Mezcal — the smoky agave spirit — seems like a recent phenomenon, but the history of mezcal is much longer than the recent influx of mezcal cocktail recipes. It originated over 500 years ago, and it’s still produced using traditional methods.
Although it’s known for its smoky profile, a good mezcal will be balanced — a welcome ingredient for smoky cocktail lovers and home bartenders. When experimenting, make sure to look for quality. Paying a bit more will make all the difference in your cocktails.
The History of Mezcal
Born 500 years ago, when the Spanish conquerors first arrived in Mexico, mezcal has the honor of being the first distilled spirit in the Americas.
To produce mezcal, mature agave plants are harvested by removing their piñas with a machete and cooking them in pit ovens for roughly three days. Once the piñas have finished cooking, they are crushed and fermented in large barrels with water. The resulting fermented liquid is then distilled twice in copper pots to increase the alcohol content.
All these years later, the spirit is still produced using the same traditional method. In fact, to be considered a true mezcal, it must be made this way and produced in one of the following regions in Mexico: Durango, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, or Zacatecas.
Different Types of Mezcal
Like many other spirits, the characteristics of mezcal vary depending on the type and price range. However, mezcal is unique in that the change in flavor is caused by the specific type of agave used to make it. Mezcal can be produced with 11 variations of agave grown in Oaxaca.
There are three types of mezcal, each determined by the aging process.
- Joven (“young”) – Bottled immediately after distillation
- Reposado (“rested”) – Aged in wooden barrels for two to nine months
- Añejo (“aged”) – Aged in wooden barrels for a minimum of 12 months