An idiot’s guide to mezcal

Everyone’s heard of tequila, that yellowish booze we took too many shots of once and have sworn off forever. Far fewer people have heard of mezcal, a liquor made from the maguey (a.k.a. agave) plant of Mexico. While tequila is only made from blue agave, mezcal can be distilled from a variety of species in the maguey family. How should a beginner avoid the hangover inducing, worm-in-the-bottle brands and get straight to the good stuff?

  1. Look for the phrase “100% de agave” on the label, which means it’s made only from maguey.
  2. The minimum alcohol content should be 45% alc. vol. or higher.
  3. The label should indicate the town and state of origin, type of maguey and name of the mezcalero (distiller).
  4. Shake the bottle to see if a ring of bubbles or “pearls” forms around the edge. If they don’t form, don’t buy it – unless it’s a mezcal of 55% or more. In this case, the pearls will only form while you’re shaking.
  5. Don’t buy reposados or anejados/aged in oak (indicated by an amber color). The wood destroys its delicate flavors and aromas.
  6. Rub a drop of mezcal in between your hands. As it evaporates, you’ll smell the cooked maguey.
  7. Enjoy the mezcal in a traditional jicara de bule or a wide mouthed glass.
  8. Smell the mezcal before drinking. Look for the aroma that you noticed when you rubbed your hands together.
  9. Drink a small sip and rinse your mouth for 10 seconds without swallowing. Let the vapors exit through your nose. Swallow and notice the tastes on your palate.
  10. Take another sip, pass it around your mouth for 10 seconds and savor before swallowing. Notice the flavors that return from your stomach; those are the finest and most exquisite of mezcal. After a few minutes, your palate will be immersed in cooked maguey.

From the Mezcaloteca’s tasting guide.

Enjoying mezcal with the appropriate cup
Enjoying mezcal with the appropriate cup14-Jun-2011 20:39, Canon Canon PowerShot S90, 2.0, 6.0mm, 0.05 sec, ISO 1000

A big thanks to our wonderful Couchsurfing hosts, Pedro and Alessandra, who took introduced to Oaxaca’s state treasure…Mezcal. And to quote a wise Oaxacan proverb:

Para tiempos mal, mezcal.
Para tiempos bien, tambien!

(For bad times, mezcal. For good times, too!)


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