Tequila is considered the most popular drink in Mexico. Yet it's not the same in the whole country. In the state of Oaxaca, they don’t want to know anything about this drink. Here they produce and drink mezcal. Another Mexican pride that is gaining popularity in the rest of the country and the rest of the world.
“ Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, también. ”
Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage that, like tequila, is made from the agave plant. But where tequila is only made from the blue agave, mezcal can be made from up to 30 varieties. Depending on the type of agave used, it can take 8 to 25 years for a plant to ripen. Mezcal has a high alcohol percentage and a predominantly smoky taste.
The drink can be divided into 4 categories:
- Blanco: this mezcal is bottled for consumption immediately after the distillation process. The drink is colourless and you can taste light citrus aromas;
- Reposado: after the distillation process, the mezcal is kept in oak barrels for at least 2 months. The colour is yellowish or golden and you will find hints of cinnamon in the taste;
- Añejo: this mezcal is aged for at least a year in wooden barrels. The drink has a brown color and you taste notes of coffee, chocolate and vanilla;
- Oro: this kind of mezcal is made for tourists, so you should never taste it.
My trip through the land of the Mezcal
Last December I visited both the city and the state of Oaxaca and although there is a lot more to do, Mezcal should not be missed during a tour of Oaxaca.
Mezcal tasting in a Mezcaleria
In Oaxaca we had a mezcal tasting in one of the many mezcalerias. We visited a small mezcaleria that specializes in local and artisanal brews that are still produced in the traditional way. Here we got more information about the production process and in the meantime, there were three small glasses with different types for us to taste. We got a mezcal of 5 to 8 years old, the other one was made from a wild agave that grows for about 25 years. The last one was a mezcal in a barrel which was covered with cowhide during the second distillation round for an extra smoky taste. It was a nice experience to learn more about this drink in this way.
A visit to a Mezcal farmer
The next day we were on our way to Hierve el Agua (a hot spring that has created waterfalls of lime over the years) when we drove past a local mezcal brewery. The terrain looked out over a valley where the agave is collected for the mezcal. Truly a beautiful place. When we drove onto the terrain, we were warmly welcomed by four tough Mexican mezcal farmers.
One of the men told us that the agaves are brought to this place with a donkey. The leaves are removed and only the heart, the piña remains. Depending on the kind of agave, a piña can weigh up to 20 kilos. The piñas are cooked for days in a dug-out pit. Along the pit was a mountain of piñas that had just been in the fire for 5 days and on the other side were new agave hearts ready to cook. The sugar in the heart of the agave caramelizes. After this has cooled down, the piñas are ground and put in a large barrel with the yeast of the previous load. This creates a new fermentation process. Finally, the mash is put into a kettle and distilled. Usually the drink is distilled twice before you have a mezcal with an alcohol percentage of at least 55%. Of course, after the explanation we could taste a glass of their own brew, and one and another. Salud!
What's a good Mezcal?
As with other drinks, you have mezcal of good quality, but also of poor quality. If you want to try this drink once, make sure you buy a mezcal that meets the following requirements for the right quality:
- Mezcal with 100% agave is the best, other types have additives and that is not the intention for a drink like mezcal. It should be as pure and natural as possible;
- The alcohol percentage should be between 36 and 55%;
- The label must state the state of origin and the type of agave used;
- Finally, a mezcal certified by the Mexican government has a unique NOM number on the bottle. When the NOM number is followed by a code with an O, you know that this mezcal is produced in the state of Oaxaca.
Are you curious about the country of the Mezcal and would you like to make a trip through Mexico or Oaxaca yourself? Then take a look at the travel itineraries that we have put together for inspiration. You can book these trips directly, but we are also happy to create personal programme based on your wishes and ideas.
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