400 years ago, when the Spanish arrived in Mexico they carried with them the art of distillation. It was not long before they passed on their knowledge to the native inhabitants of the “New World”. Using the techniques to cook and distill the agave plant, the ancestors of today’s Mezcaleros, gave birth to the first “spirit” of the Americas: Mezcal.
THE WORD MEZCAL
The word “mezcal” comes from Nahuatl mexcalli [meʃˈkalːi], which means "oven-cooked agave". It has a distinct smoky flavor which is generated from the unique manner in which the agave is “baked”. There are over 40 varieties of agave, any of which can be used to produce Mezcal, but each of which has its own flavor.
Mezcal & tequila
Interestingly, despite its notoriety, Tequila is technically a Mezcal, which is made only from Blue Agave and only in the Country of Mexico and only in the State of Jalisco. However, due to government control and regulations, “Tequila” cannot be called Mezcal, as it has its own Appellation of Origin (AO or DO). Mezcal also has been recognized internationally with its DO since 1994, and can legally only be produced in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosí, Puebla and Zacatecas.
To achieve the smoky taste of Mezcal, agave hearts are charred and deeply roasted in fire pits. After extracting the “juice” from the cooked agave hearts, it is fermented and distilled to produce Mezcal Joven. Mezcal that is aged in wood barrels for at least a month is referred to as “Reposado”, and if it is aged over a year, it is known as “Anejo.”
Types of mezcal
Type I Mezcal is made with 100% agave, does not require any additional fermenting agent, and is generally considered the superior liquor; while Type II is made with at least 80% agave, and is mixed with another fermenting agent, like cane sugar.