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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Mezcal

Top ten Tequila and mezcal for Cinco de Mayo

Our Mexican week coverage continues with some agave recommendations featuring colour-changing spirits, celebrity-backed bottlings and even a collection of 12 drams. Here are our Tequila and mezcal for Cinco de Mayo….

Our Mexican week coverage continues with some agave recommendations featuring colour-changing spirits, celebrity-backed bottlings and even a collection of 12 drams. Here are our Tequila and mezcal for Cinco de Mayo.

Continuing our Cinco de Mayo celebrations (it’s tomorrow if you’re not aware), we’re now recommending some top Tequilas and mezcals for the event. Even if you’re not in Mexico itself, you can bring the festivities home with the right drink. And that’s exactly what we have here. From colour-changing spirits to celebrity-backed bottlings and even a collection of 12 drams, this selection has everything you need to make this Cinco de Mayo muy memorable. 

Herradura Plata

Herradura Plata

In the Sierre-Madre mountain range, you’ll find Casa Herradura making its brand of tasty, 100% agave-based Tequila. The brand claims to have introduced the first reposado in 1974 but we’re turning our MoM branded spotlight to its fine Plata Tequila this week, which is aged for forty days in oak barrels before bottling to create a moreish sipper that mixes well too.

Dos Hombres Mezcal

Dos Hombres Mezcal

Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston may have been best known for cooking something very different on their hit show Breaking Bad, but the duo recently teamed up once again to turn their attention to agave. Oaxacan Espadin agave to be specific, is at the heart of a joven expression that’s gloriously smoky, fruity and woody thanks to fermentation in wooden barrels. And you can learn more about this celebrity-backed booze right here on the blog!

Mijenta Tequila Reposado

Mijenta Tequila Reposado

One thing that stands out about Mijenta Tequila is how it manages to balance a commitment to environmental sustainability without forgetting to make very delicious spirits too. This reposado, for example, is lightly aged in a combination of American white oak, French oak, and French acacia casks and works both as a splendid sipping Tequila or as the base for a magnificent Margarita

Dangerous Don Mezcal Espadín

Dangerous Don Mezcal Espadín

Mineral-rich smoke, dark chocolate, earthy agave and coffee are just some of flavours to expect from Dangerous Don’s Espadín expression. It’s made using only that variety of agave, which was been distilled twice and then steeped in Naom Quie coffee beans before being distilled once more. That’s the kind of unconventional process we expect from someone called Dangerous Don.

El Jimador Blanco

El Jimador Blanco

We love this silver Tequila from El Jimador because a) it’s very tasty (made in Jalisco from 100% agave, no less) and b) because it celebrates the jimadors, the farmers who grow and harvest the agave plants. So often the unsung hero, they work with a difficult plant that takes years to grow and mature. We salute you!

Ojo de Tigre Joven Mezcal 

Ojo de Tigre Joven Mezcal 

What we love about this artisanal mezcal from Ojo de Tigre is how it showcases a blend of both Espadín and Tobalá agave. Being unaged, all the complexity of those two agave styles shine, creating a marriage of fresh fruit and citrus notes and gentle, smoky tones. This is delicious sipped slowly with some flavourful Mexican food. 

VIVIR Reposado

VIVIR Reposado

VIVIR Tequila Reposado is made with 100% Blue Weber agave, and allowed to mature in bourbon oak casks for at least six months before making its way into the handsome bottles. Suitable for enjoying neat, but also works particularly well in all manner of Tequila-based cocktails…If you want to find out more about VIVIR, check out our blog post on the brand right here!

The Butterfly Cannon Blue

The Butterfly Cannon Blue

This singular spirit isn’t technically a Tequila because it adds prickly pear and clementine to a base of silver Tequila. But we thought you’d like to see this one because it both supports butterfly conservation and its vivid blue hue changes colour when a mixer (such as tonic) is added. It’s great for cocktails, too.

Fortaleza Añejo 

Fortaleza Añejo 

With its rich family history and commitment to making Tequila in a traditional, flavour-first process, there are few brands that carry the staunch reputation Fortaleza has. Its outstanding añejo was aged for 18 months in American oak casks to create a richly rewarding flavour profile of grapefruit, chocolate, agave, and butterscotch.

Drinks by the Dram 12 Dram Tequila & Mezcal Collection 

Drinks by the Dram 12 Dram Tequila & Mezcal Collection 

Right, so imagine you’re a bit overwhelmed with all the delicious-sounding options and you just don’t know what to plump for. Here’s a solution: a stylish box containing 12 different 30ml wax-sealed drams of absolutely delicious Tequila and mezcal from some of Mexico’s most excellent producers. It’s a great gift a fab way to share some agave-based awesomeness with good company, and the perfect introduction to sublime spirit categories. 

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Tequila vs. Mezcal – what’s the difference anyway?

As part of our Mexican week coverage marking Cinco de Mayo, we break down the country’s two most popular spirits and ask you which one is your favourite. It’s Tequila…

As part of our Mexican week coverage marking Cinco de Mayo, we break down the country’s two most popular spirits and ask you which one is your favourite. It’s Tequila vs. mezcal!

The 5 May or Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s annual day of celebration. Booze naturally will play its part in the festivities, with spirits like mezcal and Tequila taking centre stage. But they’re not just delicious drinks, they’re spirits unique to the country, a part of Mexico’s heritage. You won’t find many industries that have such a network of farm distillers who operate on a small scale using traditional techniques.

There might be some of you that have always wondered what exactly is the difference between the two. Well, just to confuse matters, Tequila is in fact a type of mezcal but there are lots of factors that separate the two drinks, such as how and where they are made. 

So we’re going to break down what the differences are between them in a fun, Lucha libre-style contest. And we’d love to hear your thoughts on which is your favourite and why.

agave

A jimador cutting the agave plant

Tequila vs. Mezcal round one: agave

Agave is what connects the two spirits as it’s the raw material both are made from. In fact, the word mezcal is derived from the Nahuatl word for cooked agave. It’s a tall, spiky green plant that resembles a cactus, and its rounded stem known as the piña is what’s harvested for spirit production. The piña is cooked to soften the fibres and transform its fructans into sugar. 

A difference between Tequila and mezcal is the type of agave you can use. Tequila must be made from only a variety called Agave Tequilana Weber, more commonly known as Blue Weber, or simply just Blue Agave.

Mezcal, by contrast, can be made from more than 30 varieties of agave. While Agave Angustifolia Haw (or Espadín) is the most widely used and accounts for up to 90% of mezcal production, you’ll find mezcals made from the likes of Tobalá, Tobaziche, Tepeztate, Arroqueño and more, each of which has its own unique flavour.

Both Blue Weber and Espadín are quite intensively grown, the former in particular, but mezcal will also use semi-wild or wild agave often.

piña

The piña

Tequila vs. Mezcal round two: region

While both spirits are only made in Mexico, each has its own set of established regions where production is allowed. Tequila, for example, is made in just five regions: Michoacán, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Tamaulipas and Jalisco. The latter is the most famous and productive and is where the actual town of Tequila is located.

