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Mezcal – Rediscovered

The Fifty Best Mezcal Tasting 2018

 

The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 11 mezcals with 16 members of our spirits judging panel. Strict tasting rules were applied. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. Each of the mezcals were poured into fresh glasses from new sealed bottles, and served at slightly above room temperature. Only ice water, neutral unflavored crackers and chips were available to cleanse the palate.

The judges wrote down their impressions of each product on score sheets. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the best. Double-Gold and Gold medals are awarded according to a set range of final point scores received from the judges. There were no silver or bronze medals awarded for this tasting.

The tasting notes which follow are summaries of the judging panels’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. The agave species and municipalities of origin are identified for each mezcal.

 



DOUBLE-GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Bozal Mezcal – Reserva Metodo Ancestral
Agave Species: Papalote o Cupreata (Oaxaca)

Aroma: Caramel, sweet cream, clotted cream, creamy, nougat, simple syrup, sweet pear, apple, dates, ripe fruit, figs, floral, fresh-cut green beans, green grass, mint, spice, woody.

Palate: Vanilla, sweet cream, maple syrup, toasted oats, light licorice, sandalwood, pepper, spice, lightly salty, gentle smoke, woody, cedar, clean, absolutely delicious.

Finish: Honey, creamy, pear, pepper, peppercorns, smoke, woodsy, complex, smooth.

Double Gold Medal
   Double Gold medal



   Bozal Mezcal Reserva Metodo Ancestral Mezcal



Zignum Mezcal Reposado
Agave Species: Espadin (Oaxaca)

Aroma: Toffee, caramel, chocolate, cocoa, vanilla, honey, caramelized apples, coconut, pineapple, melon, ripe apples, pear, cherry cola, jelly beans, herbs, bourbon.

Palate: Toffee, nougat, caramel butter, caramel spice, caramelized banana, creamy vanilla, cream soda, sweet cherry, hot chocolate, cocoa, coconut, coffee, lightly sweet, scotch, new oak, smooth, amazing, wow.

Finish: Sweet candy, green olive, best neat, well-balanced, soft, smooth, original, delicious, to die for, perfect, heaven in a glass.


Double Gold Medal
   Double Gold medal



   Zignum Mezcal Reposado



Zignum Mezcal Añejo
Agave Species: Espadin (Oaxaca)

Aroma: Roast caramel, nougat, vanilla, clotted cream, whipped cream, maple sugar cubes dusted in brown sugar, powdered cocoa, powdered sugar, caramelized plantains, honey, pineapple, cherry cola, green apple, gardenia, woody, freshness, soft.

Palate: Toffee, caramel, vanilla, cream, sweet cream soda, molasses, buckwheat honey, honey-covered bananas, sweet dried fruits, pate de fruits, pineapple, plantains, pecans, fennel, herbs, spice, rum, oak, cedar, soft, extremely smooth.

Finish: Caramel, salted caramel, white toffee, molasses, spicy vanilla, smoky, well-balanced, clean, silky, smooth, wow—amazing to sip, beyond amazing, must have.


Double Gold Medal
   Double Gold medal



   Zignum Mezcal Añejo



GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Zignum Mezcal Silver

Agave Species: Espadin (Oaxaca)

Aroma: Caramel, cream soda, nougat, vanilla, syrup, honey, poached pears, mild pear, pear vodka, banana, fruit salad, fig, flowers, fennel, pleasant sweetness, sod, moist earth, humid cave, wet stones.

Palate: Chocolate, cocoa, sweet cream, vanilla, honey, soft peach, dates, figs, maple-coated figs, toasted almonds, grain, licorice, grassy, light sweetness, light smoke, soft, clean, fresh, delicate, tasty.

Finish: Warmed praline, creamy, lime essence, pepper, mineral oil, tannic, lightly sweet, balanced, soft, silky, smooth.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Zignum Mezcal Silver



El Recuerdo de Oaxaca Joven
(Oaxaca)

Aroma: Toasted corn, agave, lemon, lime, smoked lemon peel, sandalwood, vegetal, fresh-cut grass, green leaves, spearmint, chalky, mineral oil, smoked tobacco dipped in tequila, leather, earth, fire, smoky, woody, oak.

