The word Mezcal originates from the ancient Nahuatl word ‘Mexcalli’ which is divided into two words, ‘Metl’ and ‘Izcalli; which translate to cooked maguey (Agave). It is well known that over twenty types of Mezcales are currently produced within the Republic of Mexico. With a current population of over two hundred species of Agave, a hundred and fifty of them being native to Mexico. With the state of Oaxaca leading the way with thirty eight Agave species native to the region, while eight of them are used for Mezcal production, which include the Agave Angustifolia, better known as the Espadín Agave, Tepeztate, Mexicano, Tobalá (Potatorum), Cuixe (Karwinskii), Jabalí, Arroqueño and the Sierra Negra. Other states within the Republic use the Agaves native to their region to produce other types of Mezcales. The state of Sonora produces Bacanora, made from the Agave Angustifolia and Agave Rhodacantha. The state of Durango produces its Mezcal from the Agave Cenizo (Durangensis). While the state of Jalisco produces the most popular of Mezcales, Tequila, made from the Blue Tequilana Weber Agave.
As such, each Mezcal is miles different from one the next and must be treated with the utmost respect while its consumed, as Mezcal is an integral part of the Mexican culture. Full of history, legends, aromas, flavors and folklore, all of which incorporate a vast amount of traditional wisdom, regarding the cultivation and use of the Agaves. The final product depends on the species of Agave employed, the climate in which the Agave matured, the specific fermentation & distillation processes and finally, the container used to age it. Each Mezcal bottle contains aspects of an age old tradition, of the land that gives it life and the vast knowledge of each individual producer, known as the Maestro & Maestra Mescaleros. This alone sets Mezcal apart from other spirits, not to mention its immense pre-Hispanic and Mesoamerican history. The fact that we don’t know exactly where Mezcal originated from, as major influences derived from different cultures and peoples, give Mezcal a rich history that makes it impossible to know everything about it. Still a controversial issue within the Mezcal community, as historical evidence of the first stills can be traced back to ancient China and the Middle East, not to mention the various local legends as to how this, spirit of the Gods, came into the possession of humans.
One such local legend tells of Quetzalcóatl, a feathered serpent and God of Wind, falling in love with the virgin Goddess Mayahuel, the sacred fountain of water, granddaughter of Tzitzímitl a celestial demon of darkness intent on preventing the Sun from raising. Upon learning of this for forbidden love, Tzitzímitl killed Mayahuel, ripping her limb by limb, scattering her pieces throughout the ancient world of the Aztecs. Quetzalcóatl cried with the deepest of sorrow on the burial sites of Mayahuel and thus the sacred Agave plant was born. In his rage, Quetzalcóatl killed Tzitzímitl, causing the Sun to rise every day, and during the fight, a lighting bolt struck the Agave, causing it to cook and the ancient peoples then enjoyed tis sweet nectar, giving birth the the sacred spirit of the Gods, Mezcal. Other versions the legend state that Mayahuel transformed into the Agave to hide from her Grandmother Tzitzímitl. But however Mezcal came to be, its roots are heavily planted within the state of Oaxaca.
My personal self discovery and love affair for this spirit started with El Rey De Matatlán in 2017. Located in the central valley region of Oaxaca, in the town of Tlacolula, about an hour outside the city, the staff at El Rey De Matatlán showed me the variety of Agave grown and cultivated within the state of Oaxaca, the different aromas each Agave produces, and most importantly, they showed me how to properly drink Mezcal. I’ve come along way since the first sip of Mezcal when I stood in the bar of Rey De Matatlán. As with any other passion, my knowledge of Mezcal continues to grow and with each morsel of knowledge I gain, I grow more proud to call myself a native of Oaxaca, as Mezcal runs through the blood of every Oaxaqueño. As I stated earlier, it’s almost impossible to know everything there is to know about Mezcal, as new information of its origin are constantly discovered, new stories of its Maestros and Maestras in the field are told and new Mezcal labels introduced into the market.
For your consideration, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite Mezcal labels for you to read on, in hopes that you’ll give them a try and help support our local Mezcal producers back in Oaxaca. Should you be interested, send me an e-mail, and I’ll set up a private tasting for you, in which I’ll talk about the processes of producing Mezcal with a brief history lesson and of course, I’ll have you try three different Espadín Mezcales. And this is why I love Mezcal so much, as it can transcend through different lifestyles and cultures. It can be consumed in times of happiness and in times of sorrow. It brings us together to mark a special occasion in our lives, a wedding and even a death in our family. Making us contemplate that life is measured out in cycles. The land’s cycle is marked by the flowering and maturing of the Agave. For the Agave, a cycle is marked by the coming of the rains. For the horse, whose powerful muscles bear the weight of the massive round stone that grinds the cooked Agave hearts, a cycle is made after every turn of the stone. For the Mezcal distiller, the last drop of Mezcal out of the alembic represents the end of yet another working day. For the Mezcal drinker, the cycle begins every time a new bottle is opened. And what a true drinker looks for in Mezcal is heightened sensitivity, not dulling of the senses. Mezcal uplifts the senses, conversation flows more freely, eruditely even, and far more cheerfully when a bottle of Mezcal is given a place of honor, at the table.