Mezcal, in contrast, can be made in as many as nine different areas of Mexico. They include Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Michoacán, Puebla and Oaxaca. Once again, the latter is the most well known, where upwards of 85% of all mezcal is made.

mezcal

Some truly artisanal processes are still preserved, especially in mezcal

Tequila vs. Mezcal round three: production

While both Tequila and mezcal are made from the piña, the manner in which each spirit processes the core of the agave plant differs too. For Tequila, when the blue agave plant is ripe the jimador (farmer) removes the agave leaves with a sharp curved tool called a ‘coa’ and the agave is then typically steamed inside a giant oven, which converts complex carbohydrates in the piña into simple fermentable sugars. The cooked agaves are then milled and crushed to release the liquid inside, which is fermented and then double or triple distilled in stainless steel or copper pot stills

A more recent way of extracting the fructans from agave plants uses a machine called a diffuser.  This essentially subjects the agave to high temperature, pressure and often high acidity, to maximise extraction from the agave fibres and cook the carbohydrates (although sometimes the liquid is cooked after the process). This is fairly controversial, as it’s seen by many to favour efficiency over quality, and while not having to state on the label the distilleries using diffusers are commonly shared online.  

In mezcal, by contrast, the agave is often cooked in fire pits lined with lava rocks and filled with wood and charcoal before the piñas are crushed in a mill, but sometimes done by hand or by donkey using a wheel called a tahona, to extract the sugars. After the agave is crushed, it is placed in wooden barrels to ferment with water and then distilled in either metal or sometimes clay pot stills. While some large-scale mezcal producers have adopted modern methods, artisanal mezcal makers continue to use this more traditional method, which is the source of the smokiness commonly associated with mezcal.

Tequila also allows additives to change the colour, flavour, texture, or sweetness of the spirit like abocado, which can be made from a combination of caramel colour, oak extract, glycerol, and sugar syrup. In mezcal, these aren’t permitted, with the exception of those labelled as such (see below).

Oh, and top tip: on a bottle of tequila or mezcal, the NOM number will inform you of the exact distillery where it is made, regardless of the brand.

vivir tequila

An example of a blanco, reposado, and añejo Tequila

Tequila vs. Mezcal round four: labelling and legislation

Both have their own age-based labelling designations, which are overseen by a respective Consejo Regulador (Regulatory Council) the CRT for tequila and the CRM for mezcal, who govern many areas of production and sale. Tequila is commonly divided into three varieties: blanco (or silver/plato, which is one aged for up to two months), reposado (2-12 months ageing) and añejo (1-3 years in oak vessels with a capacity of 600l or less). There’s also an extra añejo category, only introduced in 2006 and referring to anything over three years aged and cristalino, which is essentially añejo Tequila that has been filtered (often through charcoal) to remove the naturally occurring colours, and Gold Tequila which can be a mix of blanco and aged Tequila, but most often unaged (mixto – see below) blanco with abocado.

Mezcal’s grouping contains similar terms and times, but there isn’t a full overlap. The unaged style is categorised as joven (blanco is also used) which is also up to two months, while reposado is aged in wooden containers of any size or shape for 2-12 months. Añejo, by contrast, means aged in wooden containers that are less than 1000L in capacity for more than 12 months. Madurado en vibrio is also used, which is ‘aged’ in glass. 

Tequila can be labelled in two different styles, Tequila 100% agave (100% agave de agave) where 100% of the fermented sugars come from blue agave, or just Tequila. A minimum of 51% fermentable sugars must come from Blue Weber agave for it to be called the latter, which means that the rest can be derived from raw materials like corn or sugar cane juice. These are often referred to as mixtos, a contrast to the more premium Tequilas which boast 100% agave. 

Mezcal also comes in different styles based on how it’s made. The categories are: Mezcal, which can be made using more industrial techniques; Mezcal Artesanal, made in a specific region using specific artisanal processes; and Mezcal Ancestral, produced using entirely traditional processes and traditional materials (full explainer here). 

Some mezcals are labelled ‘abocado con’ (not to be confused with the abocado used in Tequila), it’s flavoured by maceration with things like agave worm (gusano), damiana, lemon, honey, orange, and mango.  There is also ‘destilado con’ (re-distilled with a flavouring ingredient like turkey, chicken breast, rabbit (all raw), mole, plums, grains, nuts etc.), but these aren’t common.  Those containing Chicken or Turkey are labelled under the name Pechuga, meaning breast.  

Tequila vs. Mezcal

We’ve got some cracking recommendations coming your way tomorrow – but which will you prefer?

Tequila vs. Mezcal round five: taste

As you can imagine, all those different regions, raw material varieties and production processes means that Tequila and mezcal have their own unique profiles and characteristics. In a simplistic term, people will often describe mezcal as being Tequila’s smokier cousin, but there is much more to it than that.

The age and origin of the agave will affect the taste of Tequila, with blanco Tequilas being earthy and vegetal yet sweet, while an añejo Tequila is smoother with a blend of agave and oak flavours. Mixtos will typically have less complexity but are well suited to cocktails and mixers.

Mezcal’s greater variety of agave types and more commonly used traditional processes means it can have a more challenging flavour profile, from the vegetal sweetness of agave, to those classic smoky and meaty notes it’s known for, and anything from citrus, fruit, chocolate, bubblegum, and more. It’s also great in cocktails, but typically enjoyed neat too. 

Tequila vs. Mezcal round six: you

So, all that’s left to know is what you prefer. And yes, we love both, and the world is richer for having the two categories. It’s just a bit of fun. Let your hair down. Go wild. And choose a side. We’ve got some top recommendations coming your way very soon…

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How to keep agave spirits sustainable

With an ever-growing market for Tequila and mezcal of Mexico comes an inevitable conundrum: how do we keep agave spirits sustainable? We ask the brands and businesses investing in the…

With an ever-growing market for Tequila and mezcal of Mexico comes an inevitable conundrum: how do we keep agave spirits sustainable? We ask the brands and businesses investing in the future of the agave category how they’re working to keep Tequila in business

The rumours are true: Tequila is booming. According to The Drinks Report, data from the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT) – the body which protects the spirit’s Denomination of Origin – revealed 2020 as a record year for the agave spirit, with 374 million litres of liquid being produced, 286 million of which were exported to over 120 countries. The current export value of Tequila is estimated at US$2 billion.

1.7 million litres of that was shipped to the UK in the same year. Yes, the original party spirit is starting to be taken more seriously. Tequilas once not available to the UK market are starting to spring up and bars and their tenders, as well as shoppers, have more choice than ever. But with a surge in demand come some very real, domino-effect issues for agave growers. 

One is that typical blue weber agaves take as long as seven years before they reach full maturity – that’s enough time for demand to change and leave jimadors (farmers and harvesters of agave plants) out of pocket. Another is that in order to meet demand, some agaves aren’t reaching full maturity and in turn aren’t being pollinated. “Big companies don’t wait for plants to mature, so they don’t flower and the genetic pool of agave is disappearing – we’re losing diversity because of that situation” explains Eduardo Gomez, founder of TequilaFest and director of MexGrocer UK. And by losing diversity, this leaves agaves more susceptible to plague and disease.

“It is a very difficult and complex topic,” explains Gomez. “Many brands are talking about it: some of them are actually doing something, some aren’t.”

