In Praise of Great Mezcal: All Tequila is Mezcal, But Not All Mezcal is Tequila (and Avoid the Worm)

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mezcal production

According to the law, mezcal can only be produced in eight designated regions across Mexico. These are Oaxaca, Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, and Michoacán. Oaxaca is the most important.

Approximately 94% of all mezcal is produced in Oaxaca, with an estimated 8,000 producers. Many of these are produced in small quantities and sold to companies, who then provide them to the world.

Mezcal production is small compared to tequila, with an estimated 200 bottles of tequila produced per person. However, most mezcal is made by local families rather than huge distilleries. The danger is government involvement, whether well-intentioned or not, favoring large distilleries and negatively impacting the craft side of the industry. The decision to lower the minimum alcohol content from 45% ABV to 35% ABV is a decision that is believed to benefit large distilleries.

Sticking to artisan producers and their high-quality mezcal helps fight standardization. Indeed, there are enough featureless, formless spirits in this world. Ensuring the sustainability of distinctive and unique spirits like Elite Mezcal should be in the interest of all spirits lovers. Some producers even go so far as to export their spirits as “destilados de agave” rather than mezcal, to avoid having to meet certain regulations that are considered to take away the essential characteristics of the product.

One way to test whether a professional is dealing with a high-quality artisanal mezcal and not a mass-produced mezcal is to rub a drop or two into their hands. If your scent is earthy, vegetal, herbal, and peppery, you can’t go wrong with mezcal. If you smell burnt rubber, candy, vanilla, or artificial scents, it’s time to move on.

mezcal flavor

So how is mezcal best to drink and what flavor should you choose? There are several characters and flavors picked up by all the experts. Complex and rich smoky notes. Some people compare the smokiness to single malts from Islay, but I find those malts to be a little more extreme. Needless to say, the level of smokiness varies considerably.

The smokiness is thought to come primarily from the way the heart is cooked in a conical hole. It may have a grassy aroma and a mineral undertone (if I were unaware of the subject and simply came across this description, I would think that whatever it is, it’s the perfect sound to enjoy in a Cohiba cigar). A good mezcal should be balanced and long, even if it’s subtle.

Keep in mind that good mezcal often has a higher alcohol content than other spirits, around 45% to 55%.

Spicy mezcal margarita (Photo credit:

As for how to drink it, cocktails and spicy margaritas are popular, but like all great spirits, mezcal is best experienced alone (as they say) , sip, don’t shoot). Over cocktails, bartenders talk about mezcal, a combination of ginger and pineapple and lemon and lime.

One experienced mezcal fan says that the first sip cleanses the palate, washing away all other flavors, and the second sip reveals the mezcal’s greatness.


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