Recently, mezcal has skyrocketed in popularity and is expected to jump another 18% in sales by the end of the year. With demand for the smoky spirit higher than ever, mezcal cocktails are quickly taking over the bar scene. This agave spirit’s popularity has inspired countless mezcal variations on classic cocktails. Even if you’ve never tried mezcal, you’ve probably heard the rumors: ‘It’s not mezcal unless there’s a worm in the bottle’ and ‘Mezcal makes you hallucinate like absinthe.’ Contrary to popular belief, mezcal does not always come with worms, nor does it boast hallucinogenic properties.
Born 500 years ago when the Spanish conquerors first arrived in Mexico, mezcal has the distinct honor of being the first distilled spirit in the Americas. 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.
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. There are three types of mezcal, each determined by the aging process.
- Joven (“young”) – Bottled immediately after distillation
- Reposado (“rested”) or añejado (“neglected”) – Aged in wooden barrels for two to nine months
- Añejo (“aged”) – Aged in wooden barrels for a minimum of 12 months