I wasn’t a fan of alcohol from the get go, due to my early influence from rock band A.F.I., who elegantly promoted the straight edge movement before it was cool. However, at age twenty four, after moving out, again, I decided to finally get drunk. After many ‘sampled’ alcohols, none seemed to be pleasing to my palette, I mean, they all got me drunk, but I’d end up getting grossed out by the end of the night, so much, that the smell of alone of certain alcohols would make me want to throw up. Then one day while watching an episode of Munchies, specifically the second episode of Guide To Oaxaca, where the host makes a stop at Mezcaleria Los Amantes in the heart of downtown Oaxaca, something happened, my curiosity of Mezcal was sparked. I fell in love with this Mezcal the second the spirit touched my lips. Now, Los Amantes wasn’t the first Mezcal I tried, that title belongs to El Rey De Matatlan. However, Los Amantes was the first label I knew of and the first bottle I picked up. While in Oaxaca in late 2016, I toured local palenques and Mezcalerias, educating myself as much as possible. From these visits, I witnessed the cultivation of the Agaves, the fermentation and distillation processes, even how to properly smell, taste and kiss Mezcal. Mezcaleria Los Amantes is small artisanal distillery in the town of Tlacolula, while it’s bar sits in Downtown, Oaxaca. The bar is small, sensually lit and walking in is like walking into a tiny Mezcal museum with knowledgeable bartenders. The Mezcal shown here, is a Mezcal Joven, made of Espadín Agave. This Mezcal has become one of my favorites for being the most refreshing ones I’ve tried and is part of what I like to call the, Holy Trinity of Mezcales, consisting of Los Amantes, Marca Negra and Meteoro. The Los Amantes Espadín Mezcal has identifiable fruit tones and a mildly smoked after note with a sweet, citrus flavor ending with a slightly herbaceous note and very refreshing. The aroma of this Mezcal is so refreshing and humid, you’ll feel you’re right under a waterfall. A perfect Mezcal for those not familiar with this spirit.
- Website: www.losmantes.com | Instagram: @losamantesmx
I’m all about aesthetics, especially when it comes to packaging, in fact, presentation is usually the first thing I look for when comparing and or deciding to purchase a new product. During my half year stay in Oaxaca, I searched all over the city to find the best possible Mezcal I could find, to bring back home. I found some through word of mouth, browsing through Instagram, a handful of internet searches. One such brand I found during my search, was Mezcal Meteoro. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find it in anywhere in Oaxaca, even though it’s origin was from the very place. After a little digging, I ended up finding it of all places, in Tijuana in a, rather high end store called La Europa. Mezcal Meteoro, can be described as a rather dry Mezcal, with a strong earthy aroma, leaving no after note to lust after, definitely giving you a warm happy feeling after a few kisses of this, rather rare Mezcal. I’d recommend this Mezcal to be savored during colder weather and definitely worth the trouble of finding it, both for its uplifting characteristics and bottle aesthetics. The bottle design alone is worth the trouble, since you can use it as a creative centerpiece for a wedding or refill it with your favorite spirit. During a Mezcal tasting, I would present Meteoro right after kissing Los Amantes and right before Marca Negra, due to is dry and slightly spicy aroma. As far as I know, this label does not have a Mezcaleria anywhere in the Republic, which is why I probably had a hard time finding it. The tag line, "it fell from the sky," perfectly describes the rarity of this Mezcal.
