How To Drink Mezcal: A Comprehensive Guide from Reddit
Mezcal, the smoky and complex Mexican spirit, has been gaining popularity among cocktail enthusiasts and spirit aficionados around the world. With its rich history and unique production methods, drinking mezcal is not only an experience for the taste buds but also a cultural journey. If you are curious about this intriguing beverage and want to learn how to drink mezcal like a pro, look no further. This comprehensive guide, curated from the knowledgeable community of Reddit, will take you through everything you need to know.
- History of Mezcal
- Production of Mezcal
- Types of Mezcal
- Methods of Drinking Mezcal
- Mezcal Cocktails
- Garnishes and Pairings
- Mezcal Etiquette
History of Mezcal
Mezcal’s origin can be traced back to at least the 16th century, when Spanish conquistadors brought distillation techniques to Mexico. However, indigenous civilizations in Mexico had been producing fermented beverages long before the arrival of the Spanish. The word “mezcal” is derived from the Nahuatl word “metl” meaning maguey, the agave plant from which mezcal is made. The process of making mezcal remained largely unchanged for centuries.
According to legend, a lightning strike first introduced the people of Oaxaca, the heartland of mezcal production in Mexico, to the art of making mezcal. This mystical beginning adds to the allure and mystique surrounding this tantalizing spirit. Over the years, mezcal has become an integral part of Mexican culture, celebrated through festivals, rituals, and traditional ceremonies.
Production of Mezcal
The production of mezcal is an artisanal and labor-intensive process that begins with the harvest of agave plants. Over thirty recognized varieties of agave can be used to produce mezcal, each imparting a distinct flavor profile. The most common and highly regarded agave variety used for producing mezcal is Espadín.
Once the agave plant has matured, the leaves are cut off, leaving only the heart or piña, which is then roasted in an underground pit oven. This traditional method of cooking the agave gives mezcal its signature smoky flavor. After roasting, the piñas are crushed using a stone wheel or a tahona to extract the juice, which is then fermented and distilled in copper or clay pots.
The traditional production process, combined with the use of wild yeast for fermentation, contributes to the distinctive flavors found in mezcal. The resulting spirit is then aged in wooden barrels or bottled straight away, depending on the desired style.
Types of Mezcal
Mezcal comes in various styles, each offering a unique taste experience. Understanding the different types of mezcal can help you explore and appreciate the depth and diversity of this spirit. Here are some common variations:
Tobalá mezcal is made from a rare and wild agave variety called Tobalá. It is known for its delicate and floral flavor, often with hints of citrus and tropical fruits. Tobalá mezcal is highly sought after by mezcal enthusiasts due to its limited availability and exceptional taste.
Ensamble mezcal is a blend of different agave varieties, each contributing its individual characteristics to create a harmonious and balanced flavor profile. This variety allows mezcal producers to experiment with different combinations and showcase their creativity.
Joven mezcal, also known as “young” mezcal, is typically unaged or aged for a short period. It retains the raw and vibrant flavors of the agave, making it a great choice for those who prefer a more punchy and robust mezcal experience.
Reposado mezcal is aged in oak barrels for at least two months but no more than a year. This aging process softens the spirit and imparts additional flavors from the wood, resulting in a smoother and more mellow mezcal.
Añejo mezcal is aged in oak barrels for over a year, sometimes up to several years. This extended aging imparts rich and complex flavors to the mezcal, with notes of caramel, vanilla, and spice. Añejo mezcal is often compared to fine whiskies or aged tequilas.
Methods of Drinking Mezcal
When it comes to drinking mezcal, there are a few different methods you can explore, each offering a unique experience. Let’s take a look:
Drinking mezcal neat allows you to appreciate its complex flavors and aromas without any additional ingredients. Pour a small amount of mezcal into a small tulip-shaped glass, known as a copa, and take your time to savor it. Allow the spirit to open up by swirling it gently in the glass and inhaling the smoky aromas.
With Sal de Gusano:
Sal de Gusano, or worm salt, is a traditional accompaniment to mezcal in Mexico. It is made by grinding toasted agave worms, chilies, and salt together. To enjoy mezcal with Sal de Gusano, sprinkle a bit of salt on the back of your hand, lick it, and take a sip of mezcal. The salt enhances the flavors of the mezcal and provides a unique sensory experience.
