In our June issue, publisher Dave Spanton took a trip through Oaxaca as part of his agave spirit tour with the incomparable Phil Bayly and Tomas Estes. Oaxaca obviously is all about the mezcal, and we checked out just what it is that makes mezcal the elemental spirit that it is. See below for a guide on identifying traditional, artisanal mezcal.
By David Spanton
I think the flyer best describes Mezcaloteca: “as a civil society organization dedicated to the conservation and dissemination of traditional agave mezcals and distillates. The mezcal and agave distillates found in Mezcalotecca come from different states within Mexico and have met all the requirements to be considered part of the universe of traditional mezcals”. Well said and a wonderful place to listen, learn and stock up on some extremely rare mezcals for your back bar or in my case to keep staff happy… Don’t miss this place.
Mezcaloteca’s Guide to Identifying Traditional Mezcals
1. Ensure that your label reads “100% de agave”. This indicates that the mezcal is made purely of maguey.
2. Minimum alcohol content
to be 45%.
3. Label should indicate the exact provenance (village or state) of the mezcal, as well as the type of maguey used and the mezcal’s craftsman, or maestro.
4. Gently shake the bottle to check for the formation of bubbles, or “pearls”. If no “pearls” form, do not buy the mescal unless alcohol content is 55% or higher.
5. Avoid buying mezcals that are rested (“reposado”) or aged (“anejado”) these can be recognized by their amber colour. The wood used in the process destroys the flavour and delicate aromas of the mezcal.
6. Rub a drop of mezcal between your hands. As it evaporates you will be able to smell the aroma of cooked maguey.
7. Mezcal is best enjoyed in a wide-mouth glass or “Jicara”.
8. Pour some mezcal from one glass to another, in order to check once more for the formation of “pearls”.
9. Smell the mezcal before drinking it. You will find the aroma you sensed when rubbing it between your hands. Different aromas will soon become apparent. Keep your mouth closed as you initially breathe in the scent, and open it to fully recognize the aroma.
10. Take a small sip, rinsing your mouth with the mezcal for
ten seconds, exhaling its
vapour through your nose. Swallow the first sip and
focus on the flavour coming to
life on your palate.
11. Take another sip; savour it for ten seconds before swallowing. Take note of the flavours rising from your stomach – they are the mezcal’s finest and most exquisite. After several minutes your palate will be blossoming with the flavour of cooked maguey.