- Website: www.cayodelcielo.com | Instagram: @mezcalmeteoro
The quintessential beauty of Mezcal is not two are ever alike, even those of the same label. As the aromas, textures and flavors of each Mezcal is unique towards the region it’s produced, the water used to ferment and the Maestros unique way of doing things, contribute to the unique characteristics of every batch of Mezcal. Though aromas and flavors will be for the most part, consistent within each label, each bottle will have its own life and characteristics due to its artisanal process. Mezcal Marca Negra distilled in San Juan Del Rio, by maestro Mezcalero Isaías Martínez Juan, is a 50% young Espadín Mezcal with strong identifiable fruit tones and a very humid aroma, think cave under a waterfall, similar to Los Amates but with a stronger kick. Marca Negra’s Espadín has a sweet, citrus flavor ending with a strong herbaceous note. I would close the Mezcal tasting with this Mezcal, as it’ll bring you back to the aromas and after notes of Los Amantes, completing the Holy Trinity. I feel presenting this Mezcal at the end will elevate your senses and prepare your palette for spicier Mezcales and those made of wild Agaves, which have stronger, smokier aromas. As with any Mezcal, Marca Negra is not a common spirit found in the States, but have been known to trickle here and there, I’ve even seen them at Trader Joe’s at times. Though I’d strongly suggest, if you’re in the greater Los Angeles area, to stop in Ramirez Beverage Center in Boyle Heights, across the street from the Sears Tower, as it's where I stock up my Mezcal supply.
- Website: www.marcanegra.com | Instagram: @mezcalmarcanegra
The contribution by women to the history of Mezcal has virtually gone unnoticed, through their contributions, women marked a decisive factor of the industry's survival during Mexico’s prohibition era, circa 1920’s, when Mezcal was fabricated and distributed clandestinely. Women working in the industry were known as Mezcalilleras or Mezcaleras. During prohibition, women turned to its distribution as a perfect complement to their husband’s work, acting as business administrators and pillars of the family during the long periods of time when the men would go into the mountains to produce mezcal illegally. Up until the 1970’s, women primarily sold Mezcal in bulk, door-to-door in neighboring communities within Oaxaca and at the time, Maestra Mezcaleras were unheard of. During my studies, I learned that like cooking, the feelings and emotions of the Maestro or Maestra, are unconsciously infused into the Mezcal during its production. If the they were happy or of sweet nature, the Mezcal will be sweet, however, should they have strong tempers, the Mezcal will have a more, dry, punchier aroma. Don’t remember exactly how I found this Mezcal on my last trip to Oaxaca, but I’m glad I did, as it soon became my absolute favorite Mezcal. An earthy, herbaceous, exceptionally smoky and slightly humid wild Tobalá Agave Mezcal, made for Mezcal Cuish by Maestra Mezcalera Berta Vásquez from the small, mountainous region town of San Baltazar Chichicapam. An absolute rarity even for Oaxaca, as this 50% Mezcal, to my knowledge, is only produced for and sold by Mezcal Cuish. Cuish, doesn’t produce its own Mezcal, but rather sources Mezcal of only the highest caliber from within the Mezcal regions of Oaxaca. Their commitment to support our Maestros and Maestras, has sparked an heavy interest in me to move back to Oaxaca, promote and work for this brand exclusively. Unfortunately this label is not available anywhere in the states, but I do have a small batch on hand should you wish to try it. This Mezcal is not intended for those unfamiliar with the spirit, due to its high alcohol content and strong smoke aroma; prior experience with the Espadínes is highly recommended.
- Instagram: @mezcalescuish
During my Oaxaca visit in January of 2017, I took a stroll to Mezcaloteca, across the street from Oaxaca’s most picturesque location, Santo Domingo, for a Mezcal tasting/history lesson. So exclusive is Mezcaloteca, you’re only allowed with prior reservations a few days ahead of time. An hour and a half into the tasting with co-owner Silvia, she taught me how to identify genuine Mezcal, falling head over heels for this label, its culture and Mezcaleria, with its gorgeous, old world feel. Silvia is a living, breathing Mezcal encyclopedia, extremely patient and insanely knowledgeable with all things Mezcal, in fact, 80% of what I know now of Mezcal, I learned from her. It was and is, the best Mezcal I’ve tried in my life! Next to Mezcal Cuish of course, both being my favorite labels. Mezcaloteca is unique in that they have Mezcales from various regions of the Republic with an emphasis on the Maestros that produce each one. Naturally, the ones from Oaxaca were favorites during the tasting. Mezcaloteca’s Mezcales are sweet and delectably smoky, with strong earthy endnotes, ranging from 45% to 60% proof, whilst managing to go down smoothly, due to their strict artisanal cultivation, distillation and fermentation processes. In fact, the 60% Punta Verde, shown here, is as thick as agave nectar. I remember trying at least four Mezcales, but the one that stood out the most to my palate, were those of the Karwinskii Agaves, better known as Cuixe. Like Mezcal Cuish, Mezcaloteca’s Mezcales are an absolute rarity in the States and is highly recommended you have a prior familiarity with the Espadín Mezcales . I don’t currently have a batch of this in my collection, giving me the perfect excuse to waltz on in there and pick up a few bottles on my next visit to Oaxaca.
