Meet Mezcal

Close your eyes and take a sip of a good mezcal and you might envision the bucolic scene from which it springs. Huge agave piñas roast over wood fire in an earthen pit. A horse slowly traces circles around a mill, pulling the stone wheel that grinds the raw material into juice. Airborne yeast ferments the liquid in wooden vats before a wood-fueled pot still distills it.  

Once derided as a crude cousin of Tequila, mezcal is gaining respect and fans through the artisanal traditions that give it its spicy and smoky character. Understanding and tasting mezcal are the keys to appreciating it. First forget the worm. You’ll not encounter one in any listed here. Next, know that while Tequila has stricter production regulations (it is limited mainly to the state of Jalisco and made out of nothing but blue agave), mezcal, which can be made in nine Mexican states, takes advantage of the option to use any of about 30 agave species. Espadin is well known in the U.S. Tobalá is the most common of the wild agaves.

Mezcal uses some of the same age designations as Tequila. Joven (sometimes called blanca) is unaged. Reposado indicates two to nine months in wood, and añejo is matured at least a year. Many purists, however, reject aging as they prefer to taste the agave’s charms unadorned by wood.

After years of importing industrial mezcal, the U.S. is now privy to artisanal products. The latest is from George Clooney’s Casamigos (80 proof, $60), with pronounced fruits like peach and banana. Chichicapa (92 proof, $70), part of Del Maguey’s Single Village collection, smacks of mint, citrus, salt and oak. Sombra (90 proof, $45) is a slightly smoky joven, which delivers bright citrus, mint and bread dough flavors. Leyenda makes a blanco in the state of Puebla that is fermented from tobalá agave and quite fruity with a mint and toffee (94 proof, $85). The Kimo Sabe joven combines steamed and roasted agave to produce a bright profile with sweetness, lemon and tea (86 proof, $40). Cooked in an autoclave instead of oven roasted, Zignum Añejo lacks the smoke of the other mezcals, but at 18 months is smooth and sugary with vanilla (80 proof, $50). Creyente (80 proof, $60) blends mezcal from two regions for a meaty, peppery taste. Ilegal Añejo (80 proof, $110) shows chocolate, fruits and leather. Montelobos (86.4 proof, $40) achieves a good balance between smoke and spicy jalapeño. 

In his comprehensive book Finding Mezcal (Ten Speed Press, $30), Del Maguey founder Ron Cooper lists 40 cocktails made with mezcal, but a good cigar also makes a great mixer.

Drink

More in The Good Life

See all
Carl F. Bucherer’s Heritage BiCompax Annual Evokes a Sporty-Chic 1950s Chrono

Carl F. Bucherer’s Heritage BiCompax Annual Evokes a Sporty-Chic 1950s Chrono

Following its initial unveiling at the Baselworld Fair in Switzerland last spring, Carl F. Bucherer’s …

Jan 15, 2020
LSU Football Celebrates Championship With Cigars Despite Cops Trying to Stop Them

LSU Football Celebrates Championship With Cigars Despite Cops Trying to Stop Them

Heisman Trophy winning star quarterback Joe Burrow lit up a victory cigar right after throwing for a …

Jan 14, 2020
Jack Nicklaus Rolex Sells for Record $1.2 Million

Jack Nicklaus Rolex Sells for Record $1.2 Million

The Golden Bear’s gold Rolex made history this week.

Dec 13, 2019
A Caribbean Cuban Cigar Celebration

A Caribbean Cuban Cigar Celebration

Cigars. Rum. Chocolate. The Dutch-speaking Caribbean island of Curaçao. All of these ingredients …

Dec 9, 2019
Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce in all its glory.

Oct 24, 2019
Baseball At 150: Five Problems

Baseball At 150: Five Problems

Major league baseball turned 150 years old this year. But the game is far from perfect.

Oct 15, 2019