The to-do list surrounding Malt is pretty dramatic and as vast as the Grand Canyon. Things we have to cover and want to achieve with all the best intentions. However, that old chestnut of father time keeps us at arms length. This is, after all, not a full-time gig, more a labour of love that we somehow give the illusion of all-encompassing.

One of my personal aims in 2019 is to explore mezcal, or for Malt write about mezcal, as we’ve mentioned our fondness for the Mexican spirit but never actually gone so far as to review it. Therefore, I’ve put that right with this debut piece and hopefully as I source more throughout the year, we can do this a couple more times if there’s interest.

In the UK, Mezcal isn’t widely available so you tend to have limited pickings. The premium end of the market is the domain of single estate, handcrafted, bespoke releases with traditional methods and less commercial strains of agave utilised. More commercial and intensive mezcals occupy the cheaper end of the market that has stepped towards a more efficient and industrial approach to production. Does this remind you of another spirit closer to home?

In the UK, I believe we have a love for all things Mexican. Friends seem to visit the country to spend their weeks in a compound, which isn’t my idea of a vacation. I’d rather explore and experience the true culture, flavours and spirits of whatever country I find myself in. To be locked away seems a towering shame. Although my American relatives tell me that their days of visiting Mexico are sadly at an end for various reasons.

Recently, I reviewed an inventive approach to tequila from a Scottish company called UWA. In this piece, I tapped into the existing image of bad tequila and knocking back the spirit in the search of escape. Or that’s how it seemed at the time from the company I kept. Point being, tequila had a poor image that it is trying to overcome. Whilst it is related to mezcal, thankfully this spirit doesn’t have the same stigma. I’d recommend for further reading the excellent read from Emma Janzen with a gloriously long title i.e. Mezcal: The History, Craft & Cocktails of the World’s Ultimate Artisanal Spirit. This gives you a sense of the origins and future that awaits mezcal. Such things we’ll leave for another article.

For this starter piece, I wanted to compare a more premium release against a trio of potentially affordable and widely available mezcals. It should, in theory, throw up some interesting angles including if the price is a barometer of quality or inefficiency? The different types of agave and production methods used? Hopefully, you’ll join me in future mezcal forays as we delve further into this intoxicating Mexican tradition.

For reviewing purposes we’ll drop the colour criteria as it seems pointless.

Del Maguey Mezcal Vida – review

A single village mezcal this is twice distilled using the Espadin agave and bottled at 42% strength and will set you back around £44.95 a bottle from Amazon, or it’s available from the Whisky Exchange for the same price.

On the nose: Smoky pine cones, basil and fennel with milk chocolate. Lemon thyme and a fresh finish nature. An earthy foundation and a mineral quality, liquorice root and water best is avoided.

In the mouth: ashy and smoky with chilli flakes. Oddly, lavender on the finish which is really weird. It is lacking body and development. Fennel and celery follow, with water things are sanded down with less definition.

Score: 5/10

Los Siete Misterios Coyote 2015 – review

Made using the rare Coyote variety of agave this is bottled at 46.3% and will set you back circa £80.56 a bottle from Amazon although this is the 2017 edition, and the Whisky Exchange has a different vintage for £63.95.

On the nose: More spirit based and a touch of meths oddly. Leafy and autumnal vegetation, oily with hints of menthol. Minty, with aniseed, kindling, red lettuce followed by lime juice and coffee beans.

In the mouth: Much smoother than the rest and subtle. Olives and green mango, an unripe pineapple with an oily texture but not much more.

Score: 5/10

Montelobos Joven Mezcal – review

Made from the espadin agave this will set you back around £45.20 a bottle from Amazon, or a similar price from the Whisky Exchange.

On the nose: light with spent smoke and pebbledash. Chalky with limes and wood splinters. Some seashells and crushed grapes. There are some apples mixed in with mint leaf but little more.