Palate: Burnt caramel, creamy, brown sugar, pear, Meyer lemon peel, dates, smoked cucumber salad, green olives dipped in tequila, earthy sandalwood, earthy, fresh smoke, smoked pine, smoked cedar, surprisingly gentle, refreshing.

Finish: Fresh-raked leaves, smoky pepper, cigars, earthy, fire, char, smoky, slick, smooth, soft, rich, great flavors.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



   El Recuerdo de Oaxaca Joven Mezcal



Gracias a Dios – Espadin
Agave Species: Espadin (Oaxaca)

Aroma: Cooked strawberries, berries, poached fruit, lemon, lime, citrus, anise, olive mashed in vodka, grassy, wet grass, black pepper, peppercorn, salty, bacon, wet leather, earth.

Palate: Toffee, caramel, sweet cream, nougat, pear, berries, citrus, sweet dried apricots, green peppers, chili peppers, pepper, spice, brisket, wet leather, oily, smoky, smoke, clean.

Finish: Cream soda, creamy, banana, stony verbena, sherry, pepper, spice, beefy, sweet leather, smoky, smooth.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



   Gracias a Dios Espadin Mezcal



Bozal Mezcal – Cuixe
Agave Species: Cuixe (Oaxaca)

Aroma: Lemon, dried fruit, herbal, fresh cut grass, moist leaves, lettuce, raw green beans, vegetal, pickles, bamboo, pepper, salty, wet dirt, earth, smoky, wood.

Palate: Honey, light cream, anise, herbal, herbaceous, tarragon, pepper, raw vegetables, fresh cut grass, green like fresh leaves, mineral oil, black dirt, earthy, smoke, bitter burnt firewood, wood, fresh, crisp.

Finish: Mahogany, mossy, smoky, gentle heat, well balanced, silky, smooth, beautiful.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Bozal Mezcal Cuixe



Bozal Mezcal – Ensamble
Agave Species: Espadin, Barril & Mexicano
(Oaxaca)

Aroma: Caramel, vanilla, lime, pineapple, fig, herbal, smoked citrus, green olive, cucumber, pickle, mustard seeds, dill, celery seeds, coriander, fire-branded metal, smoke, burnt wood.

Palate: Cream soda, pith, fresh herbal, herbaceous, licorice, anise, fennel, grassy, tarragon, spice, white pepper, jalapeno, pepper, earthy, burnt wood, bright smoke, woody, cedar, pine.

Finish: Smoked agave, pepper, spicy, steely, smoky, firewood on the rocks, woody, burnt wood, full-flavored, smooth.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



   Bozal Mezcal Ensamble



Gracias a Dios – Tobalá
Agave Species: Tobalá (Oaxaca)

Aroma: Cooked strawberries, berries, poached fruit, lemon, lime, citrus, anise, olive mashed in vodka, grassy, wet grass, black pepper, peppercorn, salty, bacon, wet leather, earth.

Palate: Toffee, caramel, sweet cream, nougat, pear, berries, citrus, sweet dried apricots, green peppers, chili peppers, pepper, spice, brisket, wet leather, oily, smoky, smoke, clean.

Finish: Cream soda, creamy, banana, stony verbena, sherry, pepper, spice, beefy, sweet leather, smoky, smooth.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Gracias a Dios Tobalá Mezcal



Alacrán Mezcal Joven
Agave Species: Espadin (Oaxaca)
Organic

Aroma: Vanilla, sugar, raisin, flowers, green olive, pickles, nuts, burning tobacco, smoky, woody, oak, white oak.

Palate: Vanilla, smoked vanilla bean, cream, whipped cream, honey, tropical fruit, pear, citrus, pepper, roasted pepper, pickle, fresh grass, spearmint, licorice, spices, peppercorns, toast, tar, black tarmac, smoky, wood, soft.

Finish: Creamy, tropical flowers, peppercorn, peppery, spicy, tobacco, earth, smoky, smoked, well-balanced, soft, lively.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Alacrán Mezcal Joven Mezcal



Bozal Mezcal – Tobasiche
Agave Species: Tobasiche (Oaxaca)

Aroma: Lemon, lemon drops, pear, prickly pear, dried fruit, licorice, white pepper, whole grain mustard, pickled vegetables, pickles, sauerkraut, moss, grassy, wet leather, earth, tar, briny, smoke.