- Reservations: www.mezcaloteca.com | Instagram: @mezcaloteca
MEZCAL DE DON RENE
The second I smelled the five liter tank filled with this sought after Mezcal, I knew I was about to taste a Mezcal like no other. The aroma of this Mezcal is similar to being under a waterfall or near a rushing river. On par to taste, it’s very refreshing, goes down very smoothly, with a slight, slight herbaceous aftertaste note. It has a slight green/yellow tint, due to its purity from single distillation and young age. My grandfather has been buying this Mezcal for decades now, from a man known as Don Ren. He told me how people spend days throughout the city looking for Don Rene, for a chance to try this elusive Mezcal, yes, even local politicians. Don Rene does it old school, he personally picks up the Mezcal from San Baltazar Chichicapam, a town located in the southern sierra region of Oaxaca, and sells it by the liter to those whom have purchased from him before. So even getting a kiss of this Mezcal is near impossible. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Don Rene and talk Mezcal when he delivered a five liter tank to my Grandparents house while I was there on vacation. By far this is the most prized Mezcal in my collection, but I think it’s mostly due to the sentimental value it has with my Grandfather and how he drinks no other Mezcal, but this one. As you’ve probably guessed, there is no label for this Mezcal, hence no official bottle. I searched and searched for a bottle worthy of this Mezcal, and thanks to an Instagram follower, I found this gorgeous bottle in a local shop/art gallery that sells artisan wares and products from local artists of Oaxaca. However, it took a few months for me to finally pick it up as they only produce a few of these bottles at a time. The design of this bottle is so cute, I picked up two, a glass and clay version.
My Grandfather calls it Holy Water. People in the rural, practically hidden town of Eloxochitlán, in the region of Papaloapan, in the northern most point in Oaxaca, go as far as calling it a gift from the Gods themselves. This rare spirit is better known as Aguardiente, distilled locally in micro batches, almost illicitly by a selected few. Though both Mezcal and Aguardiente parallel each other with the distillation & fermentation processes, that’s as about the only thing these two spirits share. Aguardiente is not a Mezcal, its more compared to a rum, as Aguardiente is distilled from sugar cane, not commercially produce and acquiring a few liters requires a two day journey outside the capital. Describing the smoky, sweet aromas of this spirit is complicated, the smell almost burns your nostril cold. Surprisingly, it’s refreshing. However, it gives you one hell of a punch on the face, burns your throat for a few seconds, then leaves a very sweet after taste note. How did I acquired three liters? I picked them up from a tailor’s shop that sat outside the marketplace where we had lunch in. My Grandmother asked the owner of said eatery if she could guided us to where they sold this rare spirit. The tailor shop was lit by only outside light, it was dusty, unorganized but felt fresh compared to the outside hot, humid weather. Then I saw it, the gorgeous, teal tinted antique glass jug filled with Aguardiente. The tailor was a very knowledgeable old timer and after a customary shot, sold me three liters worth in a Coke bottle. My Aguardiente is now it’s kept in a tall one liter glass bottle I picked up back in the capital and I use this cute clay jug from Tienda Q to present it when I have guests over.
As a Sagittarius, I never put much stock into horoscopes, as they tend to be rather vague and generic. Like this one, ‘someone is going to enter your life by the end of the week.’ What does that even mean!? In my early twenties, during the whole, ‘finding yourself phase,’ I came across the Chinese Zodiac and found I was born a Fire Rabbit. The further I studied, the further I agreed with the views of this philosophy. Not because this philosophy predicts the future, but because it accurately described who I was as a person and have since had a deep respect for the rabbit thereafter. It was then no surprise I immediately gravitated towards Mezcal Bosscal during my Mezcal research last year, you guessed it, due to its rabbit logo. Mezcal Bosscal is a micro Vinata (palenque/distillery) from Durango, Mexico, with a beautiful philosophy towards its elaboration and use of a rabbit as their logo, paying patronage to the land, ancestry and the moon. This alone and the gorgeous bottle design drew me towards this Mezcal. Distilled from the wild Cenizo Durangensis Agave, this Mezcal has a strong smoky aroma, a slight earthy flavor and a balanced after note. I don’t know what it is about this Mezcal and its sister Damiana, but they definitely arouse your sexual desires after a few kisses. From what I understand, the locals consider both of these Mezcales as aphrodisiacs. Open a bottle of Bosscal Mezcal next time you’re alone with your lover and love as rabbits do. Like most Mezcales on this post, this one is a rarity, so be sure to ask your local liquor shop owner if they could acquire a bottle of Bosscal for you. Ramirez Beverage Center has a few every now and again, its usually behind the counter.
- Website: www.bosscal.com | Instagram: @mezcalbosscal