Mezcal? Isn’t that a brand of tequila? No – they are slightly different beverages but with great similarities in both taste and production methods.
Tequila and mezcal are made from agave which grows in many parts of Mexico. Most mezcal is made in Oaxaca. Tequila must be made from blue agave and mezcal should not be made from blue agave. This can be produced from more than 30 different varieties of agave but agave espadin is the most popular. Mezcals will vary in flavour much more than do tequilas, due to the range of agaves from which they can be made.
In Mexico, mezcal is generally consumed straight rather than being mixed as part of a cocktail. It is often served with sliced oranges sprinkled with a mixture of ground fried larvae, ground chili and a salt called sal de gusano, which literally translates as “worm salt”. Yes, a dried version of the ‘worm’ sometimes found in bottles of these distilled drinks – and those are the ones I avoid!
The agave plant is resilient and adapts to changes in climate. Through the process of photosynthesis it turns water and CO2 into starches (inulin). Once the plant reaches maturity it produces a flower. It does this only once in its long life of perhaps two decades. The flower has to be removed as soon as it appears; the main leaves are cut leaving just the fleshy inside cone or piña which is dug up. This vital ingredient can weigh up to 100kg.
For most tequilas, the piñas are baked in steam ovens. Mezcal can also be produced in this manner although, traditionally, the piñas are roasted in an underground pit filled with burning wood and rocks. It’s this process that gives mezcal its distinct and lingering smoky taste. Tequila agave is shredded, but mescal agave is pressed to extract the juice.
The brand Amores was founded in 2010 by a group of friends who, after making several trips to different mescal-producing states in Mexico, developed a love for the drink. The adventure encouraged them to create a product that showcases the best of its traditions and quality. They wanted to find a smooth and balanced mezcal but one which still displayed characteristics of the classic spirit.
I tasted the unaged Mezcal Amores from Oaxaca. This was a surprisingly smooth spirit with great character for such a youthful mezcal. This would be a perfect drink for sipping – no shots in this house. Its smoky finish makes this the drink of choice for a night by the log fire.
Tasting notes: Complex with hints of hazelnuts, sandalwood and cinnamon. It has a long finish with plenty of smoke. Delicious!
Drinks review by Chrissie Walker © 2018