The Tale of 2 Spirits
First off why the hell is some alcohol called spirits. Does it open us up to demonic possession? Was the first alcohol given to us from an angelic being? I mean really what is the deal???
A “spirit” is distilled alcohol that contains no added sugar.
The term spirit comes from Middle Eastern alchemy. Dosen’t that sound sinister. The vapor given off and collected during an alchemical process, like in the distillation of alcohol, was called a spirit of the original material. So there it is our experimenting forefathers deemed it to be a new creation. Now back to the topic.
What is the difference between Mezcal and Tequila?
Mezcal (traditionally spelled mescal) is a Mexican distilled spirit that is made from the agave plant. The agave plant has over 200 species. Tequila is technically a mezcal, but….it is produced differently. Tequila is made from a single type of agave plant – the Blue Agave or a.k.a Agave Tequilana. Here is some more on the spirit of tequila.
The Spirit of Tequilana
After harvesting, the blue agave’s piñas (the heart of the plant) they are transported to ovens (above ground) where they are slowly baked to break down their complex sugars into simple sugar. Then, the baked piñas are either shredded or mashed under a large stone wheel called a tahona The extracted agave juice is then poured into either large wooden or stainless steel vats for several days to ferment, resulting in a wort, mosto, with low alcohol content.This wort is then distilled once to produce what is called “ordinario, and then a second time to produce clear “silver” tequila. Using at least two distillations is required by Mexican law. Yes, the Mexican government regulates the centries old processing of mescal. Tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco, MX and in small parts of four other states.
The Spirit of Mezcal
Mezcal can be produced from any type of agave (including blue agave) and it is made in and around the region of Oaxaca and, according to Mexican government regulation (NOM -070-SCFI-1994), it can can also officially be produced in some areas of the states of Durango, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas. Most mezcals are made from the Espadin agave, although some mezcal producers blend agave varieties to create distinctive flavors.
The tastes of mezcal and tequila are worlds apart. Traditionally, mezcal has a very unique, earthy, smoky flavor because of its production techniques (see pics). It also tends to taste sweeter, richer and have more flavor undertones than tequila.
When tequila is made, the agave head is baked in an above-ground oven. Mezcal producers use the traditional method, using in-ground pits to bake the agave, allowing the minerals in the earth to be absorbed in the agave. The agave heads (also called agave hearts, or piñas) are roasted or grilled over hot rocks in a cone-shaped pit (called palenques or hornos). A fire is started and burns for about 24 hours to heat the stones that line the pit. The agave heads are put into the pit and then covered with moist agave fiber that is left over from the fermentation process. A layer of agave leaves or woven palm leaves cover the fibers and the agave heads are left to cook for two to three days.
Mezcal production isn’t for the impatient. Mezcal production tends to be a family business where the tradition is handed down from generation to generation over hundreds of years. It’ll involve the harvest of the agave plants (which can take 7 to 15 years to mature) and roasting them in earthen ovens to get mezcal’s unique, smoky taste. It is then juiced, distilled, distilled again and then it is usually left to age in wooden barrels for years.
Turning that pointy agave leaf into an incredible mezcal beverage was a helluva idea and we really enjoy the refined taste of this ancient beverage. If you haven’t tried a good mezcal, I urge you to get a taste. Cop a copita pour you a good splash and sip until your heart is content.
Types of Mezcal:
The regulations split mezcal into two categories. My household only consumes Type 1, but please experiment!
Type 1: 100% agave (using any or all permitted agave plants)
Type 2: Minimum 80% agave and maximum 20% other sugars.
There are also Three Aging Categories:
Abacado (also called joven or blanco): clear, un-aged mezcal that results from the distillation process. It is often bottled immediately, but flavoring or coloring agents can be added. Interestingly enough this is our favorite right now. We had a tasting with some aficionados and this was their favorite as well…
Reposado (also called madurado): aged in wood barrels for two to eleven months. Really smoky sweet flavor again with tons of different notes playing different melodies on your tongue and tastebuds.
Añejo: aged in wood barrels for a minimum of twelve months. The melody turns in to a symphony and goes hard af!
Interesting info, Mexican regulations forbid mezcal producers to make tequila, and tequila producers cannot produce mezcal. You are either #teammezcal or #teamtequila
Declare a side or don’t get involved. I love these guys.
In reading this if you still cannot tell we are Team Mezcal all day! We love the different flavors, the sophistication of it and the culture that comes with drinking it. We were told never to just do shots. In fact there are these little terra cotta copitas or cantaritos that are made specifically for sipping mezcal from. Clay pot, wide mouth so you can inhale to aromas of the earth as you ingest its nectar. I usually drop a sliver of lime in mine and sip until my heart is content. I had never tried any other type of mezcal beyond tequila. This spirit has opened me up to a deeper respect for the ancient traditions. These folks knew what they were doing. Mezcal is a savory delicious treat!