In A Cocktail:
Mezcal’s distinctive flavor makes it an excellent base for cocktails. You can mix it into classic cocktails like margaritas or create your own mezcal-based concoctions. Experiment with ingredients like citrus juices, agave syrup, and bitters to create a balanced and refreshing mezcal cocktail.
Here are a couple of mezcal cocktail recipes to get you started:
Smoky Mezcal Margarita:
– 2 oz mezcal
– 1 oz lime juice
– 1 oz agave syrup
– Salt for rimming (optional)
Combine mezcal, lime juice, and agave syrup in a shaker filled with ice. Shake well, then strain into a glass filled with ice. Optionally, rim the glass with salt before pouring in the cocktail. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Oaxaca Old Fashioned:
– 2 oz añejo mezcal
– 1/4 oz agave syrup
– 2 dashes Angostura bitters
– Orange peel for garnish
In a mixing glass, combine mezcal, agave syrup, and bitters. Add ice and stir for about 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Express the oils from the orange peel over the glass and drop it into the cocktail.
Garnishes and Pairings
When it comes to garnishing your mezcal, simplicity is key. A citrus wedge or twist, such as lime or orange, can complement the smoky flavor of mezcal without overpowering it. For an added touch, rim your glass with salt or chili powder for a contrasting burst of flavor. Remember, garnishes are meant to enhance, not overpower, the mezcal.
Pairing mezcal with food can be an equally enjoyable experience. Mezcal’s smoky and complex character pairs well with spicy or savory dishes. Try pairing it with grilled meats, roasted vegetables, or traditional Mexican cuisine like tacos or mole. The unique flavors of mezcal can provide an exciting contrast or a harmonious complement to your meal.
When enjoying mezcal, it is essential to respect its cultural significance and follow a few etiquettes:
Taking the First Sip:
Before taking your first sip of mezcal, it is customary to pour a small amount on the ground as an offering to the gods or to honor the spirits of the agave. This tradition symbolizes gratitude and respect for the ancient traditions associated with mezcal production.
When sipping mezcal, take small sips and allow the flavors to unfold on your palate. Remember to savor and appreciate the complexity of the spirit.
Mezcal is often enjoyed as a communal spirit. If you are sharing a bottle of mezcal with friends or family, it is customary to offer the first sip to the person sitting on your right. This act of sharing and togetherness is a significant part of the mezcal-drinking experience.
Respect for Producers:
Lastly, it is important to support and respect mezcal producers by purchasing ethically produced and certified bottles. Look for labels that indicate the mezcal’s origin and certification seal, such as “Denominación de Origen” (DO) or “Certified Organic.”
Q: What is the difference between mezcal and tequila?
A: Mezcal and tequila are both agave-based spirits, but they differ in their production methods and geographic origins. Mezcal can be made from multiple varieties of agave, including wild and rare species, while tequila is made exclusively from the blue agave plant and can only be produced in specific regions of Mexico.
Q: Does mezcal always have a worm in the bottle?
A: Contrary to popular belief, not all mezcal bottles contain a worm. The practice of adding a worm or a larva to mezcal bottles began as a marketing ploy in the mid-20th century. Today, the presence of a worm is not an indication of the quality or authenticity of the mezcal. In fact, many high-quality mezcals do not include a worm.
Q: How should I store mezcal?
A: Mezcal should be stored in a cool and dark place, away from direct sunlight or heat sources. It is best to keep the bottle tightly sealed to preserve its flavors and prevent oxidation. Once opened, mezcal can be stored for several months to a year without significant deterioration in quality if stored correctly.
Drinking mezcal is not merely about the consumption of a spirit; it is an exploration of Mexico’s cultural heritage and a celebration of the craft and traditions passed down through generations. With this comprehensive guide derived from the knowledge of Reddit’s mezcal community, you are equipped to embark on a mezcal journey that will tantalize your taste buds and enrich your understanding of this unique spirit. Remember to savor each sip, experiment with different styles, and share the experience with others. Salud!