Let's start off by saying that all tequila is mezcal, but all mezcal is not tequila. Patron and Cuervo have massive marketing budgets, so smaller, quality-driven mezcal producers must live in their shadow. Worse, mezcal is famous as the crap with he worm in it.
But there's great stuff out there. Case in point is Del Maguey Mezcal. Short Order recently participated in a dinner at Mercadito Miami that paired five courses with five mezcal-based cocktails. Ron Cooper, founder of Del Maguey Mezcal, a premium maker, plied us with a lineup of single village mezcals. He explained how they were produced and introduced diners to the ceremonies of drinking mezcal.
Mezcal is smokey. The agave it's made from is roasted in an underground pit for five to thirty days. Peel back that smokey layer, though, and it possesses a complex layering of fruit, spice, nuts and chemical notes. For mezcal, just like wine, place of origin -- "terroir" -- plays an important role. Mezcals from different regions taste differently because of the soil composition and production method. Just beware, mezcal is an acquired taste and definitely for everyone - vodka drinkers or pinot grigio fans, this is not for you.
Del Maguey Mezcal "Tobala"
Tobala has a sweet, fruity nose, with tropical fruit like mangoes and papaya, sweet baking spices and an extra smooth finish. Only 600 measly bottles are produced annually, so it's pretty much impossible to find unless you visit our friends at Mercadito. It retails for $125 a bottle; that's more expensive than some of the world's finest wines.
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Del Maguey Mezcal "Pechuga"
The rarest of all mezcals! For starters, it is double distilled with fruit and nuts that ripen at the end of the maguey growing season. They add 25 pounds of mountain apples and plums, bananas, pineapples and nuts to give it lovely fruity aromas and complexity. Then it gets distilled a third time with the flesh of a skinless chicken breast. Probably one of the wackiest methods of production ever, but the family that makes it swears the chicken breast lends the final product a savory quality that balances the fruit from the initial distillations. This mezcal retails for $200 smackers!
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