A mezcal pocket guide
As a popular saying of our country goes, “for everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good, as well”. An authentic proof of our unique devotion to this spirit — an elixir worthy of the gods which can only be produced in Mexico thanks to its designation of origin.
Previously we shared some of its most important characteristics, as well as its most notable differences with tequila, another popular distillate.
Myths and how to drink it
Places where mezcal is produced
Although the production of mezcal is commonly associated with the state of Oaxaca, its designation of origin includes other entities, such as Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Puebla Michoacán, and Zacatecas, in which its production is also considered a tradition with years of history.
Although its origin is uncertain, there are 3 possible theories about its creation. The first indicates that the Spanish, upon discovering the maguey, began to process it in copper stills. Another version depicts that during the 16th century the Filipinos who arrived in the western ports began to use their stills to make aguardiente with agave.
There is also the notion that the distillation process of mezcal was developed in Mesoamerica during the pre-Hispanic period following several investigations indicating the activity of this practice between 1,500 and 1,000 B.C.
Its production process incorporates various steps, from the cultivation of the agave to its distillation and bottling, every one of them carefully carried out to guarantee the best quality.
Its preparation begins with the cultivation of maguey, a fully organic produce as no artificial chemicals are applied. The agave takes approximately 8 or 10 years to reach maturity, then only the agave plants that are in the best condition are selected to proceed with their preparation.
- Pineapples extraction
Once the best agaves have been chosen, with the help of a hoe tool and machetes, the stems and roots are cut until only the heart is exposed. This procedure holds some degree of complexity as it requires tearing the maguey from the ground, cutting it, extracting the pineapple and transported to the distillery.
This is the period in the production process when the mezcal gets its smoky flavor and the sugars from the agave are extracted. The pineapples are chopped with an ax to facilitate cooking, then they are placed inside a with different varieties of wood, such as ocote or oak. Afterward, it is left for 3 days until the agave turns yellowish or caramel.
Once the agave is cooked, it is minced and ground in an Egyptian mill until it is fully crushed. After the grinding process is complete, what’s left are the musts ready for fermentation.
This process is carried out in wooden vats (tanks), in which the musts are placed with water and proceed to begin their three to five-day fermentation — this stage is when the mezcal acquires much of its flavor.
At the end of the fermentation process, the cooked musts are transferred to an alembic to be distilled in clay pots or special equipment made of copper. These containers are carefully heated, evaporated, and condensed as specific chemical standards must be met to avoid modifying its taste.
Before bottling, the product is graded through various methods, among which confirming the regulation in alcoholic concentration remains between 36 and 55%, which indicates its designation of origin. Once this procedure is completed, the product is then ready to be bottled.