In the mouth: Sweet with a big dollop of aniseed. It lacks power and has a limited palate. Very woody, a very neutral and inoffensive mezcal. Hard to recommend.

Score: 3/10

Pensador Mezcal – review

A combination of espadin and madre-cuishe agave is used in the process from harvest to bottle, which lasts 2 months. Bottled at 48% strength, this will set you back £37.25 from Amazon, or £39.95 from the Whisky Exchange but see our conclusions about the bottle size.

On the nose: very oily and dense. A cool aqua vibe followed by fennel, chickory and a little smoke. A minty freshness and a touch of ash. Some paraffin? A musty aspect to this mezcal with cooking apples, liquorice and a block of dry crumbly wood.

In the mouth: sweeter than expect before the earthiness and a clay-like aspect. Quite savoury in parts, olives, smokey and grapefruit. Aniseed on the finish with some blueberries and dry wood again.

Score: 6/10

Conclusions

A very mixed selection of mezcal. When putting this assortment together I wanted to pitch the more affordable offerings against a more luxurious or premium example. Generally, the lesser priced mezcals held their own fairly well. There were some evident limitations as you can see, but overall the winner of this grouping would be the Pensador mezcal that you can pick up for £37.25 for 50cl from Amazon. Remember that’s a reduced size and our in normal day jobs of whisky/whiskey reviewing, we do the maths. Meaning the Pensador is the equivalent of £52.15 for a standard 70cl bottle. This is still good value for the experience, especially when compared to other mezcals in the market.

The biggest disappointment arguably is Montelobas Joven in terms of scoring, but I’d highlight the Los Siete Misterios Coyote, which for its premium price tag is more of a curio than a worthwhile purchase. I really was expecting more layers and a sense of something fine. As an initial foray into mezcal I’m enthused to try more and see what delights await.

Images from the Whisky Exchange and there are commission links within this article – these never influence our opinion.

CategoriesMezcal
  1. Avatar
    Welsh Toro says:

    Great to see you having a go at Mezcal Jason. I’m very fond of it and have a small but tasty collection. I love the story about Mezcal and it is a genuinely craft product. Sustainability of the various Agave used in the production is all important and that’s why there is only a certain amount produced annually. It’s possible to Google Earth some of the villages producing the Mezcal and we are talking small scale. The very best Mezcals are not cheap and this is why. However, I do think they are worth it. The best Mezcals are every bit as good as whisky at the same price. Most of my favourites are around the 50% abv point but Mezcal is not allowed, by law, to be above 55% if I remember correctly.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi WT, great post. Never thought about using Google Earth, but a great ploy. Along the lines of drinking a closed distillery and reading about its existence. Yep, I’ve had a couple of £90+ bottles and the depth and range of flavour are good value when you pick well. Once I’ve escaped the clutches of Cadenhead’s, more Mezcal is on the cards. Cheers, JJ.

  2. Avatar

    Hi Jason,
    Great article. I am very happy to see Mezcal is gaining traction in the UK, but as far as I am concerned, the UK is one of the countries with most Mezcal imports after the U.S. of course. As you mentioned, Mezcal does not have the same stigma as Tequila and it is up to us to keep it that way.
    Last year we founded a small company in Hamburg, Germany with the goal to offer high quality Mezcal for an affordable price tag. Our Mezcal is called Alma Libre (Free Soul). We would be honoured if you were to check it out and give us your opinion. If you are, let us know so we can arrange something.

  3. Jason
    Jason says:

    Hi Matthias

    Thanks for dropping by and taking time to read the piece. Just checked out your website. Like the bottle design and the level of information about each release. Great to see.

    Sure, let’s get something set up! Cheers, Jason.

  4. Avatar
    John says:

    In the defense of the Del Maguey Vida, it was reluctantly made by Ron Cooper as a mixer. I read his book. He says in didn’t intend on making a mezcal mainly for mixing but he was urged by the bartenders to do so as his earlier releases while great, were a bit pricey to use in cocktails.

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