What is Mezcal?
Mezcal is the oldest distilled spirit in North America. Tequila is a type of Mezcal, and Mezcal is not a type of tequila. Mezcal is a distilled spirit made from the agave plant. Similar to Cognac, the production of Mezcal is limited to a region appropriate for cultivation of specific varieties of agave and the Mezcal production has to conform to the specific legal regulations of the Mexican government.
Oaxaca is the most important Mezcal producing state in Mexico. There are a total of seven states allowed to produce agave spirits called Mezcal, most of which are located in Southern Mexico.
Mezcal can be made from up to 28 recognized varieties of Agave plants including the Blue Agave used for tequila, as long as it is grown in the region. Although 90 percent of Mezcal currently produced is made from the Espadin Agave (or Agave Angustifolia). Agave varieties can be blended to create a diverse flavor pallet as in wine blending process. Mezcal must be 100% agave, though dilutions are now allowed.
The agave plants take from 8 - 15 years to ripen. Once ripe the leaves are cut off and the heart of the plant, the Pina are cut in pieces and cooked in wooden pit ovens, brick ovens or autoclaves. Each pina can weight up to 150 kilos depending on the variety. After cooking, the pinas are crushed by hand in stone tubs, using stone grinding mills with animal traction or by industrial shredder. The resulting natural juice is left to ferment.
Mezcal is typically artisan made in small batches the same way it has been produced since the Spaniards introduced distilling techniques to Mexico in the 16th century. Ingredients are agave, fire and water. No chemicals or additives are used to speed up the fermentation.
All certified Mezcal has a NOM on each label, identifying the producer of Mezcal. There is also a green and white circular COMERCOM seal on the label, which indicates its certification by the Mexican government.
(Source: Barbara Sweetman, Caballeros Inc.)