October 5, 2016 7:09 pm

The agave juices Jimador Many of us are already familiar with tequila, but what about mezcal? Before going over their differences, let’s talk about why they are often referred to as cousin spirits. Like tequila, mezcal comes from the agave plant. In fact, tequila used to be called mezcal, until its name was adopted from the town in the state of Jalisco called Tequila, where it was produced on a grander scale for the first time. Like a good tequila, mezcal is sipped and enjoyed; you do not shoot it. During a mezcal tasting you will be asked to first rub some of the alcohol on the top of your hand to take in the aroma; then you drink a small sip and swirl it in your mouth to let the flavors slowly emerge. Drinking a good tequila or mezcal is a true cultural tradition, almost a ritual, that Mexicans are surely proud of. There are many technical differences between mezcal and tequila and we will only be scratching the surface on this subject. First, let’s get to know the natural source: The Agave Plant – The ideal growing conditions for agaves are open areas with rocky soil and abundant sun. These plants might all look the same to us, but there are 200+ species of agave in the American Continent and 75% of these can be found in Mexico. Around 39 can be used for mezcal, Espadín being one of the most popular ones. Tequila can only be made from one type of agave: the blue agave. Tequila & Mezcal are produced in different regions of Mexico Tequila is produced in the entire state of Jalisco and in certain municipalities of Michoacan, Guanajuato, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Mezcal can only come from these “approved” states: Guerrero, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Durango, six districts of Oaxaca, one municipality of Guanajuato and eleven municipalities in Tamaulipas, and recently approved, Michoacán. The state of Oaxaca is where most of mezcals are made. Production Process One of the main differences between mezcal and tequila is their production process. When the agave plant is ready for harvesting, the jimador (the harvester) shears-off the pointy leaves with a coa (a manual-handheld tool for harvesting) revealing the core, which is called the piña (pineapple). Up until this moment the production process of mezcal and tequila is the same. Then comes the way the piña is cooked…this is when the magic happens. The Smoky Flavor When making mezcal, the piñas are cooked in a cone-shaped large pit in the ground. A fire is lit in the bottom of the pit to heat-up the fire-proof bricks that line the pit. The piñas are cut in half and placed in the pit, they are then covered with soil, clay and leaves of the agave plant, which contain a natural yeast. They are left in the smoky underground “oven” for several days; this process is what gives it the signature smoky flavor. Once the piñas are ready they are crushed with a tahona, which traditionally consists of a device in which a horse, an ox or a donkey, pulls in circles a large wheel made of stone. The stone crushes the piñas and separates the fiber from the juice, which is then moved to the fermentation and distillation process. Mezcal must be distilled in either a clay pots — which gives it an earthy flavor — or in copper pots, which produces a smoother spirit. MEZCAL: the farm-to-table version of Tequila? Perhaps one of the main reasons of why mezcal is gaining popularity is because of the global trend of artisanal, handcrafted, not mass-produced products. Simple production processes and purity in ingredients is what consumers search for these days, and mezcal fits right in. It is said that mezcal is an “artisanal” spirit because of the handcrafted approach, and the fact that its production process that dates back hundreds of years. Unique batches – Each “batch” of mezcal is unique and it might take a farmer up to 10 years to grow the same plant again. Due to natural factors, each batch is always different, even if it comes from the same agave plant. Producers number each bottle from one batch and if you run-out of your favorite, like wine, the next batch/year may not be exactly the same. With tequila you have the same flavor and quality every time, due to the more industrialized production process. You can also find mezcals that are produced in large facilities, and as you get to know mezcal you will notice the difference. It’s something like eating Mrs. Fields cookies or a fresh batch from the local bakery. With tequila, the piñas are steamed in traditional brick ovens or stainless steel autoclaves (the more industrial way) converting complex carbohydrates into simple fermentable sugars. The traditional piña crushing process is the same as for mezcal; however, modern distilleries now use a mechanical crusher. Many distilleries add cultivated yeast to the juices to speed-up fermentation; traditionally, the yeast that grows on leaves of the agave would be used. After fermentation comes the aging process in oak barrels to create the reposados (rested) and añejos (aged). For silver or white tequila distillation is the final process it undergoes. [caption id="attachment_1782" align="aligncenter" width="215"]old Agave landscape old Agave landscape[/caption] The presentation Mezcal is preferably served in a gourd in order to conserve the purity of the flavor. It’s usually accompanied by orange slices and sal de gusano (a mix of salt, toasted and ground agave worms and chile). The traditional Mexican way to serve tequila (especially in the mainland) is with a sangrita, a tomato-based juice that accentuates the tequila’s flavors and helps cleanse the palate. Some people prefer tequila, some prefer mezcal. It’s a matter of personal taste. Maybe try a mezcal next time and see if you’re a tequila person or a mezcal one. *  Un pajarito nos dijo… – a little bird told us…– We all know that Cabo’s legendary icon  SAMMY HAGAR has a special love for tequila. After his success with Cabo Wabo Tequila and Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, word is that this avid spirits connoisseur is at it again with a new product along with his buddy and local Cabo resident, Adam Levine. This new spirit is said to be a blend of mezcal and tequila agave juices. Always giving priority to the quality of his products, there is no doubt that Sammy’s newest creation will taste like a heavenly Mexican nectar.]]>