Mezcal – Rediscovered

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 agave plant. Originally used as an appellation control element, the worm does not serve any function other than as a marketing gimmick, although some producers claim that it slightly changes the flavor of the mezcal, adding a smoothness. Despite popular belief, consuming the worm is not hallucinogenic. Nowadays, aficionados usually 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!”


The Fifty Best Mezcal Tasting of 2017


The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 6 mezcals with 17 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. Due to the high scores overall, 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.


IBÁ 55 Mezcal
Agave Species: Espadín   (San Pablo Huixtepec)

Nose: Honey, vanilla, sugar, simple syrup, sweet agave, green apples, lemon, dried fruit, mint, hot peppers, green pepper, fennel, aged cigars, mesquite, peat, iodine, sea salt, earthy, smoke, aromatic.
Palate: Caramel, honey, apple, agave, bell pepper, floral, red rose, herbs, mint, peppermint, spice, cinnamon, anise, allspice, pepper, earthy, peat, BBQ, smoky, wood, cedar, high pitched, beautiful.
Finish: Cocoa, chocolate, custard, honey, tart cherry, lemon, agave, mouth-coating, nice, smooth.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

IBÁ 55 Mezcal

Tres Papalote Joven Mezcal
Agave Species: Wild Cupreata   (Guerrero)

Nose: Vanilla, café au lait, whipped cream, cotton candy, caramel, nougat, sweet pastry, fig, pear, green apple, lemon, floral, mint, green grass, briny.
Palate: Sweet cream, creamy, vanilla, cream soda, honeyed herb, tropical flower, sweet corn, plantain, light toast, herbal, grass, jalapeño, smoky agave, toasted oak, balanced.
Finish: Pear, honey, hints of chocolate, herbs, mint, peppery, spice, silky, clean, exceptionally smooth.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Tres Papalote Joven Mezcal


Alacrán Mezcal
Agave Species: Espadin   (Oaxaca)

Nose: Toffee, nougat, buttery, fresh-baked cookies, agave, roasted pepper, vegetal, apple, green apple, floral, eucalyptus, grass, sandalwood, herbs, mint, tobacco, salty, brine, woody, molcajete, mineral oil, smoky.
Palate: Cream soda, honey, apple juice, dates, creamy, oatmeal, fine-bodied agave, grassy, herbs, green pepper, black onion seeds, anise, cinnamon, spicy, black pepper, cracked peppercorn, tobacco, mineral, earth, smoky, smooth, great winter drink.
Finish: Honey, chocolate powder, agave, white flowers, mint, almond, spice, peppery, cherry pits, tobacco, smoke, peaty, earthy, wet rock, crisp, smooth, soft, complex.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Alacrán Mezcal

IBÁ 40 Organic Mezcal
Agave Species: Espadín   (Oaxaca)

Nose: Caramel, honey, creamy, vanilla, poached apple, pear, lemon, papaya, pineapple, cooked agave, grassy, anise, herb, tobacco, smoked Islay scotch, brine, medicinal, smoky, oak, smooth.
Palate: Cream soda, praline, honey, melon, lime, grilled pineapple, herbs, mint, peppermint, spice, nutmeg, peppercorn, bacon, tobacco, briny, wet stones, briny, peaty, smoke, pine, smooth.
Finish: Anise, clove, Connecticut cigar, white pepper, salty, briny, earthy, cherry smoke, smoke, wood, full-flavored, nice, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

IBÁ 40 Organic Mezcal

Los Nahuales Joven Mezcal
Agave Species: Espadín   (Oaxaca)

Nose: Nougat, vanilla, honey, apple, pear, pear juice, citrus, lime, pineapple, agave, sandalwood, juniper, mint, herbal, wet stones, clay, hickory, smoke.
Palate: Praline, vanilla, honey, pineapple, agave, lime, roasted pepper, bell pepper, fennel, anise, herb, mint, grass, moss, sandalwood, tarragon, cumin, pepper, sea salt, peat, campfire, charcoal, briny, wood, smoke, fresh.
Finish: Pineapple, dried ginger, corn, grain, mint, herb, cinnamon, peppery, tobacco, mineral, wet stone, smoky, smooth, well-balanced.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Los Nahuales Joven Mezcal

Tres Papalote Joven Normál
Agave Species: Wild Cupreata   (Guerrero)

Nose: Treacle, vanilla, honey, apple, pear, citrus, lime, asparagus, woody, oaky, tobacco, peat moss, maritime, seawater, morning mist, crisp.
Palate: Nougat, vanilla, cream soda, honey, exotic agave, peach, papaya, apple, raw pear, corn, barley, dried herbs, spearmint, mint, cinnamon, pepper, pink peppercorns, mineral oil, a weeping willow of smoke. wood, soft, smooth.
Finish: Pineapple, dark chocolate, creamy, clove, anise, mint gum, spicy, tobacco, fresh, clean, a wet rock on the ocean, smooth, beautiful.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Tres Papalote Joven Normál Mezcal




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What salt mixture do you recommend for rimming the glass?

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