From the mid-2000s Mexico has burst onto the international scene with a huge range of wine, spirits, and craft beer. While these libations all have deep ancestries in Mexico, they are now winning awards both at home and abroad and competing with the world’s most prestigious beverages for accolades and fans.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of mezcal brands. A distillate once dismissed as backwoods hooch, this ancient elixir has been made by rural Mexicans for over 500 years. Only in the last decade or so has the world suddenly taken notice of this complex and smoky distillation and it is suddenly the liquor to be seen drinking if you want to impress friends and strangers alike.
But what is mezcal? And which should you buy so as not waste your time and money on anything less than the best? Here is a little background and a few tips if you want to be a pro at choosing and drinking Mexican mezcal.
There are hundreds of brands on the market and dozens of different agaves to choose from. Should you pick up a bottle of George Clooney’s mezcal Casamigos or something with a little more traditional? Should you go with an espadin? Or a cuishe? Should you choose a more standardized commercial version or a wildcard artisanal blend? If you are just starting out on your mezcal journey the best first stop is Oaxaca, the home of mezcal in Mexico.
One of the bigger brands in the area around Oaxaca City is Los Amantes, a hotel-distillery project started by Oaxacan artist Santiago Suárez. Los Amantes won two bronze awards in last year’s World Spirits contents, and they are popular in both Mexico and the U.S. Their mezcals are on the lower end (42-40 proof) but they still have their charm and the Los Amantes distillery and tasting room is one of the most beautiful in Oaxaca.
The Real Minero brand has been built on generations of fine mezcal making and expertise and is now run by mezcal masters Graciela Angeles and her brother Edgar. They currently export to some bars in Washington state in the U.S. and overseas in Germany, but their main market is in Mexico. Rey de Zapoteco is another family-run distillery in Oaxaca whose mezcal can be found in several bars, restaurants, and specialty liquor stores in and around Los Angeles, as well as in Colorado. The family’s matriarch, Doña Juanita, is still producing mezcal at 71 with her three sons.
Alipus is another recommendable brand found in the States and Mexico, made in Santiago de Matatlan by the Los Danzantes restaurant group, who own two great Oaxacan restaurants, one in Mexico City’s Coyoacan neighborhood, and another in Oaxaca City. They work with local producers to create their extensive line of Alipus mezcals and the word on the street is they treat them right.
Popular brands like Oro de Oaxaca, MonteAlban, Union, and Zignum (which also won a bronze in last year’s World Spirits contest) are all big, industrial outfits that buy from producers and are not considered very traditional by local standards. These brands are easier to find in the U.S. because unfortunately small-batch, artisanal mezcal is hard to export for reasons both legal and logistical.
Source: Luxury Latin America