Mijenta Tequila

Mijenta Tequila lying in the soil

Sustainable brands

One brand that is working for change is Mijenta Tequila. Made in the highlands of Jalisco and launched into the UK this year, Mijenta (inspired by the phrase ‘me gente ‘which means ‘my people’ in Spanish) works hard to take care of the land, buying agaves from a non-pesticide farm, and ultimately working hard to look after its people. The co-founders are former Bacardi CEO Mike Dolan, Juan Coronado and Elise Som, who studied sustainability at Harvard. “The current situation, I would say, is one to be watched,” says Som of the agave market. “In the lands of Jalisco we have to be careful to maintaining biodiversity… asking how can we possibly conserve that biodiversity in this area. It’s so important for the region to keep the soil healthy. We are concerned about regenerative farming – that’s my job right now, I’ve been busy with figuring out how to make everything work.”

Another brand putting sustainability at the heart of its business is Tiempo Tequila which launched at the end of this year. The small London-based operation has taken advantage of its youth and begun cementing a sustainable ethos right from the get go. “Sustainability is the preservation of everything we do and love, and when you make this as a small company there are things you have control of and you don’t,” explains co-founder James Hughston. “We could control the distillery that we used. We chose them as they have contracts with their farmers with price guarantees, and for us it’s really important that the population of farmers continues to grow. As a small company it is something that is a future target, how can we help sustainable farming. We don’t own agave fields but we can ensure we work with best practice in place. The organic side of agave growing is steeped in mystery. Demand will drive the quality of product, so it is quite a complicated web, but we’ve stuck firm.”

Elise Som, co-founder of Mijenta Tequila

Elise Som, co-founder of Mijenta Tequila

Passion project

Dedication to sustainability doesn’t stop at agave either. “We really do go the extra mile,” says Som of the work Mijenta does to stay green. “Our agave is older, so our agave is more expensive. The leaves are dried in the factory around us and we create labels and papers, our labels and packaging is completely 100% recycled paper and our bottles are stock bottles.” They’re also working with a charity, Whales of Guerrero, that works to protect Mexico’s whales and in turn its ocean. “Everyone is planting trees but we’re helping the ocean as there is a lot to be done. To help preserve one whale is the equivalent of planting thousands of trees.

Tiempo has clever ways of utilising its bottles and raising funds for sustainable endeavours. “We made our bottle to be able to be cut in half and become a candle. We sell them and the profits go into our kitty for the agave fields, bats, deforestation, elements like that where we’ve seen positive uptake.”

It’s not just the brands doing the work. Numerous projects are working to help maintain Mexico’s agave industry, including the Bat Friendly Tequila Interchange Project – a project Gomez finds particularly interesting. It’s aim? “To promote and incorporate bat friendly practices in the agave management and spirit production derived from these plants allow 5% of the agave population to flower to ensure there is food for the nectar feeding bats of the Leptonycteris genre, and in consequence we have pollination.” In layman’s terms, the Leptonycteris bat is the most important animal in the agave pollination process. By carrying pollen from one agave to another, the genetic pool of agave grows – and in turn, so does its population.

Its board is made up of members from the world of Tequila (David Suro, Carlos Camarena and Joaquin Meza) as well as botanists and professors and Bat Friendly brands include the likes of Tequila Tapatio, Tequila Ocho and mezcal brand Don Mateo de la Sierra.

mezcal

Mezcal: it’s all about agave

Future first

So, what does the future hold? For Som, there are some integral changes that need to happen both within and outside of the industry. “If nothing is done, we risk having poor soil, unbalanced soil. A lot of people are understanding that the region could be in danger if we keep planting agave and not regenerating the land… We should come all together as brands to work together.”

For Hughston, regulation change might be the answer. “The premise of the CRT was to preserve Tequila but this can also have adverse effects. In terms of regulations it is difficult, brands are looking to the regulations to loosen the belt.”

For Gomez, while discussion of this issue is very new for the industry, like climate change, it may be too late. “We knew about these issues and people are only just starting to do something… Mexico cannot run out of Tequila.” Amen to that.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Mezcal Espresso Martini

This week, we’re making a twist on a modern classic, and the perfect cocktail for the upcoming party season: it’s the Mezcal Espresso Martini made with Ojo de Dios Café….

This week, we’re making a twist on a modern classic, and the perfect cocktail for the upcoming party season: it’s the Mezcal Espresso Martini made with Ojo de Dios Café.

The drinks world was thrown into turmoil last month when Patrón announced that it was discontinuing its famous XO Cafe, the party drink of the stars. Everyone quickly recovered, however, when we realised that there are alternatives to the former Clooney beverage. VIVIR stepped into the breach with a coffee version of its Tequila, and then there’s Ojo de Dios Café – a blend of mezcal and coffee.

The eye of God

Ojo de Dios (ODD) means ‘eye of God’. The mezcal is produced traditionally from seven to eight-year-old Espadin agave plants from San Luis del Rio region of Oaxaca, roasted in an underground oven over oak wood, and crushed using a tahona mill. It’s fermented using natural yeasts in wood and then double-distilled in a copper pot still.

To make ODD Café, maestro mezcalero Francisco Ortiz blends this spirit with Arabica coffee beans grown 4600 ft above sea level in the Oaxaca mountains and roasted by the Mejia Bautista family. The resulting liqueur comes in at 35% ABV with no sugar added. 

Mezcal Espresso Martini ODD Cafe

Is that a jug of Espresso Martini? Don’t mind if I do

Going down a storm

The brand has been going down a storm recently with some of London’s top bartenders. Alan Uresti Silva from legendary nightspot Annabel’s described it as “a top-quality mezcal that has the versatility to be used in cocktails and doesn’t overpower but harmoniously blends into plentiful drinks. It also has the advantage of being complex enough to be enjoyed by itself.” 

Pawel Rolka bar manager at Zuma said: “Ojo de Dios Mezcal is, without doubt, one of the most flavoursome, smooth and versatile agave-based spirits I’ve come across in a long time.” And finally, Erik Lorincz formerly of the American Bar at the Savoy and now at Kwant said: “Ojo de Dios is a classic example of the effects of the slow cooking process that grants this mezcal a perfect balance between soft smoke and tropical fruit. It’s very versatile for cocktails, one of my favourites being the ODD Café which we serve here at Kwant.”

While you can drink it neat, ODD Café’s naturally sweet and smoky flavour means it’s the perfect spirit to make your Espresso Martini a bit more lively. Ever since this classic cocktail was invented by Dick Bradsell in 1983, there’s been some debate about how to make it. The story goes that a supermodel came into the Soho Brasserie and asked for a drink that would “wake me up, and then fuck me up”. He christened it the Vodka Espresso, but it soon became known as the Espresso Martini because of the shape of the glass. 

There’s no definitive recipe. Some call for just coffee, sugar syrup, and vodka, whereas others use a coffee liqueur. Or you can mix up the base spirit. We love this mezcal version that gets the sugar element from Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur. Once you’ve tried this, you won’t go back to the vodka version.

Mezcal Espresso Martini ODD Cafe

How to make a Mezcal Espresso Martini

Make sure you have lots of good quality, very cold ice, or you can end up with something close to iced coffee, and always use freshly-made coffee. I make mine in one of those stovetop mocha things or you could use a Nespresso machine for the full Clooney effect. 

Be warned, with its double coffee hit this will definitely wake you up, you might have trouble sleeping after a couple of these making it the perfect drink to kick off party season. Let the roaring ‘20s commence!

