The Mezcal Movement

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Not long ago, mezcal’s reputation in the US was that of intoxicant lore. It epitomized right-of-passage overindulgence followed by fate-worse-than-death hangovers. But that’s all changed. High-quality mezcals (sans worm) have captivated the palates of discerning mixologists and spirit enthusiasts over the last few years, sparking mezcal’s rapid and widely reported ascent to the latest “it” spirit of the craft world. Today, that distinct smoky flavor is a staple at trendy bars and restaurants across the country.

 

Right Time, Right Flavor

At a time when there’s an overwhelming consumer preference for an organic, artisanal, has-a-story product experience, mezcal delivers—big time. While many tequila makers have moved to at least partially industrialized processes, most mezcals are still made by small, family producers using traditional methods. Each batch is born from handcrafted, time-consuming labors of love, sweat and prosperity. It’s an authentic, family affair in its purest form.

In the Chicago Tribune article “The secret to mezcal’s meteoric rise,” a Mezcal Tosba producer describes the allure: “… it’s pure—you can find the person who made it, start-to-finish, with their hands. It’s so special that you have to wait 14, 15 years for one plant to produce one spirit one time. People are infatuated with that.”

You know what else people are infatuated with? Two things: smoke—the top flavor trend according to international research firm Mintel—and cocktails with depth. Mezcal delivers on both fronts. Its signature smokiness comes from roasting the hearts of the agave plants in wood-fired pits during the production process. Beyond that, a variety of factors including the agave varieties used create a range of complex flavors, from peppery and earthy to citrusy and even floral.

 

That Burning Question

How is mezcal different from tequila? Or is it? (We knew you were wondering.)

By definition, a distilled, alcoholic beverage qualifies as mezcal if it’s made from any type of agave plant native to Mexico. Because tequila is made with blue agave (and only blue agave, by law), it counts. That means mezcal made only with blue agave would, in fact, also be considered tequila. But unlike tequilas, mezcals can be made with more than 30 types of agave, allowing for countless combinations that create new and unique flavors. There also are regional differences, with the majority of mezcal produced in Oaxaca.

 

Here To Stay

Will mezcal rise to tequila’s multi-billion-dollar demand? Perhaps not. People often equate moving from tequila to mezcal with graduating from bourbon to scotch. Once you’ve acquired the taste, there’s no going back. But certainly, it’s not for everyone. And that’s probably for the best, since the agave plant’s sometimes decades-long harvest time creates sustainability concerns (check out this Washington Post article to learn more). Still, mezcal offers those with a more adventurous palate a sophisticated tequila alternative that’s as exciting in mixed cocktails as it is served neat. And its momentum is growing.

Ready for a taste? Try pairing mezcal with Tropics Golden Margarita Mix, Sweet & Sour Mix, or any typical tequila complement for a new flavor experience.