As a band of travel bandits who like to explore the nooks and crannies of the world for lovely liquor, we like nothing more than to share our findings. Who knew, learning can be fun!
We’ve complied a little light reading below on some of our favourite spirits of the moment. Want to know more? No problem…pop to the bar, speak to our friendly team and discover how we use these spirits in our cocktails, or just enjoy them straight up!
“What is mezcal?”, we hear you shout! Well, it’s an umbrella term for an ancient array of agave spirits that hails from Mexico, particularly the Oaxaca region. Unlike tequila, which by law must be made from blue weber agave, mezcal can be made from 30-plus varietals and can be clear, golden, or amber.
Mezcal came first. In fact, tequila is actually just a kind of mezcal. So, in a way, you’ve been drinking mezcal for a while now! Yep, basically mezcal is any liquor made from the agave desert plant. As you’ve discovered above, Tequila is the product of just one agave varietal - Blue Weber, while mezcal can be made from upwards of 30 kinds of agave - though the majority is made with agave Espadin.
The science bit. As with tequila, mezcal relies on both the long maturation period of agave and its one-time use: the piñas, or hearts, of the agave are harvested and roasted and the whole thing needs to start again, with a new plant. The big difference in flavour profile is that in mezcal, agave hearts are charred and deeply roasted in pits called “palenques”, imparting a smokiness to the flavour that likens it to a peaty Scotch. But different!
Back to the mixto. Like tequila, mezcal might also be mixto but whereas a mixto tequila only has to have 51% agave, a mixto mezcal must be at least 80% agave with the rest likely to be derived from sugar cane. Roughly speaking, this means mezcal will have a more smoky flavour profile.
As for mezcals with the worm (or “gusano”) - don’t bother! While the reason is obscure and different versions as to where it originated from, one story says that the worm was placed in the bottles to prove that the alcohol is high enough to preserve a worm intact. The worm itself is the larva of two moths that live on the agave plant and as many a brave soul has discovered, they are safe to consume!
For those still thirsty for knowledge, here are some other Mexican spirits:
Pulque: Pulque is an old spirit that was once very popular in Mexico. The main difference between it and tequila or mezcal is that the agave is not cooked prior to extracting the juices.
Sotol: Sotol is a regional variety of mezcal from Chihuahua and is made from another succulent called dasylirion. It is often aged for six months and is rarelyfound outside of its region of origin.
Raicilla: Pronounced “rye-see-yah,” raicilla is often referred to as Mexican moonshine. It is a popular treat for tourists visiting Puerta Vallarta where it is almost exclusively made today. The Agave inaequidens is the plant from which it is made. Until recently, it was illegal to make, but bootleggers kept it alive through the years. This is typically drunk straight, chilled or with grapefruit soda (such as the paloma).
Baconara: Baconara has a similar story to raicilla and was outlawed until 1992. It is made in the state of Sonora from the Agave pacifica (or Agave yaquinana), which is roasted underground in lava rock-lined pits. It is rare to find it outside of the region.