50ml ODD Cafe
15ml Frangelico
25ml Freshly-made espresso coffee

Make the espresso and, ideally, leave it to cool for 20 minutes. Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker and shake hard. Strain into a chilled Martini glass. 

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Everything you ever wanted to know about mezcal

Think mezcal is a poor man’s Tequila? Think again. Yes, they are both made from agave in Mexico. But that’s where the similarities end. At its heart, mezcal is simply…

Think mezcal is a poor man’s Tequila? Think again. Yes, they are both made from agave in Mexico. But that’s where the similarities end.

At its heart, mezcal is simply ‘cooked agave’, milled, fermented and distilled, but the complexities of its production run far deeper. People have been making mezcal for hundreds of years using skills passed down for generations. 

But it wasn’t until the 1980s that a few brands began setting their sights beyond Mexico. Del Maguey was one of the early pioneers, and interest in mezcal soon grew among international bartenders and spirits producers.

Tequila did give mezcal a helping hand, opening people’s minds to agave-based spirits and allowing agave production to flourish (a plant that takes 12 years to fully mature). But mezcal is not second best to Tequila. It’s a complex and cultural spirit in its own right that is often misunderstood.   

mezcal

Mezcal has been made for years but only recently has it been getting the spotlight it deserves

The fine print

A Denominaciones de Origen (DO) for mezcal was first established in the 90s, overseen by the CRM (Consejo Regulador del Mezcal). As defined by the CRM, mezcal can be produced in 10 states: Oaxaca, Michoacan, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Durango, Puebla and Sinaloa.

In 2016 the CRM created three different categories: Mezcal, Artesanal and Ancestral.

Mezcal abocado con is where something is added after distillation, such as a worm (see later), fruits or herbs. Mezcal destilado con is a flavoured mezcal where botanicals and protein are hung inside the still during distillation. Mezcal Pechuga (‘breast’ in Spanish) is a good example, where raw chicken and herbs are infused during distillation.

Destilado de agave sits outside of the CRM’s regulations (producers have to pay to become a member and use its terms), and so while it can include mezcal from Mexico, it also includes agave-based spirits from all over the world.

mezcal

Say hello to Alejandro Aispuro!

What does Mezcal taste of?

Agave, mostly. But that’s difficult to describe to someone who has never tasted it, like trying to describe an apple. Alejandro Aispuro, distiller and co-founder of Agavache, a consultancy and educational authority on agave spirits, makes a good case.

“Usually you get something fresh, a little bit citric, some lime, passionfruit, a bit of tamarind in some cases, but the most characteristic flavour that should always be there is the cooked agave. It should taste caramel-like, a bit sweet but also fresh and herbal – kind of like honey on an orange when you bite it.”

A smoky character is also common, which comes from the agave being roasted in underground pits. But the biggest misunderstanding is that all mezcal tastes the same.

“If you buy a bottle and you like it, buy more because every batch will be different, the yeast, the agave, everything,” says Aispuro. “Consistency and flavour are harder to get than with other spirits. If someone says, ‘I don’t like mezcal’, I say just try another one.”

mezcal

Mezcal: it’s all about agave

What the agave?

Tequila producers have to use blue agave (Tequiliana Weber var Azul) from five states. Unless labelled ‘100% agave’, they can use up to 49% non-agave fermentable sugars. Mezcal producers can use up to 40 agaves, the most common being Angustifolia haw (Espadin), but must use 100% agave. Each agave, much like grapes for wine, creates different flavours. But for Aispuro it starts before that, with the soil.

“If you try different types of agave in mezcal they will taste different. Going deeper espadins from different states will taste different. Mexico has a huge variety of terrains; deserts, valleys, plateaus, mountain ranges, jungles. Does the flavour really just come from the difference of agave or does the soil have something to do with it? I argue that it does and that terroir is a real thing.”

Further layers of flavour are added through wild yeast ferments and distillation methods, which can include clay and copper stills, all of which are crucial to the spirit’s final profile.

mezcal

The ancestral process is the most common method for making mezcal

Mezcal, Artesanal, Ancestral: What’s the difference?

Bottles labelled as mezcal can be made using autoclaves to cook the agave. Mechanical milling, fermentation in stainless steel tanks and column distillation is also allowed. Column distillation takes the ABV of a spirit very high, so subtleties in flavour can be lost, but it’s quicker to produce larger volumes.

It’s the least labour-intensive method of production, though only 7% of mezcal is made in this way, according to the CRM. The vast majority of mezcal production (92%) is Artesanal.

Here, agave must be cooked in earthen pits or clay ovens. Mechanical milling is permitted, though fermentation must take place in “animal skins, pits or tanks made of stone, earth, tree trunk, masonry basins (concrete or earthen tanks), or wood”. Fermentation must be spontaneous with wild yeast and can take up to 15 days, longer during wet or cold periods. 

“Flavours can be created during fermentation that wouldn’t be there otherwise. There are people who have their fields next to lemon trees or strawberries and you taste the mezcal months later and it tastes of lemons.”

Distillation takes place in copper pot stills, or a Filipino-style still made of clay or wood. Very few (1%) commit to the Ancestral method, where the agave is cooked in earthen pits, milling is done only by hand or horse (a very labour-intensive and physical process). Fermentation takes place in the same way as an Artesanal mezcal, but distillation must be over a direct fire in a clay still.

“The flavours are different, not because of the labour, but because it’s distilled in clay,” explains Aispuro. “You could expect petrichor – the smell of wet earth or brick right after the rain, wet forest, humidity. That’s what you should expect from an ancestral mezcal.”

Ancestral mezcal is made in extremely small batches. While most spirits can produce 10s of thousands of litres a day (Artesanal perhaps 10,000 litres a year), Ancestral producers are capable of about 4-5,000 litres a year, probably less, says Aispuro.

mezcal

Be sure to give mezcal a chance, it’s a fascinating and rewarding sprit

How to drink it?

Enjoy mezcal neat, as you would a Scotch or fine spirit. Taste before you add ice or mixers. As for cocktails, try a Mezcalita (Mezcal Margarita), Palomezcal (Paloma), or Mezcal Negroni (switch the gin for Mezcal).

A word on the worm. Gusano Rojo first added a gusano rojo (red worm) to its Mezcal in the 80s as a marketing gimmick. “At some point, people thought it was the difference between mezcal and Tequila, but it’s not,” Aispuro confirms.

Finally, never confuse mezcal with Mescaline. One is a complex agave-based spirit. The other is a hallucinogenic drug found in certain cacti plants native to the United States, Mexico, and South America…

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Mezcal Amores: turning the customer on to agave

Luis Niño de Rivera from Mezcal Amores is on a mission to persuade customers to try his agave spirits neat. Though he’s also partial to a cocktail or two of…

Luis Niño de Rivera from Mezcal Amores is on a mission to persuade customers to try his agave spirits neat. Though he’s also partial to a cocktail or two of an evening.

A popular refrain in the whisky industry is: it doesn’t matter how you drink our whisky, mix it with coke, drown it in ice, drink it through a straw, as long as you enjoy it, that’s the only thing that matters. It’s all done in the name of opening up the category ie. selling you more whisky. 

