Just as all Cognacs are brandies but not all
brandies are Cognacs, all tequilas are
but not the other way around.
made from a variety of about 30 agave species
including the Blue Weber from which tequila
is made by law) and is distilled in one of seven
Mexican states, though more than 90% of
mezcal comes from Oaxaca.
around 85%) is made from the
espadin agave variety. Mezcals made from other
agave varieties are now emerging.
As for its long-time reputation as firewater
infused with the aroma of burning rubber,
there’s still a little something to the idea that
these are powerful and pungent spirits, with
even the better-made variations coming to the
U.S. retaining a punchy and smoky essence.
are an acquired taste, like Islay single
malt Scotches or grappa.
comes by its smoke from its ancient
production method: agaves are slowly roasted
in an underground pit, sometimes for days, usu-
ally with mesquite or oak. Then the agaves are
crushed under a large stone wheel called a ta-
hona, the juice often fermented in wooden tanks
before being distilled twice in alembic stills.
As with tequila, mezcals can carry age des-
is aged less than two months;
rested” in oak for two to 12 months;
been aged between one and three years; and
is more than 3 years old.
The range of other mezcal brands—
Sombra, Ilegal, Wahaka, Danzantes,
among others—now provide retail-
ers and bar owners a broader choice.
And the increasing availability of
quality mezcals at a price point lower
than Del Maguey’s single-village it-
erations has been crucial. (Cooper de-
signed Del Maguey Vida to be priced
in the mid-thirties and mixable in
cocktails, in response to demand from
Also important has been the
introduction of attractive packaging,
different varietals and a range of
styles. A version of Fidencio, for
instance, is made “sin humo,” without
smoke. Scorpion now supplies estate-
grown tobala silver and añejo mezcals.
Numerous brands are targeting the
mid-thirties price point, aiming to be
the entry mezcal.
Sombra now has a moderated smoke
quality, says Betts: “There should be
some smoke but the spirit with too
much smoke doesn’t taste like the place
as much as tasting like the process.”
Spirits impresario John Henry,
who has launched his own brand, El
Buho, in three markets including
New York, says that the expanding
market definitely includes women who
are taking to it in cocktails and even
as a culinary ingredient—part of the
smoke ingredient trend. One woman
at a tasting recently told him, “This is
my white Lagavulin,” referring to the
smoky Islay single malt Scotch.
With on-premise growth still slowed
by the recession, Henry sees the off-
premise environment as more promising.
Specifically, the logical market is the
expanding pool of tequila drinkers, says
Gino Luci, brand manager for Montelo-
bos. “In most basic terms, we are target-
ing premium tequila drinkers who are
looking for something new and different.
One of the biggest challenges with mez-
cal is that it’s a relatively misunderstood
category. It has a rich history and legacy.
In response, we are working to educate
not only about Montelobos, but also the
complexity and unique offerings of the
Roasted agave being crushed.
powerful and pungent, Mezcals are
an acquired taste, like Islay single
malts or grappa.
Del Maguey specializes in single-village mezcals.