Remember the PalmPilot?
Some may tilt their heads, not understanding what I’m referring to, but many of us have been alive long enough to recall this avant-garde gadget. My father, an adept wielder of the Pilot, would often get strange looks from passersby as he sent e-mails with a few taps from his tiny plastic stylus.
Alas, the world was not ready for Jeff Hawkins’ glimpse of the future, and the PalmPilot’s popularity was short lived. Though there were definitely some who saw the value of having such access to information literally in the palm of your hand.
Fast forward twenty-five years later, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an individual not staring into their hands reading an e-mail or sending cat videos to a friend.
So, what happened? The idea was good, but in a world where things were still a little more compartmentalized than streamlined, the concept wasn’t taking. Nonetheless, the idea kept reintroducing itself in different forms. Blackberries, iPhones, Tablets, etc.
Mezcal has been around for hundreds of years, but has only become popular in the U.S. in the last two decades. Is this merely a trend, or part of a longer arc in changing consumer habits? I hope the latter, but only time will tell.
Part of the reason Mezcal is now on store shelves, in our glasses, and part of the public’s overall drinking vocabulary is owed to consistent efforts made by producers to get this product into the spotlight. Sales representatives for importers and distributors (who are essentially the Willy Loman salesforce of the spirits industry) had the difficult task of convincing bars, restaurants, and stores to start stocking a spirit that (at first) no one was asking for. Because, unfortunately, products don’t get stocked by business owners on the sole basis that they taste good (if only).
So Mezcal, like many spirits before it, went through a series of presentations and pitches to get its proverbal foot in the door. Some brands went with a pared-down look, others wanted their mezcal to look as flashy as a bottle of Tequila (Mezcal’s longstanding industrial success of a cousin). However, even if an importer managed to get some product into an establishment, there’s still the leg work of educating the public, answering questions, and explaining the processes that make this spirit unique.
Until it reached a tipping point, the floodgates opened, and the spirits market was awash with Mezcal. Which is why today, I’m tasting through a random selection of brands to check in on the quality of Mezcal now available in the North America.
The first taste is from a cooperative I’ve already written about: Sanzekan. Like the previous one, this is made from Cupreata agave by another of their Mezcaleros, Don Refugio. However, this Mezcal also falls under the Pechuga category. Pechuga is a special style of Mezcal that is infused with a protein (as well as fruits, nuts, and spices, if you so choose). Usually, the protein is a domesticated animal like chicken or lamb, but in this case it is infused with stink bugs called Chumilin, that are used many different ways in Mexican cuisine.
Sanzekan “Refugio” Agave Cupreata Chumilin Mezcal – Review
On the nose: The aromas are earthy and mouthwatering; what’s not to like? I smell clay, agave syrup, and menthol up front. Beyond that there are hints of white flowers and sweet spices. A concise and inviting experience.
In the mouth: Lots of underripe stone fruits and green stem flavors. A luxurious oily texture. The stem-y bitterness is followed by bold smoke paired with a mild sap sweetness. This smolders into heavy char flavors. The sweetness you get on the mid-palate lingers until the end, which is simple but pleasant.
This hits a variety of points on the tongue. Sweet, bitter, and savory. A good mezcal for those who love Espadín but are looking to step outside what they know. However, it is still from the Sanzekan cooperative, and therefore a little difficult to get your hands on. If you’re willing to purchase a few liters and travel to Mexico City, you can get this for $40 a liter.
This next Mezcal is made in San Luis del Rio, Oaxaca, by the Velsco family. They are part of the cooperative Legendary Domingo (Legendary Sunday). This is made from the Espadín agave and it spends at least eight years in the ground maturing before it is harvested.
Legendario Domingo Espadín Mezcal – Review
Bottled at 48% ABV. Sold for $43 on their website.
On the nose: The aroma, at first, is a little thin. However, with warmth, it wakes up and is much more potent. Fresh citrus, aloe, and charcoal smoke. Beyond that are oily scents of flowers and olives.
In the mouth: A creamy texture that slowly evaporates on the tongue. Big flavors of agave, juicy citrus (grapefruit/lemon/melon), and refreshing spices. The agave and fruit lend the palate a fair amount of sweetness. Though this dries up towards the finish; green veggies and roasted meat come to the forefront. Lastly, there is a dry, spicy note of white pepper.
This has some weight that I don’t often see in Espadín. It allows the primary flavors to linger and the secondary flavors more time to show up. A really solid Espadín, and a great everyday sipper.
Matlazihua Coyote Mezcal – Review
Bottled at 40% ABV.
On the nose: A really powerful fragrance. Pink peppercorns and bubblegum make for delightful top notes, followed by earthy layers of horseradish and light leather, all capped off with the sweet smell of green melon. A colorful bouquet, if that makes sense to anyone.
In the mouth: Delicate and exotic. These two adjectives so often seem to go hand in hand, and this mezcal is no exception. The melon and bubblegum from the nose combine and remind me of the Japanese chewy candy Hi-Chew. The mid-palate has spicy nuances of shaved wasabi and radishes. The finish lands softly with edible flowers and refreshing mint leaf.
Coyote, depending on the region, can be related to different agave species. Though two of its more famous relations are Arroqueno and Madrecuishe, two agaves that are wild and take decades to mature. But the wait is worthwhile, as the aromas and flavors (in my experience) can knock you off your feet.
I see a lot of these qualities in this Mezcal. Wild and articulate flavors that make you want delicious foods. My only complaint is that I wish the volume (alcohol) were turned up a bit. You could sip this alone, but I’m sure you’d slowly nod off and dream of feasts.
Raicilla is an agave spirit made similarly to Mezcal, however, it is produced in Jalisco. Between differences in stills, methods, and terroir, it’s not exactly apples to apples. Nonetheless, it rode the Mezcal wave out of the country, and is definitely part of the discussion.
Mezonte Raicilla – Review
Bottled at 47% ABV.
On the nose: Raicilla, to me, always has a powdery aroma. Sometimes it’s mac and cheese powder, and other times it’s crushed aspirin. This leans more towards the latter. Moving past that, there is crushed mint and pine. If you want something more savory, let it air out in the glass and a smoked meat aroma waiting for you.
In the mouth: There’s lots to enjoy on the first sip. Smoked tea, cinnamon bark, powdered peppermint, and licorice. Sip again for more bitter vegetation flavors like agave and green tea. There’s also a pine resin finish that is refreshing but also bitter enough to make you want to sip again.
The wild flavors make this a lot of fun, as they tease and satisfy the tastebuds. The bitter finish makes it function a bit like an aperitif, and makes me hungry. Mezonte’s spirits tend to run anywhere from $125 to $200. The price of entry is high, but the product is damn impressive. As is often the case, it’s worthwhile only if the flavors seem like your cup of tea.
Not a bad one in the bunch, which speaks highly of the overall quality of Mezcal now available. This is impressive considering if you looked for Mezcal 10 years ago, you’d only have a handful of choices, most of them made from Espadín agave.
With that in mind, the next time you uncork a new bottle of Mezcal, you may want to raise the first pour to every Jeff Hawkins out there, who may not have taken the world by storm initially, but laid the groundwork for others to follow.
Lead image courtesy of Matlazihua. Bottle photos courtesy of Mezcal Reviews.