It was interesting therefore, talking to Luis Niño de Rivera from Mezcal Amores who said just the opposite. He thinks, in order to build his brand, it was important that customers learned to appreciate it neat. He explained the mentality: “consumers will think ‘I know mezcal is hot, I want a cocktail with mezcal’ but no one goes in and says ‘I want an Amores’.” In the huge US market, 95% of mezcal is consumed in cocktails, but this means that you’re not just competing with other brands, you’re competing with other spirits. 

According to Niño de Rivera, for mezcal to thrive customers should be drinking it neat so they can understand “the precious time it takes to make, all the different flavours and aromas. It’s a very rich palate experience”. This is how 70% of mezcal is drunk in Mexico.

Maestros mezcaleros are at the heart of Mezcal Amores

Maestros mezcaleros are at the heart of Mezcal Amores

Amaras, Amores, let’s call the whole thing off.

Amores Mezcal dates back to 2011 when it was founded by a group of friends and investors including Niño de Rivera. In the US it’s known as Amaras Mezcal, meaning “you will love”, whereas in the rest of the world it’s Amores, “love is.” At some point soon, the brand is going to change to Amaras globally. 

They began by sourcing mezcal from one maestro mezcalero but in 2013 they diversified to take in other producers and began bottling themselves. According to Niño de Rivera things began taking off: “In 2015 we knew we needed an artisanal mezcal produced at a good price for cocktails. The original range was never going to do well because of price.” ‘Artisanal’ is a legally-defined term specifying how the mezcal can be made. It’s less stringent than ‘ancestral’ but uses more traditional practises than plain ‘mezcal’. So they began work on their own distillery in 2016 and the first batch came off the stills in March 2017. 

In addition to their own mezcal, they work with 24 maestro mezcaleros around the country. “They are very important to us, they are the roots of what mezcal is,” he said. “We work in three different states with five different agave species.” With so many different producers involved, it’s difficult to generalise about production processes. Maestro mezcaleros will typically use wood or stone, and grind the agave to different textures, but each distillery has its own recipe as well as favoured fermentation and distillation techniques. “Some cut heads and tails, some put everything in the second distillation, everyone cuts differently.” 

Master of Malt currently stocks two Amores Mezcals, an Espadin and a Cupreata (both varieties of agave). Luis Niño de Rivera describes the former as “a blend of all the Espadin we have – like a blended malt.” Whereas the Cupreata is from a single producer like “a single malt.”

Mezcal Amores Lifestyle 22

Go on, try it neat. You might love it

Sustainability and agave

One of the difficulties with working with agave is that it takes a long time to mature before you can use it, up to about 14 years. As Niño de Rivera puts it “you don’t just open the faucet and it pours out, and if you don’t have agave, you don’t have mezcal.” So sustainability is very important to Amores.

He continued: “We knew we had to get vertically integrated and see a holistic model that could work in the whole supply chain. Since 2012/ 2013, we plant agave in a very organic way.” They pride themselves on being “seed to sip”, working with nurseries where different varieties of agave are grown. In some places, in order to avoid deforestation, they either plant in “already-ploughed agave lands that were already worked” or even planted the agave around the trees. He added: “We never launch an agave if we don’t have a planting programme.” This year they have planted over 100 hectares. 

The respect for the agave continues after harvesting: “We don’t use any chemical, additives, during fermentation or post-distillation.” They use natural yeasts for fermentation. They are also environmentally friendly in other ways: “in 2018 we started buying carbon bonds so we are carbon neutral. First mezcal and Mexican distilled spirit with carbon neutral accreditation”. This involved planting trees in the Amazon, the Dominican Republic and now in Mexico. 

Mezcal Amores Lifestyle 2

The all-important agave

Reaching the customer

Then it’s just the problem of getting people to drink the stuff. “Industry people are very keen, they love it, they are going deep into the mezcal world.” But according to Luis Niño de Rivera, this enthusiasm isn’t filtering down to the end customer, it’s just “industry-driven right now, customers know it is a trend but they haven’t got to the next stage of trying to understand it.”

Which brings us back to where we started, educating the consumer. Niño de Rivera compares it with how widely understood concepts like blended whisky, single malt, age statements and different brands are in Scotch whisky. But for most customers mezcal is just mezcal. Which is why he wants to encourage people to drink and appreciate mezcal neat, so that they can begin to understand all the different types. “For a white spirit to have all those complex aromas, it’s very unique,” he said. 

With Scotch, producers are trying to simplify their products for consumers to make it more accessible. With mezcal, producers are trying to get people to understand its sheer variety so that they treat it with more reverence. Two different approaches to marketing.

But while we should drink more Mezcal neat, don’t forget it does make some bloody good cocktails. Niño de Rivera is a particular fan of the Mezcal Negroni made with their Cupreata. His favourite, however, is something called the Cupreatini. He explains: “just take a couple of measures of Cupreata, shake with four cubes of ice, strain into a Martini glass and serve with an olive. The cold and shaking brings out the veggie green aromas in the mezcal.” It’s the perfect introduction for someone who is mezcal curious who isn’t quite ready to drink it neat. 

Mezcal Amores is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy. 

Mezcal Amores Cupreata Bottle 41º - 700 ml

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The peculiar allure of smoked drinks

Whisky, salmon, salt, mezcal, paprika – you name it, we’ll put smoke in it. But why do we love the flavours and aromas of smoke in our drinks so much?…

Whisky, salmon, salt, mezcal, paprika – you name it, we’ll put smoke in it. But why do we love the flavours and aromas of smoke in our drinks so much? Millie Milliken asks those in the know, and tries to explain the peculiar allure of smoked drinks.

Most summers of my late teens were spent sitting around a firepit into the early hours, a bowl of Strongbow cider in one hand (we’d run out of cups) and a powerless, useless Nokia in the other. For the weeks that followed everything smelt of smoke. Everything, no matter how much vinegar or baking soda it was bathed in.

Corte Vetusto

Mezcal cooking the traditional way (image courtesy of Corte Vestusto)

While the smell of smoke certainly isn’t for everyone, for myself – and countless Scotch and mezcal drinkers – the addition of smoke aromas and flavours are (if well balanced) a welcome characteristic in a drink. When I ask Deano Moncrieffe, owner of agave bar Hacha in London, whether he thinks smoke is becoming a more popular flavour for customers, his answer is less than vague: “100% yes! We now have many customers coming to a bar and asking for smoky cocktails,” he tells me.

He’s also seen more and more bars using the word ‘smoke’ on their menus to describe a cocktail in the knowledge that “consumers won’t be afraid of the word when they see it”. Smoked Negronis, Smoked Daiquiris and Smoked Old Fashioneds – even Smoky Martinis – have all passed my lips.

Getting lit

Smoke in drinks isn’t anything new. There’s the use of peat in Scotch (particularly from Islay) whisky production which, when burned, produces a range of smoky flavours (or compounds called phenols). Or while the traditional method of cooking agave in pits to make mezcal imparts a smoky flavour ranging from the subtle to the volcanic. But why do we like the smell and taste of smoke so much? And why in our drinks?

