The Curve is dedicated to exploring and feeling out the corners of complex, multi-dimensional, often hierarchical and always completely random subjects. The aim is to inform readers – in progressive, graduating fashion – on everything from gin and poems to cheeseburgers and trees.
This edition of The Curve is all about mezcal, as written by Alimentaria Mexicana and Chancho’s resident mezcal expert, Taylor Walker…
“[T]his is a deep-rooted, community based culture. Traditions and methods that have endured and are – at their heart – indigenous. Like language or food, it is theirs and they are proud of it. Always respect that culture.”
Beginner: Sip it, don’t shoot it!
Before we begin, it is important to understand that mezcal is a truly singular spirit. There is nothing like it. Colloquially ‘mezcal’ refers to any spirit that is distilled from the agave plant. For example, all tequila is mezcal but not all mezcal is tequila. The main way to distinguish mezcal will be from the agave (genus) or maguey (species) varietal. The nuance will vary from state to village to mezcalero to production method and, although it may seem complex, there is nothing to be intimidated by. If you are new to mezcal, I would recommend that you start by tasting through maguey espadin. It is a younger, wide spread varietal that will typically be more approachable. It is a super adaptable species, so you should notice the impact of the terroir and production method from bottle to bottle.
‘Alipus’ and ‘Nuestra Soledad’ are two brands I would recommend. Both offer a great variety of single village batches that are great for those who are just getting started. But remember: sip it, don’t shoot it!
Intermediate: Take with a grain of ‘Sal de Gusano’
This is where you can really start to have some fun and take a deep dive into different agave varietals. Think about the tasting profiles that you enjoy and find mezcales that will allow you to explore different flavours. If you like a dry, earthy mezcal, keep an eye out for magueyes like Tobasiche, Madrecuishe and Cuishe. Is green and vegetal more your thing? Tepeztate might be the one for you. Floral and grassy? Check out Tobalá. Just be sure to understand that, while tasting notes are useful, they are totally subjective and can be reductive to the overall experience of drinking mezcal. In México, both agave and nomenclature vary from village to village, sometimes even within a few kilometres, so it is important to take it all with a grain of salt (preferably ‘Sal de Gusano’, aka ‘Worm Salt’). Take some time to learn about the process, from harvest to distillation and everything in between. Discover what makes agave so unique.
‘Koch’ and ‘El Jolgorio’ have some wonderful offerings if you want to work your way through different agave. I invite you to try as much variety as you can. Know what you like but always be curious.
Expert: Raicilla, Bacanora, Sotol and beyond…
The world of mezcal expands and amazes the deeper you go down the rabbit hole. There are ‘destilados de agave’- essentially uncertified mezcal produced in a way that doesn’t abide by regulations implemented by the government – that are truly badass and well worth exploring. Raicilla from Jalisco, a historically clandestine, rebel love-child of tequila and mezcal is totally unique. Bacanora from Sonora, the desert spirit akin to moonshine produced with no less pride nor more legality for the better part of a century. Or the refined cowboy cousin, Sotol, hailing from the northern states of Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila. Not distilled from agave, but every bit a part of the family. The list goes on and on, as should you. Every state in México can lay claim to a spirit distilled from agave. Try it all, this is the way to gain an in-depth understanding of this remarkable and enduring spirit.
At this point, anything from ‘5 Sentidos’ is a no-brainer. Thoughtfully produced, small batch and totally singular destilados. Special in every way. I also encourage you to seek out bottles of Raicilla, Sotol and Bacanora wherever you can find them.
Extra Credit: Go on a mythical journey
Well the slam dunk here would be Oaxaca. If you want to visit, learn, taste and experience everything that encompasses mezcal, then this is it. A truly special, almost mythical place that will without doubt leave you with a sense of awe. A bucket list, no-brainer for anyone as nerdy as I am. However, you may just find an equal amount of enjoyment in most mezcal producing states. Puebla, Durango, Michoacan, and San Luis Potosi all have an incredible, long documented history of production and wonderful juice, and Guerrero – which, in my opinion, is producing some of the most interesting mezcales out there. If you want to stay closer to home, check out México in a Bottle, an incredible US based tasting event organized by Mezcalistas and perfect for any level of mezcal knowledge. Or any day of the week, just pop on by Alimentaria or Chancho. We’re always happy to pour a copita and talk agave!
I would like to close by encouraging you to enjoy mezcal however you choose: be it neat, in a cocktail, or otherwise. I only ask that you do so with the understanding that this is a deep-rooted, community based culture. Traditions and methods that have endured and are – at their heart – indigenous. Like language or food, it is theirs and they are proud of it. Always respect that culture.
Nice article! And thanks for the Mexico in a Bottle shout out 🙂