We love to hear the question “What is mezcal?” because it gives us a chance to turn someone on to the beautiful world of this complex spirit. Here at Espita Mezcaleria, it is our goal to be serious about mezcal so that you don’t have to be. We are one of the only restaurants in the world that has two trained Master Mezcaliers on staff! We present our mezcal in a way that is approachable yet informational, in a setting that is fun and relaxed. For those who want to learn more about the intricacies of our favorite agave spirit, we are more than happy to go down the rabbit hole. Here in this post, we’d like to start with the basics.
- The historical definition of mezcal is any distilled spirit made from fermented agave. This includes tequila, but goes far beyond that to include more than 50 types of agave varietals commonly used in the production of mezcal. Over 90% of all mezcal is produced from Espadin. Other varietals include Barril, Cuiche, Madrecuixe, Tobaziche, Tobala, Tepeztate, Blanco, Sierra Negra, Mexicana, Arroqueno, and Coyote, amongst many others. We have a rotating menu of these available at Espita as well as flights for you to compare and find your favorite flavor profiles.
- The modern legal definition is any agave spirit grown in the 8 southern states in Mexico that make up the mezcal denomination of origin. Any agave with a high enough concentration of sugar to ferment naturally can be used. Unlike tequila, artisanal mezcal has to be 100% agave, but can have other things added to the still or bottle (this is to allow for things like pechugas or the odd bottle with a worm or scorpion). Mezcal must be between 36 and 55% ABV, although locally produced bottles not intended for export will occasionally be higher.
Like the grapes in wine, the varietal of agave used is the single biggest factor in determining the end flavor profile of a mezcal. Also like wine, it is common to blend agaves in mezcal production. The historical reason for this is people would just make mezcal with the agaves on their land or in their village. With access to agaves from further distances, some mezcaleros are now very purposefully blending agaves to get their desired flavor profile.
Again similar to grapes, the climate and land can have a huge impact on the agave and the resulting mezcal. As with grapes, the more the agave has to struggle, the more interesting the flavor of the resulting mezcal. Things like altitude, variation in rain amounts, direct sunlight, etc. all have an impact. Unlike grapes, since agaves go through multiple years of weather patterns before they mature and are harvested, the portion of terroir attributed to weather makes almost every agave entirely unique. An easy way of thinking about it is that a grape grown in a hot wet year will taste similar to a grape grown in a different hot wet year. An agave, on the other hand, will have a unique weather pattern over a number of years that is virtually impossible to replicate.
Artisanal and ancestral styles of mezcal (a.k.a. the good stuff), come from agaves cooked in an earthen pit oven called a ‘horno’. The piñas are baked in the horno for a few days. In case you’ve ever wondered where the smoke element comes from, now you know!