In a 2014 article for the Washington Post, ‘Smoke: Why we love it for cooking and eating’, barbecue and grill expert (yes) Jim Shahin traces it all back to our ancestry: “Of the three elements of flavour [taste, physical stimulation and smell], it’s smell that rocks our dawn-of-man world,” he writes. “That’s because the sense is lodged in an ancient part of the brain called the limbic system, which houses emotion and long-term memory. Smells trigger personal memories as well as atavistic, or ancestral, ones. ‘In evolutionary terms, we all started cooking with fire,” Marcia Pelchat, a sensory scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, says. “That smoky smell is a really strong stimulus’.”

When relating this directly to whisky, Charles MacLean in his 2004 book MacLean’s Miscellany of Whisky agrees. “Perhaps the big Islays, the smokiest of all malt whiskies, recollect the whiskies of the past. And perhaps one of the reasons for their current popularity is their ‘authenticity’, their ‘heritage’. An atavistic folk memory, like candles and open fires, Christmas trees and stormy nights.”

Burnt Ends

Burnt Ends – it’s pretty smoky

Let it burn

For Sam Simmons, head of whisky at Atom Brands (Master of Malt’s sister company), seeking out smoke can be something to boast about: “Seeking out smoky whisky is almost like a badge of honour in the [same] way [as] higher ABV, or IBU (International Bitterness Units) in beer or SHU (Scoville Heat Units) in chilli sauces.” One product to come out of Atom Labs in the last year is Burnt Ends, a blended whisky from Scotland and the USA, combining a 4-year-old Tennessee rye whiskey with a heavy sherried 10-year-old Islay whisky. As the name suggests, the liquid conjures plenty of smoke.

Simmons also mentions the other methods Atom uses to get smoke into their whiskies, such as using casks that held peaty whisky to hold unpeated malt to get some of that character. He also notes that in the USA, he knows distillers who infuse raw materials (corn, wheat, rye or malt) with hickory, cherry, apple or other woods to obtain a certain flavour that get carried through mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation. While others infuse the final spirit with smoke from particular woods, aerating or allowing the smoke to flow through the spirit itself. And when it comes to Iceland and Australia, “I know distillers who use dried livestock dung to dry their barley”. Tasty.

When mezcal brand The Lost Explorer came onto the scene in 2020, the agave category was going from strength to strength and bringing more smoke into peoples’ palates. “The Lost Explorer is what I would describe as agave led or agave forward in its flavour and as you progress through the varietals, the smoke aroma changes and develops in different ways,” explains Moncrieffe who acts as the brands ambassador in the UK.

What determines the smoke profile in the three expressions is the cooking time, the amount of volcanic rock and the reclaimed wood used. He describes the Espadin as having “sweet smoke”; the Tobala a “more cigar kind of smoke” and the Salmiana as “more spiced smoke”.

1881 shots

The still at 1881 distillery in Scotland

Smoke on water

It isn’t just whisky and mezcal that can bring the smoke. The Chase Distillery (previously of Tyrells crisps fame) launched an oak-smoked vodka in 2010, designed to use in Bloody Marys while more recently, Scotland’s 1881 Distillery (which opened in 2018) launched its own smoked gin, Rafters. The distillery, which is housed within the Peebles Hydro Hotel takes inspiration from a fire that ripped through the original hotel in 1905.

“We use fresh oak smoked water to achieve a light, savoury smokiness,” says head distiller Dean McDonald of how they created the smoky expression of their original 1881 Gin. “We didn’t want heavy peat smoke-style phenolic flavours that may have overwhelmed the carefully considered balance of our botanicals.”

Achieving that sweet spot of smoke intensity is judged by taste and smell alone, as the smoke intensity in the water can vary. For McDonald the smokiness of the gin brings out the spicier notes while also adding a velvety creaminess, and is an expression that would suit smoke lovers as well as drinkers of dark spirits like rum or whisky.

That whisper of smoke – as opposed to a shout – is something that Simmons finds appealing too: “In blending, a little smoky whisky goes a long way and, in tiny amounts, doesn’t always even register as smoke but as some sort of umami, some memory of Maillard effect – it just adds that yummy yummy.”

Header image courtesy of Kilchoman.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Disco Picante

This week we’re shaking up one of the snazziest-looking cocktails we’ve seen in a while. It’s sexy, it’s spicy and it’s called the Disco Picante! And for the second week…

This week we’re shaking up one of the snazziest-looking cocktails we’ve seen in a while. It’s sexy, it’s spicy and it’s called the Disco Picante! And for the second week in a row, we’ve mentioned Tom Cruise in Cocktail. There must be something in the air.

There’s something that just screams ‘80s about a blue cocktail. It’s Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses, summer holidays in Tenerife or Tom Cruise in Cocktail. In that film. Cruise shakes up a drink called a Turquoise Blue, aka a Turquoise Daiquiri, combining white rum, triple sec, lime juice, pineapple juice and the all important blue Curaçao. 

Brilliant blue

For a long time, blue Curaçao was perhaps the naffest ingredient in a bartender’s armory. It’s not authentic, it’s not small-batch, nobody is going to get a blue Curaçao tattoo, unless they’re really drunk. But that’s part of its charm. Cocktails aren’t meant to be about beard stroking and willfully obscure ingredients, they’re meant to be fun and blue Curaçao is nothing if not fun.

It’s just orange Curaçao so it is sweet, orangey with a little bitterness but with the addition of a synthetic food colouring known as Brilliant Blue. You probably ate your bodyweight in synthetic colouring as a child, I know I did, and it never did me any harm. 

Disco Picante

None more blue

Blue planet

For a couple of years now, bar trend types have predicted that fun cocktails would be coming back in.  You know the sort of ones that you would order on holiday with a giggle like the Sex on the Beach or the Screaming Orgasm. The fact that this is the second week in a row we’ve mentioned Tom Cruise in the CoW slot, suggests that there is indeed something going on. Perhaps, the post-Covid roaring ‘20s really are happening. Heaven knows, we could all do with a bit of light-hearted fun at the moment. 

Like our Cocktail of the Week. Called the Disco Picante, let’s just pause there to reflect on what a great name this is, it’s a sort of halfway house between an ‘80s holiday cocktail and something a bit more grown-up. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s blue, and quite sweet, but it’s also spicy and made with smoky mezcal so there are some quite challenging flavours in there. For the spice element, you can use a spice liqueur like Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur or Giffard Piment. Or make your own chilli liqueur, it’s very easy, or just add something spicy like brine from a jar of jalapeno peppers.

Blue juice

The Disco Picante was created by Sarah Ben Saoud who swapped the corporate world for a life behind the bar. She said her favourite cocktail is a Dry Martini but she also has “an extreme weakness for a disco drink” when she’s in the mood. ‘I like disco drinks because they come from a time before roto vaps, sous vides, infusions and fat washing. There’s basically zero wankiness attached to them and I like that. They are just unapologetically garish and in your face, and more often than not they are absolutely delicious!” she explained.

And today’s Cocktail of the Week is nothing if not a disco drink: it’s blue and it has the word ‘disco’ in the title. You could use ordinary orange Curaçao but then it wouldn’t be blue and therefore not disco. Saoud explained: “we all know blue drinks are the best drinks. Seriously though, the colour is just wonderful. A drink with blue Curaçao in it makes me happy just looking at it. I couldn’t live without it.”

