Last Updated on November 5, 2023 by Lydia Martin
Suppose you’re a fan of smoky, complex flavors and enjoy exploring the world of spirits beyond your standard whiskey and tequila. In that case, mezcal might be your new go-to drink. With its unique blend of earthy, herbal, and sometimes even fruity notes, mezcal offers a one-of-a-kind taste experience that will leave a lasting impression.
But what exactly does mezcal taste like? Join me on a journey through the flavors of this distinctive Mexican spirit, and prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
What Does the Word “Mezcal” Mean?
The word “mezcal” comes from the Nahuatl language, which is an indigenous language of Mexico. The Nahuatl term for the agave plant is “metl,” and the word for the cooked agave hearts is “ixcalli.”
When these two words are combined, they form “metl-ixcalli,” which means “cooked agave.” Over time, this word evolved into “mezcal,” which is now used to refer to both the agave plant and the distilled spirit made from it.
What is Mezcal?
Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage from the agave plant, which is native to Mexico. Unlike tequila, which is made specifically from blue agave and only in certain regions of Mexico, mezcal can be made from any agave variety and produced in several states throughout the country. Because of this, mezcal is produced in different varieties of agave spirits .
Mezcal is typically made using traditional methods, which involve roasting the agave hearts (called “piñas”) in underground pits lined with volcanic rocks, which gives the spirit its signature smoky flavor. The roasted piñas are then mashed and fermented, and the resulting liquid is distilled to produce the final mezcal product.
Mezcal can vary in taste depending on the type of agave used, the region where it is produced, and the production methods employed. Still, it is generally considered to have a complex, earthy flavor profile with notes of smoke, spice, and fruit.
How was Mezcal Invented?
The exact origins of mezcal are unclear, as the production of distilled spirits from agave has been a part of Mexican culture for centuries. However, it is believed that the production of mezcal dates back at least 500 years, and some sources suggest that it may have even been produced by pre-Columbian civilizations in Mexico.
Mezcal production likely began as a way for people to preserve the agave plant, which was a key source of food and fiber in Mexico. The process of roasting and fermenting the agave hearts would have made them more durable and easier to store while also producing a liquid that could be used for medicinal or ceremonial purposes.
Over time, the production of mezcal became more specialized, and different regions of Mexico began to develop their own unique styles and production methods. Today, mezcal is still primarily produced using traditional methods, with many small-scale producers using techniques that have been passed down through generations of families .
What are the Raw Materials for Mezcal Production?
The raw material used to produce mezcal is the agave plant. Mezcal can be made from any variety of agave species. However, the most commonly used types are Espadín, Tobalá, and Tepeztate. The agave plants are typically grown in fields or wild in the hills and valleys of Mexico. Depending on the variety, they can take 7 to 30 years to mature.
The agave is harvested annually, and the large, fleshy heart of the plant, called the “piña,” is used as the starting material for making mezcal. Other than the agave, the other raw materials used in manufacturing mezcal are water and, in some cases, additional natural ingredients such as fruits, herbs, or spices.
The water is used for both the fermentation and distillation processes and plays a vital role in the final flavor and quality of the mezcal. However, it’s worth noting that while the raw materials used in production are relatively simple, the process itself is quite labor-intensive and requires a great deal of skill and expertise to produce a high-quality mezcal.
Additionally, the specific variety of agave species, the region where it is grown, and the production techniques employed can all significantly impact the mezcal’s final flavor and character.
How is Mezcal Produced?
The production of mezcal typically involves several steps, each of which plays a vital role in creating the final product. Here’s a comprehensive overview of how mezcal is produced:
- Harvesting and roasting the agave piñas: The first step in the production of mezcal is to harvest the mature agave plants and remove the leaves to reveal the piña, the large, fleshy heart of the plant. The piñas are then roasted in underground pits lined with lava rocks, which gives the mezcal its distinctive smoky flavor.
- Crushing and fermenting the piñas: After the roasting process, the piñas are crushed to extract the juice, which is then fermented using natural yeasts. Some producers may add additional ingredients during fermentation to impart flavor or complexity to the mezcal.
- Distillation: Once the fermentation is complete, the fermented liquid undergoes a comprehensive distillation process to create the final mezcal product. This involves heating the liquid from clay pots or copper pots to produce steam, which is then cooled and condensed back into a liquid, creating a higher alcohol concentration. A good mezcal product can range in alcohol content from 40-55% ABV.
