While some may think that Mezcal is the same as tequila, it actually isn’t. Tequila is usually created in the town by the same name by using blue agave as the main ingredient, while mezcal is the term most often used to liquors that are agave-based but are not a tequila.
Mezcal getis it’s name from the word mexcalli, a Nahuatl term that translates to mean “earth roast maguey hearts.” While the liquor’s consumption and production are often associated with Oaxaca in Mexico, it can be produced in any Mexican area outside those that produce tequila.
The agave plant is the main ingredient used to make Mezcal, although you might have heard it referred to as maguey. It takes between six and eight years for the plant to mature. Once it has, farmers harvest the plant. A machete is used to chop off the leaves, and what is left is called a pina, which is cooked, crushed, and used to create a mash.
When the mash has been created, it is added to a large, wooden vat that is between 300 and 500 gallons in size. Some manufacturers allow the mash to ferment for two days prior to the addition of village water, while others leave it to ferment for quite a bit longer. It is required by the government that at least 80% of the mixture is comprised of agave.
After the fermentation if complete, the mash goes through a double distillation process. Once the process is complete, the mescal is ready to either be aged to bottled.
Unlike some other spirit varieties, mezcal ages fast. During this process, the spirit is added to a large wooden barrel, in which it is left to age for as little as two months up to seven years. The longer the mezcal is left to age, the deeper its golden color will become and the more flavor it will acquire from the barrel.
There are several classifications of aged mezcal:
- Blanco/Jovan, meaning white or young, is a colorless variety that has been aged under two months.
- Reposado, or rested, is left to age between two to twelve months.
- Anejo, or aged, is left in a 350 liter or smaller barrel for a minimum of a year.
It is quite common to find a worm in a bottle of mezcal, and these are referred to as con gusano, or with worm. However, what is often thought to be a worm is really the larva from either the agave snout weevil or a gusano rojo (red worm). Many mezcal brands have a larva in the bottle, and some mezcal even get their name from the type worm it contains, or even how many are in the bottle.
It is unclear where the addition of larva originated, but it is known that the practice of adding a larva is actually fairly recent. An addition that is limited to mezcal, it is used not only for an interesting topic of discussion, but also to give the spirit additional flavor. This is probably because, in most cases, pure alcohol was used to cure the larva prior to it being added to the spirit.
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