“Mezcal” an Aztec word meaning cooked maguey (agave) originates from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. It is believed to have been invented in the 1600’s when the Spaniards ran out of brandy and introduced distillation techniques to Pulque, a milky fermented drink sacred to the Aztecs. However new evidence points to the fact it existed thousands of years prior. Now Mezcal is the last of the major spirits that are still largely handcrafted. It is integral to Mexican culture and folklore and the gastronomy of Oaxaca. Mezcal is included on the list of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Maestro Mezcaleros continue the tradition, passing down family recipes and artisanal techniques to produce batches of mezcal in small scale distilleries (palenques). Sometimes hiking for days to harvest wild growing (silvestre) mature agaves (up to 25 years old). The cooking process is varied but usually involves digging a pit in the earth where the agave is roasted for 4-5 days, then grinding by hand or stone wheel pulled by horses, fermenting in wooden or concrete tubs, distilling using copper or clay and finally hand numbering and signing the bottles.
Mezcal is served young… rather than aged like other spirits.…. the distinct flavors and characteristics derived entirely from any one of 30 different types of Agave, the region grown, and production methods used. Quality mezcal should have an alcohol content of at least 45% and produce many small “pearls” when shaken. Mezcal is traditionally served with slices of orange (to clear the palette between tastings) and Sal de Gusano, a mixture of salt, chilies and ground worm. Don’t shoot mezcal – it is said, you should “kiss it”. The four tasting and smelling categories…
1-Smoke from the wood used to cook it (eg. chocolate, wood, chili….)
2-Any of 30 essential oils that have survived the cooking process (eg. citrus, floral….)
3-Proteins and sugars from the cooked agave (eg. brown sugar, pumpkin….)
4-Flavors from the fermentation process (eg. fruit, leather, banana….)