Ron Cooper from Del Maguel says that Mexicans have a phrase “ You don’t find Mezcal, Mezcal finds you” and so it did.
Little did I know that it would be at the incredible Nud and Chris’s Breddos Tacos and that on that night in question surrounded by some of my favourite people , we would get to share mezcal from kiddies plastic beach buckets through long straws and ice.
It was on a beautiful warm 4th of July night and Felix of The Fine Cider Co had organised an evening of food and cider at Breddos. Nud and Chris had just returned from Oaxaca with fresh supplies. We got to share mezcal from kiddies plastic beach buckets through long straws and ice. That evening ended with Ryan B, Mary T and myself slipping off for more cocktails into the early hours, a great finale to a great day because I had just tasted for the first time, a drink new to me, that just got me so excited and I knew nothing about it.
Mezcal literally translates as “oven cooked agave”.
It is made from around 30 varietals of agave, with 7 dominating. Grown in desert land , the hearts are chopped out of the monster plants and then cooked in a pit (covered with stone) for 3 days, then the cooked agave is mixed with water and spontaneously fermented in barrels, then double distilled in alembic stills. The liquid is colourless and translucent and traditionally drunk neat as a single village mezcal, where it would be made with great pride for celebrations and traditional festive days. The knowledge passed from generation to generation.
Ron Cooper illuminates the rise of this agricultural drink in his book “Finding Mezcal”. The story in the US was of terrible hangovers for college kids who drank poorly made Mezcal but the cool kids sought out the good stuff and developed an appreciation for this smokey spirit. They sought out the good producers, driving down miles and miles of dirt roads, dozens of miles from the nearest highway in Oaxaca in Mexico where 90% of all Mezcal is made. Looking for the tell tale grinders that signalled the location of a mezcal producer. The first people to appreciate Mezcal were the chefs who in turn influenced the bar tenders who then found the mixologists and eventually sommeliers. Currently some 330 hectares of agave are grown, some 9000 producers make 6 million litres a year and about 150 brands are in the market place and growing.
As for the future, it seems that agave varietal is probably not the way to go in marketing but single village marques or distinctive expressions that show the hand of the maker or the altitude/terroir may be.
Within Mexico, mezcal is regulated under Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM) regulations and certification began in 2005. The regulations have been controversial, not only for small artisanal producers for whom the cost of certification is prohibitive, but also from traditional producers outside the chosen GI (Geographical Indication) states and those producers who believe that the term “mezcal” should not be owned by the state. Uncertified producers are prohibited from using the term "mezcal" on their products. Some producers and importers have responded by labeling their products as “destilados de agave” or “agave spirits”.
Such are things with Mezcal and there are many other similarities with cider and its' stately progress but what a drink.
Thanks to Meanwhile Drinks and Pensador for:
Nose: Spicy and smoky nose with hints of light citrus and hazelnut.
Palate: Spiced, fruity palate. Smoked almond, a little light peach juice and hints of potpourri and mixed spices.
Finish: Tobacco and cinnamon on the tail.
but there are many, many more to explore.