Mezcal—that fiery, smoky spirit which I like to think of as tequila's loud, brash cousin (in the same way rye is bourbon's upstart kid brother)—is definitely on the rise. But while mezcal's outsider status is attractive to those who seek out and consume hard-to-find booze, limited distribution and publicity also makes it difficult to penetrate the mass market. Mezcal from Oaxaca seeks to change all that.
A partnership between 11 independent mezcal brands and the Oaxacan government, Mezcal from Oaxaca is dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of artisan mezcal. Providing marketing, distribution, and importation support to small producers, they're eager to get the word out. We recently had the chance to taste four of their offerings, currently available in NYC-area liquor stores, and headed for nationwide release soon.
If you're new to the spirit, start by checking out our Guide to Mezcal for a crash course.
Agave: Espadín, Cirial, and Barril
This mezcal has a sharp and grassy scent, with a nice cactusy kick. On tasting, fruit and floral flavors begin to surface, transporting you to a field of wildflowers. This was the most integrated and balanced mezcal of the group.
Zapotec for earth (yuu) and fire (baal), the two key elements for creating mezcal, this spirit is produced from wild agave. It has a salty, spicy aroma with soft citrus around the edges. The taste is almost peaty—very earthy and medicinal, but it finishes with a hint of caramel sweetness.
Los Siete Misterios
The scent of sweet butter and smoky cooked agave spills out of the glass, with hints of green herbs striking a balance in between. Tasting of prickly pear and salt, floral notes hover in the background, while the alcohol packs quite a punch.
This mezcal has huge, fruity BBQ aromas interlaced with a mesquite-like smoke. The flavor is intense and complex, green spices of mint and floral notes hit you high in the sinuses, while there's a lovely clover flower sweetness around the edge. A lingering finish of cedar and clove rounds out the experience—this mezcal ended up being our favorite of the bunch.
We're hoping this is just the tip of the iceberg and a variety of small-production, high-quality mezcals will soon be at every local liquor store. In the meantime, these mezcals are a great start. What's your favorite mezcal?
About the author: Andrew Strenio is a lover of all things potable. Since sneaking his grandmother's bourbon balls, he's moved on to touring distilleries and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films for an independent production company in Brooklyn.
Tasting samples provided for review consideration.