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Mezcal Misconceptions

The world is full of misconceptions.

Before easier access to the internet and creation of smartphones, we believed that wrong information spread easily because it wasn’t straightforward to check facts. Since we have realized that access to information nowadays has become a double-edged sword. Anyone can post anything online. Fake news sites and misinformed articles can be made to look and sound as legit as the credible sources, which makes them more believable. Entities who have an agenda can use trolls, or influencers, to keep their own narrative going. A lot of people take the word of a famous person as credible just because that person is famous. This has made me consider just because someone received an education it does not mean they are intelligent.

The world of food has a lot of it. For example, it’s been long said that fresh fish makes the best sushi. No! Raw cuts of fish can be “aged” to give it more flavor. Freshwater fish like some salmon aren’t always safe to eat raw due to parasites. MSG is bad for you? No. Sounds more like ignorance and racism. Aged steak, aged parmesan cheese and tomato contain MSG. When someone consumes any of these, do you hear about how they suffer from Chinese Restaurant Syndrome?

Because food is closely related to beverages and alcohol there, too, are many misconceptions around it. For many years we assumed that Japanese whisky had such golden standards for production. It was very surprising and enlightening to learn that they had none whatsoever and are just currently working on it. All this time, they were just relying on their golden reputation and used the SWA standards as a benchmark.

Agave-based spirits have long been looked down upon. In my opinion, mixto Tequila like Cuervo are largely to blame for our Tequila trauma. These sweetened and smooth shots appeal to youthful nights, but cast doom upon our mornings. While some Mezcal can taste like it’s out of this world, it is still of this world. So, it too suffers from many misconceptions. I remember “smoky Tequila” and “the more interesting cousin of Tequila” as the most common phrases used to describe Mezcal back in 2012 up to 2016.

I can understand why “smoky Tequila” was used to give Mezcal a sort of a foothold early on. The smokey quality was, I assume, used to make Mezcal attractive to the peat heads and ultimately whisky drinkers. Despite Tequila being consumed by millions, a lot of us never even bothered to learn about it until recently. So why would Del Maguey and the other earlier brands expect these Tequila drinkers to learn about Mezcal’s more complex nature (compared to Tequila) if we paid Tequila very little concern?

Sadly, even with more education and awareness, people still really cling on to the smoky aspect of Mezcal. I find it disheartening when someone new to Mezcal says they only want to try it because they were told of the smoky flavor. It makes me fear that there will be brands who will take advantage of Mezcal’s smoky reputation. I have heard of some brands adding smoke artificially to hide the faults of their product. Sure, a lot of Mezcal have smoke in them. But Mezcal is more than just smoke. The main focus should be on the agave and the distiller’s technique. Mezcal does not have to be smoky to be good. The smoke is just there due to some producer’s technique of cooking the agave.

I guess despite the strides of the category, this just means Mezcal still has a long way to go. There’s still room for more enthusiasts who can help with the education.

Del Maguey Madrecuixe (LOT MAD – 151) – review

Color: liquid diamond.

On the nose: A very bright, citrusy and floral scent. At the front, I get a static mix of lychee, grapefruit, oranges, bergamot and the front-end smell of cinnamon sticks. At the end are undertones of chocnut, beets and citrus peels.

In the mouth: Bright and citrusy like the nose but more earthy. This is like chewing on asparagus with citrus peels and beets. It gets a bit earthier midway. I’m reminded of mango salsa but with more green bell peppers and pineapple skin. Hints of cilantro at the end.

Conclusions

Can one ever go wrong with Del Maguey? I feared, and still do, for the quality of its future releases after Pernod bought into it a while back. Despite my reservations, this is a great example of an accessible and smokeless (for me) Mezcal.

I say accessible, because Del Maguey is one of the most widely distributed Mezcal brands out there. Peat heads will most likely not pick up on the weaker smoke here for obvious reasons. I let my non-Mezcal drinking cousins try this just before the lockdown and they said they got hints of smoke. But I have to wonder if they said it because they know Mezcal as being smoky or if they really do taste it.

I love how refreshing this is. It has more citrusy flavors then green. What you get on the nose is what you get in the mouth. It lacks complexity but the texture and length of this is pretty good. I remember paying around $110 for this. Money well spent.

Score: 7/10

El Senorio Joven Con Gusano – review

Color: clear.

On the nose: Very thin scents. There are hints of smoke followed by a sharp lime peel smell and sal de gusano (Mezcal worm salt). After it is bits and pieces of cinnamon, beets and starfruit.

In the mouth: A lot less smoke than on the nose. Peppery and thin in the mouth. This tastes pretty much just like sal de gusano at this point. Sal de gusano recipes change depending on who makes them. But it’s generally salt with worms that eat agave and spices.

Conclusions

This is probably the first industrial Mezcal I’ve tried. I say industrial because I can’t find helpful information about this online. It’s partly why I bought it along with two other red flags. 38% and worms in the bottle (look at the lower right of the image). Worms in Mezcal bottles gave Mezcal the bad image before the artisanal like Del Maguey gained traction.

When I tasted this, I got a very different kind of smoke. It tastes more like a rubbery or plastic type of smoke unlike the natural smoke I get from more artisanal Mezcal. This makes me wonder if this is one of those brands with smoke artificially added to it? Aside from those, this isn’t horrible. This is very thin, light and too one dimensional.

I paid about $30 for this. Worth buying a bottle for enjoying? No. Worth buying a bottle in the name of education? Yes.

Score: 4/10

CategoriesMezcal
  1. Avatar
    Rick says:

    Hi John,

    Looks like autocorrect turned “Madrecuixe” into “Matricide” in the header of your review for it lol If it was indeed named the latter, it would be up there with instances like Chevy naming one of their cars the “Nova”, and wondering why they weren’t getting many sales in Spanish speaking countries (‘No va’ = ‘doesn’t go’). If I recall correctly, ‘Siri’ was also pretty humorous to people who speak Japanese.

    Cheers!

      1. Avatar
        Rick says:

        You’re welcome! Mistakes like that could be made more often; I got a good laugh out of it. I thought, “What quaint and calm bottle art for something called ‘Matricide’…maybe the mother of the person poling the boat is in that urn?”

        Here’s a bit I found explaining about why “Siri” is humorous if it has to be spoken by someone who is a native Japanese speaker in Japan, such as to activate it on their phone by saying, “Hey Siri”:

        “Japanese people can’t say ‘si.’ They say ‘shi’. Their alphabet has no ‘si’ sound. So, ‘Siri’ is pronounced ‘shiri’ in their language. ‘Shiri’ means ass.”

        1. John
          John says:

          Heh! I love the humor.

          And thanks for the insight on Shiri meaning ass. I guess I’ll have to use that to poke fun at Japanese bartenders next time.

  2. Avatar
    Ellen Foster says:

    John, thanks for the insight. I am a mezcal taster, as well as tequila. Fortaleza in the house and 5 Del Maquey options. I won’t name everything in the arsenal but I appreciate reading your words and learning how to better describe what flavors I experience. Will watch for more of your intriguing thoughts.

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Ellen,

      Thanks for the kind words. I hope my tasting notes help you out. I live in the Philippines which makes me mostly sure that my palate will be different from western palates.

      Aside from “Understanding Mezcal” and “Finding Mezcal” do you have any other good resources for Mezcal? I find it quite frustrating that there aren’t a lot of resources out there yet.

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