Following a stint at a bar called Bandra Bhai beneath an Indian restaurant which is described in the press bumf as: “delightfully tacky,” Saoud is just about to start a new role at The Duchess of Dalston in East London. She said that it’s “currently a building site but in the process of being finished in the next few weeks.” Let’s hope she puts the Disco Picante on the menu.

Right, stick on some  appropriate music, and get shaking. Do you wanna funk with me? Yes, yes I do.

Here’s how to make a Disco Picante

45ml Recuerdo Joven Mezcal
10ml De Kuyper Blue Curaçao
25ml lime juice
10ml agave syrup
15ml spice liqueur such as Giffard Piment D’Espelette or Ancho Reyes 

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake. Serve in rocks or Highball glass over fresh ice. Garnish with lime or jalapeño pepper.

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A spotlight on… Sin Gusano

The Sin Gusano range is all about small-batch, authentic, and delicious agave spirits. The kind of booze we probably would have never tasted were it not for founder Jon Darby….

The Sin Gusano range is all about small-batch, authentic, and delicious agave spirits. The kind of booze we probably would have never tasted were it not for founder Jon Darby. We spoke to him to find out why he swapped the city for spirits, how he aims to introduce people to a whole other world of mezcal, and more.

Jon Darby doesn’t have a background in drinks or hospitality. He worked for a decade in finance, then tried his hand at being a financial journalist. Frustrated with his career, he took a break to Mexico in 2016. There he was introduced to mezcal, inspiration struck and everything changed. “I didn’t really know anything about mezcal before then. My friend Alvin Starkman runs a company called Mezcal Educational Tours of Oaxaca and he developed these relationships with these really small-time producers. You head out with just him in the car and see all kinds of family-based production. It was mind-blowing for me. I realised I wanted to work in mezcal,” he says.

He called his boss from the beach and quit his job, eventually extending a ten-day stay into three months, hiring cars, knocking on doors, and asking around looking for small-batch mezcal to enjoy. “I would just go in looking for telltale signs of mezcal production, usually a big stone wheel in a field. Generally, people were welcoming and friendly and you could buy a little copita (a plastic shot) from the local tienda (store). When I came back, I thought I’d go to London’s mezcal bars. As it turned out, there was really nowhere that was anywhere near the level of interest that I’d found in Mexico. That was a lightbulb moment”.

Darby exploited this gap in the market and turned this passion into his own brand: Sin Gusano. It means ‘without worm’ in Spanish, which Darby describes as a “piss-take of the outdated perception that mezcal is just rough tequila with a worm in the bottle”. The idea for his brand was to bottle some of the family-made spirits he tasted and leave behind the gimmicks and slick marketing. Before he could source and import his own spirits, he opened a pop-up in Brunswick East, a cafe in London, in May 2017 mainly selling other brands and a couple of samples he brought back. 

Sin Gusano

A trip to Mexico changed everything for Jon Darby

Sin Gusano: a different kind of brand

An almost year-long residency followed in 2018 in Haggerston, then in 2019 a collaborative pop-up with Pensador Mezcal in Soho. For obvious reasons, the pop-ups dried up, but Darby now runs a subscription service called the Mezcal Appreciation Society, which fills the gap of a place where people can engage and get to know the product better. This is not a typical brand, so education is key. “I want people to see what I found in Mexico because the reason I got so inspired because it was such a rich experience. These kinds of mezcals can seem unattainable and hard to get your head around if someone just puts it in front of you with no information and a hefty price tag”. Eventually, he has plans to have his own space with a tasting room, bar and shop.  

So far Darby has bottled 18 different distillates from 12 different producers in three different states under the Sin Gusano name. Another 12 are on the way. They are all limited releases, so once they’re gone, they’re gone. It’s certainly not the easiest way to create a brand. Doing it Darby’s way means more distance traveled, shipping, bottling, and labeling. More relationships to build. “It’s a massive logistical headache. But this has been a passion product for me. I’m rejecting the typical brand approach where you find one producer, strike a deal, buy as much of their product as you can and put all your money into branding to tell everybody that that’s the best version of that product in the world. I’m saying ‘there is no one best; they are all fascinating and it’s up to you to decide what your palate prefers’. It’s like the opposite of Casamigos”. 

The Sin Gusano range is also a tremendous example of the terroir that exists with agave-based spirits. “That’s where mezcal should be going, talking about agave variety and regional varieties. Three Espadíns made in three different places taste completely different. It’s an internal debate within mezcal right now, as the industry promotes certain standards of production but it doesn’t give any particular kudos to regionality. And if mezcal is going to grow sustainably then different regional variations are going to need to be protected and understood”. 

Sin Gusano

Education is crucial to understanding what Sin Gusano is trying to achieve

Not quite mezcal

Darby is not a fan of the regulatory body that protects mezcal, the Consejo Regulador del Mezcal. And you can understand his frustration. Everything he bottles is essentially mezcal but cannot always be called that because the legislation is too constrictive. “It doesn’t protect all these massively different profiles. Take our spirit made from the tepextate plant. It’s the rarest agave and takes the longest time to reach maturity, some people say 30-35 years. It has a lower sugar content, yield, and higher methanol levels, about 450mg, or 0.45%. But the legal methanol limits imposed on the mezcal certification is 0.3%. It’s an arbitrary number. The EU legal limit for methanol is 1.5%. It’s not that it’s safer to drink, it’s just that they haven’t thought about the perspective of protecting biodiversity when they’ve made the mezcal regulation. It’s been thought through from the perspective of ‘how do we commercialise something and sell shitloads of it’. 

Championing the craft and heritage of these small-batch agave spirits doesn’t just extend to creating the Sin Gusano brand, however. The project is now officially carbon neutral, with Darby carrying out a full analysis of his supply chain and purchasing credits to offset it. The aim will be to reduce that creation year on year and, in line with the legal requirement, he plans to make the full report and certification visible on my website in the coming days. Darby adds that “this might make us the first carbon-neutral agave spirits bottles in the world,” and to be honest I can’t evidence of another at present.

Darby also donates 10% of UK profits back to Mexican charities. The main charity partner is the Chicago-based S.A.C.R.E.D (‘Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education and Development’), who work with NGOs and people on the ground in Mexico to improve local communities and ensure more sustainable practices. “They implemented a rainwater-catching system to reduce their need for imported water, they built a library in a mezcal-producing community, they have a project that donates agave pups to an agricultural school that’s teaching people how to grow more varied types of agave from seed. As I said before, this is a passion project. The ambition is not to sell my brand for millions of dollars. It’s to go to Mexico and engage in the craft I really enjoy while supporting the things that I think are deserving of support”. 

Sin Gusano

You can find plenty of the Sin Gusano range right here at Master of Malt!

Highlights of the range:

Sin Gusano Cuishe & Coyote – Amatlan

Produced from a duo of wild Cuishe and Coyote agave, released as part of the Sin Gusano range. It’s distilled in a copper alembic with refrescador, which is a method using a condenser that essentially allows for two distillations during a single pass through the still. 

Nose: So fragrant and fruity, with roasted apricot, tangy pineapple, creamy coconut, cucumber, and a little corn on the cob with some oaky smoke, black pepper, and some mineral-rich earthiness in support.

Palate: The agave is fresh and sweet and joined by more ripe tropical fruits, toffee, lightly smoked pepper, fresh mint, hints of potpourri, and mixed spices.

