacture mezcal.

The Nahuatl term mexcalmetl (the most prominent and significant language spoken by Mexican civilizations such as Aztec), which means "oven-roasted agave plant," is the source of the name "mezcal." Distillers began inserting a worm, known as a gusano, at the bottom of the mezcal bottle in the mid-twentieth century, which became a well-known curiosity across the globe.

Types of Mezcal

Mezcal is made from 40 to 50 different types of agaves. In the United States, several of these kinds are not accessible. Depending on how contemporary or traditional the manufacturing processes are, mezcal may be divided into three types. 

There's ordinary mezcal, which may be crafted in any modern way. There's also mezcal ancestral, made with exclusively ancient processes, such as clay pot distillation instead of stainless steel. Between the first two is mezcal artisanal, which follows traditional procedures but is more lenient when it comes to the time-consuming process of grinding the agave.

Mezcal can also be described by its class. Mezcal comes in varying colors that alter the flavor, similar to pale and dark rums.

  • Joven - a Spanish word that means "young" and also means "bright" or "clear”. It is an unaged mezcal.
  • Reposado - means “rested”. It is a darker mezcal that's been matured in wood for at least two months but less than a year.
  • Añejo - a term which means “vintage”. It is the darkest mezcal, aged for nearly a year in wood. Generally speaking, the darker the shade of the mezcal, the smoother it is.
  • Abocado is a flavored or infused mezcal, such as those with the iconic maguey worm, which is actually a moth larva. Abocado means “semisweet”.
  • Destilado con - “distilled with” in English. In this type of mezcal, extra tastes or ingredients are added during a second distillation.

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How to Drink Mezcal

mezcal shot beside lime wheel and salt

Many would drink Mezcal fresh from the bottle at ambient temperature. An excellent mezcal isn't meant to be consumed in a single sip. While it is a flexible element in a cocktail, it is recommended to test mezcal on its own before making a drink with it. This will help you determine if you want something light and fruity or deep and full-bodied. 

In a Negroni, any mezcal may be substituted for gin, with the vermouth and Campari taking the center of attention. While mezcal may display the earthy, rustic taste in a mezcal margarita, this liquor has won over so many admirers. It also substitutes tequila without making it unrecognizable as a margarita.

There are also other traditional containers for serving mezcal, which uses small bowl-shaped cups fashioned from dried gourds. They're called jicaras, and they're the Calabash tree's fruit.

Popular Mezcal Cocktails

Mezcal Margarita

This cocktail is a very typical margarita blended with earthy mezcal and a nice amount of orange bitters for extra depth. Combine the mezcal, Limonada, triple sec, and bitters in a pitcher to prepare this. Stir everything together thoroughly, then cover and chill for at least 2 hours. 

Pour about 1 cup of the margarita mixture into a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Strain into two 6-ounce martini glasses after shaking. Serve immediately with 1/4 teaspoon orange zest in each glass.

Get the recipe here.

Killer Bee

The savory taste of the mezcal complements the earthy honey in this cocktail beautifully. Combine the honey and 12 ounces of water in a small dish or jar to produce honey syrup. Mix the mezcal, lemon juice, and 34 ounces of honey syrup together in a cocktail shaker.

Fill the shaker about three-quarters full of ice and aggressively shake for 10 seconds if serving "up" or 15 seconds if serving "on the rocks." Serve with or without ice in old-fashioned double glass or a bucket glass.

Get the recipe here.

Mezcal Mule

A Moscow mule has all the ingredients for a straightforward and spirited mezcal cocktail. While the regular mule is delicious, this variation is much better since the mezcal adds a degree of depth that the ordinary vodka base lacks.

Simply pour a shot of Mezcal and a splash of lime juice into an ice-filled glass. Then add your favorite ginger beer to finish it off.

Get the recipe here.

Mezcal Negroni

A negroni is already a bittersweet cocktail. When you add in the smokiness of mezcal, you've got yourself a match made in heaven. Serve in an old-fashioned glass with an orange peel garnish to keep it elegant.

This refined aperitif is a great way to unwind after dinner. Mezcal Negroni also really easy to do, so you'll be able to relax in no time.

Get the recipe here.

Naked and Famous

The Naked and Famous drink is as striking as its name from the first sip! It's made with only four components, yet they're perfectly balanced: smokey, citrus, bitter, and sweet. The Naked and Famous cocktail combines mezcal, Chartreuse, Aperol, and lime juice in equal amounts.

Get the recipe here.

Mezcal Paloma

If you want a trademark cocktail that's simultaneously sweet, tangy, salty, and smoky, then the Mezcal Paloma is the drink for you.

This mezcal cocktail offers everything you're looking for in a beverage in which the grapefruit juice's sweetness contrasts with the sharp lime and fizzy soda water. It is more enjoyable with the smokiness of mezcal in the background and a salt rim.

Get the recipe here.

Mezcal Sour

This is not your typical mixed drink. It's a perfectly proportioned velvety, smoky and acidic pleasure that will leave you wanting more!

The mezcal sour features the perfect blend of flavors to make it an unforgettable experience like no other - with its lovely frothy mouthfeel in tow for added enjoyment on top off everything else magnificent about this particular drink recipe (we're talking flavor!).

Get the recipe here.

Rising Sun

Toro Bravo in Portland, Oregon, serves a mezcal-based cocktail that hits all the right notes: spicy, sour, and sweet, with just a trace of salt. In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add the mezcal, juices, and maraschino; shake quickly and pour into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Get the recipe here.

Mezcal Old-Fashioned

You don't have to choose between Mezcal and tequila with this contemporary old-fashioned because it has both. Instead of whiskey, this Mexican version relies on agave spirits to deliver a powerful punch.

You can use a dash of agave syrup and Angostura bitters to cut the alcohol content. While this isn't the typical old-fashioned, the components create a timeless classic.

Get the recipe here.

What is Mezcal FAQ

Bottle of mezcal with agave plant

1. Is mezcal stronger than tequila?

Many people believe that mezcal has a more robust flavor than tequila. However, that's not necessarily correct. Tequila and mezcal are both between 38% and 55% alcohol by volume (ABV), which is around 76 to 110 proof.

A certain mezcal can be stronger than a specific tequila, but the opposite can also be true. If you order a mezcal or tequila neat or on the rocks at a bar, you're likely to get a spirit with an ABV of around 40%; this is the same as the vast majority of spirits sold across the world.

2. Does all mezcal taste smoky?

When it comes to mezcal, the spirit always has a certain smokiness to it. That smoke can be mild at times and strong at other times. You may also come across mezcals with flowery, fruity, or earthy scents.

Mezcal gets its smoke from the way fresh agave is roasted to release the sugars that allow fermentation to take place. This cooking takes place in an earthen pit underneath.

3. Why do people put worms in mezcal?

In the 1950s, a mezcal manufacturer discovered larvae in a batch of his alcohol and felt the insect enhanced the flavor. As a marketing gimmick, he began putting "worms" in all of his bottles. Soon after, other mezcal producers followed suit.

Conclusion

Mezcal is a unique spirit that has been enjoyed for generations in Mexico. If you're looking to try something new, mezcal might be just the thing! It has an earthy flavor with hints of smoke from the roasted agave plant from which it is made. Now, are you feeling adventurous enough to try this?

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