But while many mezcals carry that distinct smoky flavors, try and get the ‘smoky’ descriptor out of your head—they can range in flavor from grassy and crisp to rich and smoky.
Why the variance? Mezcal is a terroir-driven spirit, and the flavors of each bottle will depend on the air, terrain, soil, and weather.
That’s precisely why it continues to boast a cult following: there are so many different agave varieties that can be harvested and from such a variety of terroirs across the country. Similar to wine, agave spirits are closely tied to the land.
Mezcal, as similar to Tequila, is produced from the agave plant. Tequila can only be made from blue weber agave, but mezcal can be made from any agave native to the country. There is a designation organization with mezcal, just as there is with Tequila, but many distillers (primarily ma and pa operations) chose not to jump the designation hoops, so many of the best bottles on the market are unregistered.
As you begin your journey into the world of mezcal, here are five stand-out bottles to keep an eye out for.
Del Maguey Chichicapa
Award-winning producer Del Maguey’s line of single village mezcals takes terroir to the minutiae, crafting a mezcal reflective of the village it was made. Case in point, the Chichicapa. Made in the village of Chichicapa, this bottle has a sophisticated, citrus-forward taste with a faint kiss of mint thanks to the high elevation—the pueblo is located 1,540 meters above sea level.
One of the reasons the brand has captured the heart of mezcal sippers is they take tradition very seriously. Each batch is made with 100% mature agave Espadin (many mass-produced tequilas and mezcal brands come under fire for harvesting the agave too early) in the original 400-year-old process. Bottles are limited as the brand limits production to focus on quality.
Part of an exciting new-guard of mezcals, Profesor Mezcal is made by Rodolfo, an Oaxacan Mezcalero and primary school profesor (hence the name)—the only teacher in a small Zapotec village outside San Juan del Rio.
The brand combines handmade tradition and heritage with contemporary sensibilities. The bottle boasts thoughtfully nostalgic branding and is finished with a hand-done wax seal. Inside is a high-altitude mezcal with bright, grassy notes and a wonderfully crisp finish.
So you’re looking for a mezcal that sips with the smokiness imparted from roasting agave. Bozal sips with concentrated smokiness through and through, with a kick of vanilla sweetness and undertones of pine and campfire, with small hits of mint and menthol. Bozal is made with cultivated Espadin, and wild Barril and Mexicano. At an entry-level price point, it’s a great way to get your feet wet in the world of mezcal.
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Once you’ve wet your feet with a few entry-level styles, opt for a bottle that truly celebrates the craft. On the front label of every bottle, Mezcal Vago details what mezcalero made it, when it was distilled, how old it is, the batch size, the type of still, and what type of agave the spirit was born from. Each iteration is exciting to explore—for example, Vago Mexicano uses a rare plant native to not just the region, but specifically to the hillside it is grown on. It’s silky with an oceanic palate with crisp peaches and toasted vanilla.
Lagrimas de Dolores
Over in Durango, Lagrimas de Dolores Anejo makes mezcal out of agave Cenizo. Heading up the project is mezcalera (a lady mezcal distiller) master Fabiola Avila, who holds a degree in biochemistry and biotechnology with a specialization in fermentation. The spirit is dedicated to the Dolores region – even their logo is a representation of the patron saint of the Hacienda. Most of their mezcal is made with agave durangensis, local to the state, though the distillery will put out releases with rare agaves, like l’gok, cimmarion, and tepemete. It’s a delicate, layered spirit any fans of sipping spirits will enjoy.
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