- Aging: Some mezcals are aged in oak barrels or other containers for several months or even years. This can help mellow the flavor and add complexity to the mezcal.
It’s worth noting that while the basic process for making mezcal is relatively simple, there is a great deal of variation in the specific techniques and methods used by different producers. Some producers may use more modern equipment and techniques. In contrast, others may rely on traditional methods that have been used for generations.
Additionally, the specific agave variety, the region where it is grown, and the production techniques employed can all significantly impact the mezcal’s final flavor and character.
What Does Mezcal Taste Like?
Mezcal has a complex and distinctive flavor profile that can vary depending on several factors, including the specific agave species used, the region where it was grown, the production techniques employed, and the aging process. Here are some common flavor characteristics of mezcal:
- Smokiness: Mezcal is known for its smoky flavor, which comes from roasting the agave piñas in underground pits lined with volcanic rocks. This smokiness can range from subtle to intense and is a defining characteristic of mezcal.
- Earthiness: Mezcal often has an earthy, vegetal flavor, with notes of roasted agave, minerals, and sometimes even hints of clay.
- Fruitiness: Depending on the variety of agave used, mezcal may have a fruity flavor with notes of citrus, tropical fruits, or even berries.
- Spiciness: Some mezcals have a spicy kick with notes of black pepper, cinnamon, or other spices.
- Sweetness: Mezcal can have a subtle sweetness, with notes of caramel, honey, or vanilla.
- Alcohol and heat: Mezcal is a high-alcohol spirit, and some varieties can be quite strong, with a noticeable alcohol burn or heat on the finish.
Opening a bottle of mezcal gave me distinct feelings of a complex and layered spirit that offers a wide range of flavors and aromas. After drinking a shot, distinctive smokiness, earthiness, and fruitiness stroked through my throat, leaving me to conclude that this liquor is a way more unique and intriguing alternative to other spirits like tequila or whisky.
However, it’s important to note that the flavor profiles when tasting mezcal vary widely depending on the specific variety and production techniques used. Hence, it’s always a good idea to visit a nearby mezcal bar to sample a few different mezcal spirits to discover your personal preferences.
What are the Best Mezcal Brands?
Mezcal is a traditional spirit that has been produced for centuries in Mexico, and today there are many brands that make high-quality mezcals. Here are some of the most famous and highly regarded mezcal brands:
- Del Maguey: Founded in 1995, Del Maguey is one of the most well-known and respected mezcal brands. They produce a wide range of mezcals using traditional production techniques and work with small, family-owned distilleries in different regions of Mexico.
- Vida: Vida is a popular and accessible mezcal brand that offers a great introduction to the world of mezcal. Their mezcal is made using 100% organic agave and is distilled twice to produce a smooth and balanced flavor.
- El Silencio: El Silencio is a newer mezcal brand quickly gaining popularity for its high-quality mezcals and stylish branding. They offer several different varieties of mezcal, including a joven (unaged) mezcal and several aged mezcals.
- Mezcal Real Minero: Real Minero is a family-owned distillery that has been producing mezcal for generations. They use traditional production techniques and focus on creating mezcals that showcase the unique flavors of different agave varieties.
- Mezcalero: Mezcalero is a small-batch mezcal brand that works with different distilleries to produce unique and limited-edition mezcal. They offer a wide range of mezcals that showcase the diversity and complexity of the spirit.
- Los Danzantes: Los Danzantes is a Mexican distillery that produces both mezcal and artisanal Mexican spirits. Their mezcal is made using traditional techniques and agave from different regions of Mexico, resulting in a range of unique and flavorful mezcals.
These are just a few examples of the many excellent mezcal brands available today. It’s worth noting that the world of mezcal is constantly evolving, with new brands and varieties appearing all the time. Hence, there is always something new to discover and explore.
Why is Mezcal Expensive?
Mezcal can be more expensive than other spirits for several reasons:
- Production process: The production process for mezcal is more labor-intensive and time-consuming than other spirits, like tequila. The agave plants used to make mezcal are roasted in underground pits for several days, which requires a lot of manual labor and attention to detail. Additionally, many small-batch mezcals are produced using traditional methods that have been passed down for generations, which can be more expensive to maintain than modern industrial processes.
- Agave scarcity: Some varieties of agave used to make mezcal are rare or difficult to grow, which can drive up the cost of production. For example, the wild agave Tobalá is highly prized for its unique flavor profile. Still, it is relatively rare and difficult to cultivate, which makes it more expensive.