Finish: Some orchard fruit joins in the fun among a little caramel and flinty minerality.

Sin Gusano Espadín – San Luis del Rio 

This unaged spirit from Sin Gusano was produced from the most common agave variety, Espadín in San Luis del Rio, Oaxaca, and bottled at 42.8% ABV. 

Nose: Olive brine, charred bell peppers, a little petrichor, and cucumber lead with smoke from a spent bonfire, watermelon, a touch of tropical fruit, and some sweetness from white chocolate and raspberry bar. 

Palate: Plenty of sweet agave is at the core of this palate which has some pleasant earthiness and an almost chalky quality. Notes of wood smoke, white pepper, floral honey, cedar, lime peel, and red fruit are present throughout.

Finish: A delicately sweet finish lingers with some citrus and mineral qualities.

Sin Gusano Tobala & Tepextate – Amatlan

This vegetal number, produced in Amatlan marries the Tobala and Tepextate agave varieties, with 75% and 25% of each variety respectively.

Nose: Bruised pears, roasted agave, dried grass, and some fragrant smoke are present among notes of orange peel, charred pineapple, strawberry milkshake, and wet pebbles.

Palate: Through more of that minerality comes tart citrus, green apple, eucalyptus, garden herbs, vegetal oak, and charcoal smoke.

Finish: Peppery spice flickers through some tangy fruit.

Sin Gusano Tobaziche – Amatengo

This particular release was distilled by Maestro Sergio Juárez Patricio in San Augustin Amatengo using Tobaziche agave crushed by a tahona wheel pulled by two bulls. After a four-day open-air fermentation, the agave is distilled in a copper alembic still with a refrescador.

Nose: Smoke-dried grass, numbing sichuan peppercorn, dried flowers, stone fruit, chilli chocolate, and a little ground cinnamon are supported by a gentle wave of mineral-rich smoke.

Palate: Sweet and aromatic spice weaves through waxy orange peel, soft cooked agave, dried earth, pink peppercorn, anise, and underlying notes of caramelised banana and toffee apples

Finish: Ripe green apple, cinnamon, and flinty minerality.

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Top ten: Mexican spirits for Cinco de Mayo

Today, Cinco de Mayo, is Mexico’s national day of celebration so, if you want to get involved, we’ve picked some bottles to help you get in the mood. And not…

Today, Cinco de Mayo, is Mexico’s national day of celebration so, if you want to get involved, we’ve picked some bottles to help you get in the mood. And not just Tequila and mezcal, there’s also rum, whisky and more!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you’ll know that we are pretty keen on Mexican’s finest produce. Why only last week we ran a profile of Don Julio Tequila. But did you know there’s more to Mexico and booze than Tequila and mezcal? So as the world gears up to celebrate Mexico’s national holiday, Cinco de Mayo, we round-up some of our favourite bottles from one of our favourite countries. Naturally, we’ve also included some agave-based action in there. We’re not complete mavericks.

el-destilado-rum

El Destilado Rum

If you’re a fan of rhum agricole, grassy pungent spirits from the French-speaking Caribbean, then you’ll love El Destilado. Like agricole, this is made from raw sugar cane rather than molasses and fermented with wild yeasts.

What does it taste like?

Slightly tangy with green apple and white grape, with cut grass and peppercorn spice in support.

sierra-norte-yellow-corn-whiskey

Sierra Norte Yellow Corn

Whisky from Mexico, whatever next? It’s made from 85% native Oaxacan yellow corn fermented with 15% malted barley. Sounds like a recipe for a bourbon-like whisky, but the distillate is then aged in French oak for a taste that’s completely unique.

What does it taste like?

Buttered popcorn, vanilla cream and cloves, with smoky barrel char and a nutty floral finish.

ilegal-joven-70cl-mezcal

Ilegal Joven Mezcal

Don’t worry, this isn’t actually illegal (the spelling is slightly different). We wouldn’t sell anything that wasn’t legal. This unaged mezcal is in Oaxaca using traditional methods, like roasting the agave in an earthen pit for a rich full flavour. 

What does it taste like?

Sweet caramel, peppermint and smoky agave with hints of raisins, dried herbs and black pepper.

nixta-mexican-licor-de-elote-liqueur

Nixta Licor de Elote 

You can probably tell by the name, if not the shape of the bottle, what the star of this liqueur is – corn. This liqueur from Nixta is made from maize grown surrounding the Nevado de Toluca volcano, so it’s packed full of buttery corn sweetness at 30% ABV. 

What does it taste like?

Buttered popcorn and fresh sweetcorn, swiftly followed by silky caramel. This would be great in an Old Fashioned. 

el-rayo-plata-tequila

El Rayo Plata Tequila

El Rayo Tequila pays homage to the legend that lightning struck an agave plant, cooking it and creating the first ever Tequila. This particular expression is made from Blue Weber agave distilled twice in 105 year old copper pot stills.

What does it taste like?

Exceptionally smooth and gentle, with an oily mouthfeel, notes of citrus, lots of earthy agave and a hint of flinty minerals, with a warming peppery finish.

mezcal-amores-espadin-2020-edition-mezcal

Mezcal Amores Espadin 

This is the latest edition of Mezcal Amores’ Espadín-based mezcal. The producers work with small agave growers to plant ten agaves for each one they use, and make sure they’re paying the mezcaleros they’re working with a fair price.

What does it taste like?

Fresh vanilla and citrus blossom, balanced by spicy herbs, wood smoke and leafy coriander.

drinks-by-the-dram-12-dram-tequila-and-mezcal-collection

Drinks by the Dram 12 Dram Tequila & Mezcal Collection 

If you can’t make your mind up what to buy, then why not get this collection? In that stylish box there are 12 different 30ml wax-sealed drams of absolutely delicious Tequila and mezcal from some of Mexico’s best producers. 

What does it taste like?

What doesn’t it taste like? There are 12 delicious agave-based wonders to explore in here.

ocho-blanco-tequila-2019-la-laja-tequila

Ocho Blanco Tequila 2019 (La Laja) 

Sadly, the man behind Ocho Tequila, Tomas Estes died last week. But his son Jesse is keeping the flag flying for single rancho (field), single vintage Tequila. This unaged bottling was made with agave harvested from La Laja, named after a type of flat stone which you’ll find many of in this particular field. 

What does it taste like?

Waves of fresh mint and cooked agave sweetness, leading into dried herbs, green olive, warming, peppery spice and subtle smoke.

montelobos-joven-mezcal

Montelobos Joven Mezcal

Montelobos Joven Mezcal is made with espadin agave and distilled by mezcal guru Iván Saldaña. You can read an interview with the man himself here. It also offers a really stylish bottle with a rather ferocious-looking wolf on the label.

What does it taste like?

Wood smoke and green pepper freshness on the nose, with a tropical fruit and powerful smoke character on the nose. 

storywood-double-oak-anejo-tequila

Storywood Double Oak Añejo

Scotland, Spain and Mexico meet in one bottle thanks to this añejo Tequila from Storywood. This Double Oak expression has spent 14 months in both Scotch whisky barrels and Oloroso sherry casks. It was bottled at cask strength, 53% ABV.

What does it taste like?

Honeyed roasted agave sweetness, with jammy forest fruits, oak spice and dried fig.

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