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Mezcal’s Moment

Mezcal has long been something that most Americans only knew as the stuff bottled with a worm and generally tasted on a dare during spring break. (Not to mention the confusion with that other Mexican spirit.) Fortunately, mezcal’s image has recently been given an extreme makeover and small-batch bottlings are becoming more widely available on this side of the border.

First: All tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. While premium tequila is made from blue agave, mezcal can be made from other varieties of the plant. Second: Tequila distillers generally steam the agave before fermentation, while for mezcal the agave is usually slow-roasted in oven-like pits lined with hot rocks. This process gives the spirit its signature earthy and smoky dimension.

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There is a vast range of flavors and aromas found among the different mezcals. Some should be sipped like whiskies, while others can be mixed in cocktails. Here are a few of the best.

Del Maguey, Single Village Mezcal:

You can thank Ron Cooper for the surge in popularity of mezcal. Since 1995, he’s been finding traditional single village spirits and now imports seven stunning mezcals. Try the Chichicapa ($70), made in a village about 7,000 feet above sea level, which delivers a lot of smoke and a bit of mint.

Fidencio Mezcal:

While most mezcal has a pronounced smokiness, Fidencio ($50) is instead surprisingly floral. The biodynamiclly grown agave is roasted in a custom radiant heat oven instead of in a traditional pit.

Ilegal Mezcal:

Ilegal hits the nose with aromas of caramelized apples. You can taste the smoke, as well as a velvety, creamy sweetness on the palate. The brand produces a joven ($45) and a reposado ($55).

Sombra Mezcal:

Spanish for “shadow,” Sombra ($49) is complex and smoky enough to be sipped, but light and citrusy enough to be mixed in cocktails.

Locations: Mexico
Series & Type: Products Trends

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