It seems as soon as you start thinking about Mexico, cacti, sombreros, tequila immediately come to mind... Colors, tastes, sounds and sensations... These are the most important things we bring back from our travels. Mexico is now one of those places where many travel and everyone wants to return. How do impressions come together? Depends on the mood. What usually sets the mood? Circumstances. And the circumstances in Mexico are agave distillates. I will not hide that it is a common addition to anything - food, excursion, worship or party.
From the beginning. Mezcal - Nahuatl mexcalli [meʃˈkalːi], baked in an oven. I will remind those who have forgotten that the first name of tequila was Brandy de Mezcal del Tequila . All tequilas are to mezcal, as cognac is to brandy and champagne is to wine. For many who have touched Mexico, it seems that there is tequila and there is the one with the worm that is drunk in the village and not sold. Yes, this is mezcal, yes, it was forgotten, but now the whole world has discovered mezcal.
Like tequila, mezcal has appellations (DOC). There are several states in Mexico where mezcal can be produced: Oaxaca, Puebla, Tamaulipas, Zacatelco, Durango, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Guerrero. All of these states are located in southern Mexico. Oaxaca is where mezcal is produced the most, and the town of Matatlan, known as the capital of mezcal, is located here. There are countless well-known mezcal distilleries in and around it, and just as many small, microscopic ones.
This time I will not tell you about all the states, this time - about mezcal itself. Like tequila, it is made from agave. Tequila is made only from blue agaves, while mezcal can be made from a variety of agave varieties, as long as those agaves are grown in a state where mezcal can be made. 15-20 years ago, it was agave grown in small plantations, gardens, mostly of the 'Espadin' variety. Now these agaves are grown in large plantations. I could compare this variety to the blue agave from which tequila is made. They are the easiest and fastest to grow. Agaves for mezcal are grown for at least 6 years. A lot of mescal in Bicuishe, Tobasiche, Arroqueno, Coyote is made from wild agaves aged 12-30 years.
The production process is very similar to tequila, but there are several differences that make this drink unique in style, taste and aroma. Unlike the agaves used for tequila, which are roasted for 24 to 72 hours, the agaves for mezcal are roasted for 48 to 160 hours. Yes, up to 7-8 days. Agaves are buried in a pit, loaded with stones, and a bonfire is lit on top of them. The coals are loaded with earth, which maintains the cooking temperature. Slow cooking turns the starch inside the agave core into sugar, but not caramel. After baking, agaves are either crushed with stone rollers, tajona or crushed by hand.
Wooden oak vats are mostly used for fermentation. Yeast is added to make cheap and low-quality mezcals. For quality and exclusivity, spontaneous or natural fermentation must take place, carried out by yeasts living in the environment. The mango tree dropping its leaves into the vat, the lime blossom that has fallen during fermentation, make this drink unique even before reaching the bottle that we will taste. After fermentation reaches 7-9 percent. volume of alcohol in the wort, everything is poured into distillation vessels.
Copper stills are commonly used for stills such as cognac, rum, scotch whiskey. Distilled 2 or 3 times, preserving the aroma and weight, as this is the basis of mezcal.
After distillation, we have about 70-78 percent. alcohol, which is called puntu. A simple method is used to determine the alcohol content: the mezcal makes bubbles as it drips. How many bubbles are counted is the percentage of alcohol in the distillate.
When making grain distillate, my grandfather added alcohol to a stick and, turning his finger in it, set it on fire: if the finger burned, but it didn't hurt, and the stick didn't burn, it means there is about 60-70% alcohol. If it burns your finger or twists the sticker, it means there is more alcohol and it should not be used without mixing it with water.
Many associate mescal with smoke and spiciness. As my good friend Jesse Estes (Global Ambassador for Ocho Tequila) told me, the smoke is an accidental blemish from over-roasting the agave, which gives you fruity, citrusy, sweet aromas in mezcal - what we get in Europe: strawberries, pears, blueberries and a little bit of that. , what we taste when we leave: pineapple, papaya, chocolate, vanilla, cocoa.
Plus. If you think the real mezcal comes with a worm…
Worm ( Gusano Rojo - one who is a pest) - a drink decoration.
Food and mezcal
Because mezcal is as expressive - colorful, loud, singing or dancing - as the place where it is produced, the food matches it accordingly. Food in Oaxaca and many southern Mexican states is prepared using many spices, both Mexican and imported. Shopping - in the market, because there are all the colors that we can meet in the world. The prepared food often has a contrasting taste: sweetness goes hand in hand with bitterness and acidity, and cocoa powder or chocolate are often found in the dish. Cilantro makes its way into almost everything, from meat stews to sweet cakes. Corn tortillas are baked everywhere and used with all kinds of food. You can get food everywhere: in the market, on the street, on the roadside. Mexico can be called a street food paradise.
Mostly meat and many vegetables are eaten. And, of course, sweets, cakes, pastries, sweet drinks. Mexico is the country with the highest sugar consumption in the world, not sure if it's because of the climate or the culture, but there are a few desserts, well, and of course the most common digestive in Oaxaca is mezcal. I will be able to tell you about its medicinal properties in private. Grilled meats will go well with heavier, smokier mezcals. White fish, or ceviche, with a more citrusy or sweeter mezcal. An intense, sweeter-flavored distillate goes well with dessert.
Mezcal should be tasted from an open, flatter glass so that the aromas are revealed and fill the entire room.
Mezcal is unique in that it changes, lives and ages like wine in a glass bottle. Every time you taste it, you will find something new that you haven't experienced before. Mezcal has skyrocketed in popularity over the last 10-15 years and is rapidly catching up with tequila and other spirits. He fascinates with his fickleness and mood swings. We can get to know mescal by interacting with it, which is what we do. I raise a glass to acquaintance!
Linas Starkus, tequila ambassador in Lithuania