- There are more than 200 varieties of agave in Mexico that can be turned into mezcal.
- Mezcal has its own Designation of Origin.
In many Mexican towns mezcal is very much a part of day-to-day life and the cultural patrimony of the inhabitants. It is produced in eighteen states and, according to CONABIO (the biodiversidad council), there are over 200 types of agave suitable for making mezcal. It is a social product that brings Mexican mysticism to the forefront, perhaps as no other.
Mezcal is a transparent distillate of maguey or agave, that picks up nuances of flavor and color depending on the time it is aged in wood. Various raw materials and tools are involved in production: maguey plants, of course, as well as wood, water, heat-resistant rocks, cooking in an earth oven, grinding tools, fermentation vats, micro-organisms for fermentation, and stills. The secret lies in knowing masterfully how to make mezcal; that is, to have the sensory memory of a mezcal-oriented town and field work in centuries-old family agave farms.
The process denotes great love for the land and its bounty.
First, the cutting of the mature maguey or agave (the botanical name) happens when the plant has reached maturity, which, depending on the variety, will be between 6 and 28 years. The second step is the roasting or tatemado of the heart of the maguey plant, known as the piña (pineapple), in an earth oven. The third step is the crushing of the roasted maguey to extract the sap or juices and break down the fibers.
Fourth, fermentation of the juices with the fiber and mash in hollow trunks, clay pots, leather bags, wood vats, stone pits, or hollowed-out rock formations. This is done with no chemicals or accelerators.
Fifth. Distilling. The ferment and mash are poured into discontinuous stills of clay, copper, or wood. Usually at least two distillations are done, although, depending on the type of still and the local historical taste, there are triple-distilled mezcals. At the end the alcohol content is adjusted. To do this: portions of higher degree (from the first distillate or puntas) are mixed with the lower degree of alcohol (from the end of the distilling process (colas), testing the quality through its perleado, aroma and taste.
Mezcal should taste and smell like maguey roasted in an earth oven. If it is made from wild plants it will have floral aromas and overtones, as well as greater variety and depth, unlike mezcal made from cultivated agaves.
All agave distillates have their origin in traditional mezcal, including tequila. Traditional mezcals coexist with other distillates (such as sotol), made according to rules and objectives that depend on regional tastes.
Perleado is the name of the pearls, shells, or bubbles that appear around the edge when mezcal is poured into a container. The pearls show the alcohol content, the magueys from which it was made, and the manufacturing process. It is the fingerprint of the drink that a master mezcal maker knows how to interpret.
Information from Cornelio Pérez (Tío Corne), Coordinator of the Logia de los Mezcólatras. Mezcales Tradicionales