We all know tequila, after all, it’s one of the most popular liquors across the globe, but have you ever heard of tequila’s smoky tasting cousin? Its name is mezcal. Despite not being as popular as many other spirits from around the world, this unique type of alcoholic drink has been gaining popularity quite rapidly. In fact, at least 3 million litres of the spirit are exported annually to over 60 different countries. With its new and exciting flavour profile, mezcal has significantly contributed to the emergence of new items on cocktail menus.
Alright, so what is mezcal? It’s a type of alcoholic beverage that’s made of cooked and fermented hearts of agave plants. In the Aztec language, it meant “oven-cooked agave.” This refers to the production process of the spirit.
There are around two hundred species of agave growing in the south of the USA, Mexico, as well as parts of South America. There are only a few with enough fermentable sugar to be turned into mezcal. While there are around thirty of them, the most popular variety is Agave espadin, which is grown in Oaxaca, Mexico, “the home of mezcal.”
Despite common belief, mezcal and tequila are quite different, and not only because of the location. You see, tequila is technically a type of mezcal, but mezcal isn’t always tequila. Both spirits are made from agave and can be produced in Mexico, but they differ in production methods, flavour and origination.
For mezcal, the agave hearts cooking process happens in huge underground pits that are lined with volcanic rock, like an underground oven. It’s fueled with wood and covered with dirt. As a result, the agave is smoked and baked until it’s ready for fermentation.
The flavour is another noticeable distinction between the two. Mezcal is known for being savoury and smokey, while tequila is considered sweet and smooth.
Mezcal is traditionally consumed straight, but some prefer it in a craft cocktail. Also, you can often find mezcal in “classic” tequila drinks like margaritas, palomas and negronis.
Mezcal is a unique drink that has a remarkable history. If you want to try this interesting, growing-in-popularity spirit, you can buy a bottle of mezcal at the ZYN liquor store in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, or shop online at ZYN.ca.