All About Tequila and Mezcal
When we talk all about tequila and Mezcal , inevitably some of you will get terrible flashbacks to bad decisions as a teen ager or young adult. Let’s clear that up right now. You chose bad tequila which has alternative ingredients sure to leave you sick , miserable and completely hungover. Classic Jose Cuervo tequila is only 51% blue agave as required by law, brown food coloring and who knows what other terrible stuff. So forget all you bad experiences and let’s begin a new wonderful adventure.
Tequila is Mezcal?
Mezcal is the generic term for agave based spirits. So Tequila is a type of mezcal like Merlot is wine. There are four types of GOOD tequila and one questionable type. All good tequilas derive from a 100% blue agave.
Blanco is clear, has not been aged and is not really smooth enough for sipping. It should used for mixes like margaritas and palomas. What brands? Try Altos or Espolon.
Joven tequila is the questionable one. It CAN be a good blanco tequila blended with aged tequila. However, it is more often a gold tequila like Jose Cuervo. These have brown food coloring, oak extract, glycerin and/or syrup and who knows what else added. This is the source of the headaches of your youth.
Reposado means rested. It is aged from 2 to 12 months in oak barrels, which gives it its golden color. Some reposados are smooth enough for sipping. Purists like their sipping tequila with a bit of a bite and none of the sweet vanilla nuances. Try Tres Generaciones or Luna Azul for that. For us non-purists, the holy grail is Classe Azul , with its hints of vanilla and glassy smoothness. However, the price irecently shot into the stratosphere ($150/750ml). So the second best choice we have found is Casa Amigos. Even though this is a celebrity tequila (George Clooney), it is exceptional at a much better price point. For mixing, reposado adds a bit of complexity to your cocktail of choice.
Anejo means old. Typically aged 1 to 3 years. I suggest Casa Amigos for the non-purist (see previous paragraph). Tres Generaciones or Patron for the purist are great choices. This is pure sipping tequila. Some prefer a squeeze of lime in theirs, I like it straight. We just found the Aha Yeto anejo pictured with the Teremana Reposado to the right. Both are also good sipping options without the vanilla mellowing.
Extra Anejo or Cristalino is filtered to remove the color. An example is Don Julio 70. I have tried a couple and came away unimpressed. I recommend going to a bar and trying a shot of anejo and extra anejo side by side to determine your own preference.
If you are curious how tequila is made here is a link to the process of making tequila
There are two techniques for a tequila shot. It seems to me like a waste to use good reposado or anejo tequila , but make sure you use a good quality blanco.
- Have a wedge of lime ready
- Lick the web between your thumb and forefinger
- Shake some salt on the wet spot.
- Take a shot of tequila (1 ½ ounces or 45 ml) and drink in one fell swoop.
- Bite the wedge of lime.
- Honestly, it is fun, tastes good and everyone should do it once.
Technique # 2
The same as above except you use cinnamon instead of salt and an orange wedge instead of lime. An orange wedge with cinnamon sprinkled on it mellows the intense tastes of Mezcal .
Tequila Bottom Line,
good aged tequila is as elegant and sophisticated as a good scotch or bourbon. The general rule is that cost is a good indicator. For reposado or anejo, less than $30 for 750ml is probably too cheap, unless you are in Mexico.
Blanco mixing tequila adds a unique taste to cocktails. Check out our blog post on margarita recipes or try a Paloma. For old fashioned lovers, a Oaxacan old fashioned is unique taste. Shots are fun to try at least once. See the recipe below in the Mezcal section.
Even though tequila is technically a mezcal, the term is only used for tequila’s rougher, more complex cousin. Mezcal is made from a variety of different agave plants and most Mezcals come from the state of Oaxaca (pronounced Wa-ha-ka). The most common agave used is Espadin, which is a user friendly place to start.
The heart of the plant is roasted underground for a week until the sugars carmelize, which gives mezcal its legendary smoky taste. If you don’t like smoky Scotch, you won’t like Mezcal. The sugars are then fermented to create something called pulque. Finally, it is distilled to increase the alcohol content. Sometimes in clay, sometimes in copper stills, this is where the add astringent, mineral or metallic taste comes from. Mezcal is a bit of an acquired taste. And the taste is quite varied based on where it was produced, which traditional method and what agave plant was used. If you are already a mezcal fan and want an extensive explanation of the process and recommendations for high end Mezcal. You can check out this Mezcal blog post from Serious Eats.
One way to ease into Mezcal before you try sipping it neat, is in a cocktail. Here are two of our favorites.
Pirate King Oaxacan Old Fashioned
3 oz red grapefruit juice 1 oz Mezcal
1 ½ to 2 oz Mezcal 1 ½ oz Tequila (preferably anejo)
1/3 oz Aperol (that’s 10ml, no more) 1 oz Liquor 43
½ oz fresh lime juice 1 or 2 dashes of bitters (mole bitters are best)
Splash of simple syrup 1 large Old Fashioned Ice Cube or rocks
Served over rocks.
How to choose a Mezcal?
Choosing a Mezcal to try is a bit tricky because there are so many. The problem is that most are $45 and up, so if you don’t like them it is a sad day. If you can find a bar that stocks a few, a few samples will help a lot. For your first foray into Mezcal land, there are several that are quite similar and good. As metioned Espadin agave is the most common and is a good place to start. Some fairly easy to find brands are Del Maguey Vida, 400 Conejos, and Leyenda . Bozal makes a variety of mezcals, the one with Espadin, Barril and Mexicano is mellow and drinkable.
If you are in Mexico, there is a brand called Bruxo. The Bruxo #2 Pechuga, also a mix of Espadin and Barril, is a very good, mild, but still complex Mezcal for only around $25. You can get it in liquor stores and big grocery stores.
There are also a variety of Wild Agave based mezcals. I have tried Cuishe and found it a bit too harsh for sipping and Mexicano, which was smooth and friendly. Experts rave about Bozal’s mezcal made with madrecuixe and and also mezcal made from jabali. Oh and I also have tried Mezcal made with tepazate and it was a bit to wild for me. Almost bit my head off.
Like Scotch whisky, mezcal comes blended and unblended; unlike Scotch, one isn’t necessarily better than the other. Single-variety mezcals are just that: made from one type of agave. I have mentioned 2 or 3 very good Ensembles or blends earlier. Ensembles are blends, combining the attributes of various agaves for a more complex bottle. One excellent application of blending is to cut a primarily espadín distillate with a small amount of wild agave, which can make for a tastier spirit at lower cost than purely wild bottles.
Joven, Reposado, and Añejo Mezcal
These terms refer to agin in oak after distilling. Joven, or "young," mezcal, is clear and unaged, like an eau de vie. Reposado is "rested" in oak for more than two months but less than a year. Añejo is aged for one to three years, and extra-añejo ages for longer than that.
What? Joven wins?
Unlike Tequila, joven is actually the preferred version of mezcal. Mezcal is generally too complex to mix in oak flavors and too wild to simply mellow down with aging.
Our Favorite Mezcal So Far
We have found one Mezcal that stands out as smooth, complex and delicious. The gOrit a Total Wines and More in Phoenix but have not been able to find it since,. We live in Michigan and have also looked in Atlanta. it is getting tense, as you can see it is nearly gone. !!
That wraps up our Agave blog. We hope it is helpful to you if you as a primer to the world of tequila and mezcal.
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