The History of Mezcal

Cheers to the spicy cousin of tequila

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Mezcal is often confused with tequila. However, they are two very different spirits and should not be confused with one another. Mezcal is another name for the maguey plant, as well as the generic name for spirits distilled from agave. Technically, tequila is a form of mezcal, not the other way around!

400 years ago, when the Spanish conquerors arrived in Mexico, they taught distillation techniques to the native inhabitants and the first distilled spirit in the Americas was born: Mezcal.

Mezcal can be made from 11 different types of agave that are native to Oaxaca, which is where these are mostly made. These agave include quishe, pasmo, tepestate, tobala, espadin, largo, pulque, azul, blanco, ciereago and mexicano, but around 90 percent of mezcal is made from the agave espadin. Mezcal is native to the states of San Luis Potosi, Michoacan, Jalisco, Durango, Morelos, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas. Oaxaca is considered the official home of mezcal, as it produces 60 percent of the country’s mezcal.

Producers of mezcal in Oaxaca still use the same traditional method of roasting the agave in underground wood-fired pits and distilling in small-batch, copper pot stills. This important drink of rustic Oaxaca is the traditional toast of ceremonial occasions, such as baptisms and weddings.

Like a whiskey or scotch, mezcal has many variations and characteristics as a result of the different types of agave that are used to produce it. The priciest mezcal, which is smooth, amber-colored and aged in oak barrels, can sell for more than $60 a bottle. The lower end of the spectrum is clear and throat-burning, and usually has a worm in it. Mezcal is also protected as an “Appellation of Origin,” and the Official Mexican Standard acts as a type of support in the process of certification, verification and monitoring of mezcal.

Sara Kay, The Spir.it