Mezcal is a traditional Mexican drink gradually gaining worldwide popularity, attracting many people’s interest.
However, as with any other distillate, Mezcal is quite strong and possesses a delicate smoky note that should be carefully appreciated.
That’s why I want to share with you some essential tips. Whether you’re new to Mezcal or have tried it before, there’s always something new to learn.
“Kiss” your Mezcal, don’t drink it
This is a basic lesson: Mezcal is not to be drunk. It is to be kissed.
Pour it into a small glass up to the top; then, bring the glass slowly to your lips and sip a little bit.
The expert Mezcaleros say this is to “warn the body” of what it is about to receive since the first sips can be very aggressive to the palate.
You may want to read: Is Mezcal a Type of Tequila?: A Complete Guide to Agave Spirits
The first sip usually feels like just a hit of alcohol; until the third sip, you’ll start to perceive the different flavor notes.
After that, take it easy; Mezcal is a powerful liquor with an alcoholic level and complex flavors.
It is made to be enjoyed slowly, so for God’s sake, forget the shots.
Mezcal is not just good in Oaxaca
Remember, Mezcal is produced in 26 Mexican states even though the Denomination of Origin only recognizes 9. Let me explain:
Each region produces a different and unique mezcal since the variety of agaves is immense.
The factors that determine how Mezcal is made and what it tastes like are considerably variable: the soil, the climate, the water, the mezcalero’s recipe, everything is taken into account.
This is the magic of Mezcal: each drink represents a region’s geography and a community’s cultural identity.
Each Mezcal you try will offer something different, and you may never finish getting to know all the mezcals Mexico is fortunate enough to produce.
- Be sure to try the mezcals from Durango, which are among the most complex (between sweet and mineral) and intense you will find
- Or those from Michoacan, distinguishable for their aroma reminiscent of cheese
- Or those from Guerrero, which are more vegetal (also very recognizable for the characteristic, slightly acidic flavor of the cupreata -their endemic agave-)
Don’t trust Mezcal with worms, please!
A long time ago, in one of my visits to Oaxaca, I learned that putting a maguey worm in the bottle of Mezcal is nothing more than a sales gimmick that, in addition, damages the quality and flavor of the distillate.
Don’t get impressed by the terms “artisanal,” “sustainable,” and “organic” because not everything is what it seems.
A good bottle of Mezcal acknowledges the “master maker” on the label, the region where it’s produced, the type of agave it is made from, the date of production, and the cooking method used.
Some even specify the type of yeast—the more detailed the information, the better.
But what about Mezcals without a label?
You will have to learn to distinguish a good Mezcal by how it smells and tastes. Just like you would with wine.
There are many unlabeled Mezcals of excellent quality and flavor, just as many that are sold in gourmet stores and are really bad.
And as for Mezcals with worms, well, you get the point.
Chicken breast Mezcal. Wait, what?
It might sound weird for the waiter to tell you that your Mezcal is made from Pechuga (breast), Pechuga what? Chicken. Really? Yes.
Pechuga mezcals are macerated in the still (after they are finished) with different blends that usually include fruits, spices, and pieces of raw meat (most commonly chicken breast, although turkey or rabbit is also used).
This process is almost always done under some ceremonial ritual such as a wedding, funeral, birth, Day of the Dead, or Christmas, giving the Mezcal unique flavors.
The Mezcal rests with the breast for at least 12 hours, so the evaporating liquor captures the soul of the bird as it rises; the meat is steamed, and the fat drips over the pot, something you will notice in the flavor.
Ultimately, the breast falls apart and becomes the size of a walnut.
It’s a very nice Mezcal. But don’t worry, it’s not sold with a piece of chicken breast in the bottle. That would be unpleasant.
All Mezcals are smoky, but too much smoke is not good
As I said earlier, Mezcal is distinguished from other distillates by its characteristic smoky aroma and flavor because, in the process, the “piñas” (the hearts of the agave) are roasted in subway ovens.
To make tequila, the piñas are steamed, so there are no smoky notes in this distillate.
However, when Mezcal tastes too smoky, it is considered a flaw rather than a virtue.
This may be because the “pineapples” were burned, losing their natural aromas.
The best Mezcals are always clear
Unlike tequilas, rested and aged Mezcals in wooden barrels are not as prized (although sometimes prices say otherwise).
In the Mezcal world, it is believed that aging in wooden barrels spoils Mezcal’s fine flavor and delicate aroma. It changes them considerably and not necessarily for the better.
Mezcals are rested in glass, so they don’t acquire a woody flavor or color.
Some places, such as Michoacan, are left to age underground for nine or more months. The flavor improves a lot, but the color does not change.
Choose the one you like best. Remember that young Mezcals are spicier and more intense on the palate and alcoholic.
Reposados are smoother and sweeter, allowing you to recognize more aromas and flavors from the agave without the strong alcohol hit.
Avoid lime and orange wedges with salt
Seriously, Mezcal is a delicious but complex drink; the best way to enjoy it is neat.
The lemon with salt and the orange with worm salt (which is sometimes actually Tajín) alter its flavor a lot, so if you want to enjoy the goodness of Mezcal, drink it (or rather, kiss it) alone.
If you find it too strong, you can try a mezcal cocktail first. Purists will say it’s sacrilege, but hey, this is a free world.
So which is the best Mezcal? The one you like best!
These are just tips. There are no absolute rules, and no “Mezcal police” will punish you if you break any of the rules, so relax and enjoy.
Try as many mezcals as possible, so you’ll find your flavor profile and pick your favorites. The more you try, the better.
There are so many commercial brands and rustic Mezcals that it is impossible to talk about which are the best or worst.
I believe that the best will always be the one that makes you happy.