It’s been a while since Malt featured a mezcal review. I apologize for that. New brands of mezcal are hard to come across where I am, so I’ve had to buy samples from bars. There also aren’t many local bars that invest in the not-so-popular spirit. Information on brands and production also aren’t as easily accessible as whisky, so it’s not easy to write about the spirit unless I have new brand to talk about.
When it comes to assessing a brand of mezcal I’m unfamiliar with, I usually look at the Espadin they bottle. In case you’re unfamiliar with what Espadin is, it’s the most-used agave variety for mezcal. For one, it’s the most cultivated. With my limited knowledge of mezcal, it’s the only agave variety I know of that’s farmed. There’s the Blue Weber agave, but it’s mainly used for tequila. Another reason for its frequent use is that it only takes about seven or eight years to reach full maturity. Seven or eight years may seem like a long time, but I say “only” because the well-known wild agave varieties can take 20 to 30 years to reach full maturity.
Why gauge a brand by their bottled Espadin? Well, since it’s the most-cultivated agave variety for mezcal, it’s what most brands bottle for their basic releases. This makes a brand’s espadin mezcal their equivalent of a Scotch single malt brand’s entry-level 10 or 12 year old. They’re the easiest to find, and usually the most affordable. If you don’t like a brand’s basic or entry-level releases, you should second guess diving deeper into their ranges. They’re clearly not doing their best.
When talking about mezcal, it’s recommended that you relate it to wine’s practice of using origin for clues to its flavor. Instead of looking at the whole world for differences, though, you just look at certain parts of Mexico. Why? Because of terroir. When I say terroir, I mean how the land affects the agave, and how the agave is affected by the people who grow and distill it. An Espadin mezcal made from Oaxaca can be different from an Espadin made in Michoacan. I compared three from different parts of Oaxaca in this previous review to provide more detail. Mezcal is a hard spirit to learn about for now, as it hasn’t yet received as much attention as other alcoholic categories. As a result, differences are mainly distilled down to the techniques of the producers, which are more like family recipes. “Recipes” in this case can mean they just do it because that’s what the previous generation did and it works. It can also mean they’ll be secretive about their process.
Marca Negra is a brand that’s always piqued my curiosity. Taylor and Jason reviewed a pair of their mezcals back in 2019. While most brands bottle their Espadins at 40% to 46% ABV, they bottle theirs at 50%. I see them in some bars and stores when I visit California, but I’ve always had other bottles and cocktails on the agenda. Without a website, the information you can learn about them is very limited. I had to rely on MezcalReviews.com just to get the very little information I could obtain.
Marca Negra Espadin is a Joven (Spanish for young, and in tequila, the equivalent of blanco) mezcal from San Juan Del Rio, Oaxaca. The mezcalero is Isaias Martinez Juan. It is ground in tahona and double distilled in copper pot stills. You can buy a bottle at Old Town Tequila for $62.99, and it is bottled at 51.5%. Luckily, I didn’t need to buy a whole bottle; a local mezcal bar, Atoda Madre, was offering customized sample sets.
Macra Negra Espadin – review
Color: liquid diamond.
On the nose: Very green and has very little ethanol heat, despite the ABV. The mild scents I get here give me green images in my head. At the front are scents of agave, fresh-cut grass, pineapple leaves, pineapple rinds, lime peel, yellow & green bell peppers, calamansi peel, scallions, chives and coriander.
In the mouth: Surprisingly fruity and unsurprisingly mellow with the heat. There are still lots of green tastes in here, but the fruity notes are also very pronounced. I get mild and slightly lasting tastes of pineapple rind, unripe pineapples, yellow & green bell peppers, and lime peel; the latter end taste of cacao mixed with toffee, nuts, medium-roasted El Salvadoran natural coffee, papaya, pink grapefruit and dalandan. At the end are light and quick tastes of santol (aka cotton fruit), lanzones, melons and unripe mandarin oranges.
This is a whopping and delicious mezcal. I’d buy a case at almost $63 per bottle. There’s just something amazing about mezcal, which are mostly unaged, and the ability of the ethanol in them to not attack your senses as the ABV suggests they would. Their long fermentation times (close to a week), using primarily wild yeast, most likely play a big factor. I’ve read that fast fermentations result in stressing out the yeast, which plays a part in the expressiveness of the ethanol heat in a spirit. I’ve had Scotch single malts like Glenlivet 12 smell and taste hotter than this, and have less flavor and complexity.
I’d give this a higher score if the flavors lasted longer, and if the non-green notes were more pronounced on the nose. While tasty, the flavors took their turns pretty quickly, which made me drink what’s in my glass faster. It made me chase certain flavors I liked and wanted to pick out more.
Photo taken by the bar owner of Atoda Madre.