- Aging process: Some mezcals are aged in oak barrels, which can add to the cost of production. The longer a mezcal is aged, the more expensive it is likely to be, as aging requires additional storage space and time.
- Artisanal mezcal production: Many mezcals are produced by small, family-owned distilleries using traditional methods, which can be more expensive than large-scale industrial production. Additionally, some mezcals are produced in limited quantities, which can drive up the price due to their rarity and exclusivity.
Overall, mezcal can be more expensive than other spirits due to its unique production process, the rarity of certain agave varieties, and the artisanal nature of many producers. However, it’s important to note that not all mezcals are expensive, and many excellent mezcals are available at various price points.
Is mezcal worth the price?
Whether mezcal is worth the price depends on personal taste and preferences and the quality of the specific mezcal being considered. Mezcal can be more expensive than other spirits due to its unique production process and the rarity of some agave varieties. Still, many people find the complex and nuanced mezcal flavors worth the cost.
Additionally, many small-batch mezcal producers focus on sustainable and socially responsible production practices, which may also add value for some consumers. Ultimately, whether mezcal is worth the price is subjective and depends on individual tastes and values.
Is mezcal the same as tequila?
No, mezcal is not the same as tequila, although both spirits are made from agave. Tequila is a type of mezcal that can only be made from blue agave and is produced in certain regions of Mexico, including Jalisco and parts of four other states.
On the other hand, Mezcal can be made from various agave and produced in several different states in Mexico, including Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Durango. Additionally, the production processes for mezcal and tequila are different, with mezcal typically being roasted in underground pits, which gives it a distinctive smoky flavor.
Conversely, tequila is typically baked in earthen ovens and does not have the same smoky character as mezcal.
Does mezcal taste like tequila?
While both mezcal and tequila are made from agave and share some similarities in flavor, they have distinct taste profiles. Mezcal is generally smokier than tequila due to the traditional roasting of the agave hearts, which gives it a unique and complex flavor profile that can include notes of smoke, earthiness, and fruitiness.
Conversely, tequila is typically less smoky and herbaceous, with flavors that can range from sweet and fruity to spicy and peppery. Additionally, different types of agave are used in the production of mezcal and tequila, which can also contribute to differences in flavor.
Is mezcal hallucinogenic?
No, mezcal is not hallucinogenic. While some traditional mezcal production methods involve the use of the agave plant’s “piña” heart, which contains the natural compound mescaline, the concentration of mescaline in mezcal is generally too low to have any psychoactive effects.
Additionally, most commercial mezcals are produced using modern methods that do not involve the use of mescaline-containing plant material. Therefore, while some people may associate mezcal with hallucinogenic properties, no scientific evidence supports these claims.
What are the popular beliefs about mezcal?
Mezcal has a long history and many cultural associations in Mexico, which have given rise to several popular beliefs and traditions surrounding the spirit. Some examples of popular beliefs about mezcal include:
1. Mezcal has mystical properties: Some people believe that mezcal has spiritual or mystical properties and that drinking it can help connect them with their ancestors or the natural world.
2. Mezcal is a symbol of Mexican culture: Mezcal is often seen as a symbol of Mexican culture and is associated with traditions such as the Day of the Dead and other celebrations.
3. Mezcal is an aphrodisiac: In some communities, mezcal is believed to have aphrodisiac properties and is consumed as a way to increase sexual potency or fertility.
4. Mezcal is good for your health: Some people believe that mezcal has health benefits, such as improving digestion or reducing inflammation.
5. Mezcal should be consumed with certain rituals: Some ancestral mezcal rituals involve specific steps for pouring and drinking the spirit, such as toasting to particular deities or ancestors or drinking from a hollowed-out gourd.
These beliefs and traditions reflect the cultural significance of mezcal in Mexico and illustrate the deep connections between the spirit and Mexican history, culture, and spirituality.
In conclusion, mezcal is a complex and nuanced spirit with a wide range of flavors that can vary depending on the type of agave used, the production methods, and the aging process. From smokey and earthy to sweet and fruity, mezcal offers a diverse range of taste profiles, making it a fascinating and distinctive spirit.
Mezcal will surely provide a unique and memorable drinking experience, unlike any other spirit, whether sipped neat or mixed in a cocktail. So why not try a sip and see for yourself what all the fuss is about? Cheers to the wonderful world of mezcal!