Mezcal – Mexico’s Answer to Single Malt Whiskey
Often misunderstood or even unknown, Mezcal is the older sibling to tequila. They both go hand in hand, for instance; Mezcal is the term for any spirit made from the agave (or maguey) plant, whilst Tequila is made in one Region, from one strain: blue agave.
What we have noticed in recent years is that there is a growing appreciation in Ireland for the uniqueness of Mezcal. Partly driven by the blossoming cocktail scene but also by consumers wanting to experience different tastes and character available from this unique spirit.
Whilst there are a lot of cheap and nasty Mezcals out there it should not be limited to this classification as there are a lot of high quality examples out there too. We have found that the smoky, woody notes often bountiful in the higher end expressions appeal to whiskey drinkers.
How is it made? Although, Tequila and Mezcal share the similarity of both being derived from the agave plant, that is where the likeness ends. Mezcal tends to be mostly made in Oaxaca, but in general the South of Mexico. Mezcal is also distilled quite differently to Tequila, the ‘pina’ (the heart of the agave plant) is roasted in deep pits full of charcoal or oak and then distilled in clay or copper pots, which is naturally where a ‘smoky’ flavour imparts on the Mezcal. This handcrafted process can often take quite some time and requires extensive expertise.
Some people will argue that Tequila has been widely industrialized, however, this hasn’t transpired the same with Mezcal. Indeed, one of the charms of Mezcal is that in the main it is a crafted, small batch product. Each distillery possesses a unique character in the same way as a Scottish or Irish whiskey distillery. Add to the mix a huge array of Agave species that can be used and you will realise the potential for a range of different and quite challenging flavours.
Aged examples can be labelled in the same way as Tequila. Reposado indicating a short maturation and Anejo a longer maturation. However, most Mezcal connoisseurs prefer to drink the unaged stuff as it retains the rich flavours of agave and the subtle smokiness of the oak or charcoal used to roast the piñas.
At the Celtic Whiskey Shop, naturally our focus is whiskey- predominantly Irish Whiskey, you might have guessed from the name. However due to the strong correlations between mezcal and whiskey we have started to explore this category in a little more depth. Here are a few of our current favourites. Some of which we would describe as ideal ‘malternatives’…
Zignum Silver Mezcal Joven
70 cl – 38% ABV
€56.99 – Available at the Celtic Whiskey Shop
A relatively inexpensive joven (young) spirit.
This example delivers delicate, floral and fruity flavours of agave without the smokiness encountered in other types of Mezcal.
Made in Oaxaca from the Espadin variety, this is one we are happy to sip, mix or use in cocktails.
Los Danzantes Joven
70cl – 43% ABV
€93.99 – Available at the Celtic Whiskey Shop
This label was established in 1997 by a local restaurant owner who was eager to make Mezcal a more widely appreciated product. The methods used to make it adhere to the tradition and customs of the region with the distillery appearing to display a unique mix of old and new design features. Made 100% from the Espadin Agave, Los Danzantes is distilled in small copper pot stills and possesses a wonderful smoky and spicy flavour profile. Each bottle is individually numbered and batches are limited to less than 1000 bottles.
Del Maguey Single Village Pechuga
70 cl – 49% ABV
€230.99 – Available at the Celtic Whiskey Shop
No article on Mezcal would be complete without mentioning Del Maguey!
This company work in a similar fashion to an independent Scotch whisky bottler by sourcing single village products from very small distilleries.
Pechuga is without doubt the most amazing and traditional style of Mezcal, and is just one of their many different bottlings. During the final distillation something unusual happens.
The still is filled with all manner of items including apples, plums, plantains, pineapples, almonds and rice. Finally, to top it all off a well washed chicken breast is added to the top section of the still!
Once the distillation is complete the family who make the Mezcal will share the food from the still amongst themselves in a ritualistic fashion. The addition of the chicken breast is done to stop the fruit flavours becoming overbearing and is said to add balance to the flavours of this unique Mezcal.
Celtic Whiskey Shop & Wines on the Green on Dublin’ Dawson Street is a multi award winning retailer and a mecca for any whiskey, wine or spirits lover. The store stocks a superb variety of Irish whiskey including many rare and exclusive bottlings. Expert staff serve up free whiskey tastings all day every day, and are on hand to offer any assistance you may need to purchase your favourite tipple. The store hosts a variety of exciting whiskey tastings each month.
Celtic Whiskey Bar & Larder Killarney is home to one of Ireland’s most expansive whiskey ranges, stocking an enormous selection of Irish and international whiskey, creative cocktails, Irish craft beers & spirits. Irish Whiskey Experience hosts a range whiskey masterclasses in Killarney and Dublin.