Palate: Caramel, café au lait, honey, melon, herbs, green olive, pepper, peppercorns, spice, sandalwood, licorice, tar, oily, mineral, earth, volcanic, peaty, char, smoky, way different taste.

Finish: Vanilla, creamy, faint fruit, smoky pepper, wet stones, smoke, meaty smoke, clean, smooth, classic mezcal finish.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Bozal Mezcal Tobasiche

 


 

Mezcal had mystical origins when the Aztecs produced the beverage in Mexico centuries ago. Then it disappeared into relative obscurity until the 1960s; when groups of American hippies & ex-Vietnam war vets journeyed down to southern Mexico to escape conformity in the quest for mind-altering experiences. While there, the sampling of the local spirit was inevitable. And the mystique of the agave worm at the bottom of the bottles only enhanced mezcal’s mystique.

The Zapotec Indians were the first civilization to process agaves for clothes, food and drink– the oldest recorded site of this is El Palmillo in Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca. The agaves were domesticated and harvested for food and fiber, and eventually pulque (a milky, slightly foamy, viscous beverage made by fermenting and not distilling the sap of certain types of agave). The original technique for distillation was shared with the Zapotecs by Filipino slaves freed by the Spanish in Mexico in the 1500s. They taught the Zapotecs to use clay pot stills and carrizo (Oaxacan bamboo) cooling tubes to distill fermented agave juice into Mezcal. Later, the Spanish put to use their alambique (which is a Spanish derivation of an Arab word for a distillation technique that was brought to Spain during the Moorish invasion). It is still debated whether the Spaniards brought the distillation process to Mexico or if the indigenous tribes had the knowledge before the conquistadors got there.

The distilled spirit allowed to be called "tequila" is produced solely from the Blue Weber agave and grown only in the designated areas of Jalisco or one of four neighboring states. But there are many other types of agaves in Mexico, such as Espadín, Manso, Cenizo, Arroqueño, the rare wild Tobalá, Madrecuixe, and more than 50 other subspecies. Several of these agaves are the pricipal ingredient in mezcal. Nine designated areas in Mexico are formally recognized to produce mezcals, including Oaxaca and Guerrero in the south all the way central north to Zacatecas and Durango.

After 8 years of growth, the mature agaves are harvested and the leaves are cut off with a machete. The heart of the agave plant, or piñas, are halved and quartered, then slow-roasted in conical pits ("palenques") dug in the ground and lined with red-hot rocks with the top covered over by moist fibres, or in brick ovens. After cooking for a few days, the now caramelized piñas are crushed with a large stone wheel pulled by a horse or donkey, or pounded by hand with a mallet. The pulverized juice is transferred to wooden or cement vats for fermentation for about two weeks; then placed in rustic fire-burning clay or copper pot stills, and distilled twice or three times to bottling proof or close to it. The resulting spirit is distinctively very smoky, briny, deep and intense– similar to Islay single-malt scotch whiskey.

Mezcal bottled directly from the still is called blanco, plata ("silver") or joven ("young"). Reposado is aged in casks for two months up to one year, añejo if aged more than a year. Approximately seven tons of raw piña yields 265 gallons (1,000 liters) or 111 cases of mezcal. Most mezcaleros are single village small-craft artisanal producers, producing very limited quanties. Because of the difficult cultivation of the agaves and limited production, a good mezcal is typically priced above $50.

The gusano, or "worm" is actually a larva that infests the roots of the agave plant. Originally used as an appellation control element, the worm does not serve any function other than as a marketing gimmick. However, some experts claim that the worm definitely adds flavor to the mezcal. Despite popular belief, consuming the worm is non-hallucinogenic. Nowadays, aficionados consider a mezcal with a worm to be inferior in quality.

Slowly gaining on the heels of its cousin tequila, mezcals are now earning allegiance by serious connoisseurs, hipsters and mixologists. It is said that mezcal is "Mexico in a bottle”. We'd like to add, “Viva la mezcal revolución!”

 

 

 

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