Mezcal is a spirit on the rise. Fueled in part by the megaboom of tequila and an uptick in mezcal Margaritas and other cocktails, consumers are branching out to other agave spirits, and mezcal is number one.
Looking ahead, mezcal sales are projected to rise by nearly 18% by the end of 2022, according to a study by Future Market Insights, reaching $840 million globally. That’s just a drop in the proverbial copita compared to tequila, representing approximately $3.3 billion in revenue last year in the U.S. alone, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. But mezcal producers are positioning to meet that demand by rolling out new bottles for thirsty consumers.
The latest crop of mezcals seem to be engineered to be accessible and mixable. Many downplay the traditionally smoky characteristics for which mezcal has become known. Consider this notation from Pelotón, which is rolling out a duo of new bottlings: “Many of the mezcals on the market possess overpowering smokiness that make it difficult to drink more than one cocktail,” says the brand, describing its offering as “balanced and quaffable” by comparison.
Yet mezcal represents a broader spectrum of flavors beyond just smoke. Among others, it can be herbaceous, vegetal, fruity, floral or showing honey-like flavors. And the pechuga subcategory, typically produced by suspending raw chicken or turkey breast from the still, often layers savory richness as well.
Mezcal is a complex and fascinating spirit. No wonder so many consumers are eager to give it a try.
Bozal’s newest expression, which launched in summer 2020, is a madre-cuishe from San Luis Amatlán, Oaxaca. Bozal is noted for its lineup of more than 15 bottlings, each made from wild agave varietals and packaged in striking tall ceramic bottles, and the company’s latest is a single-maguey (madre-cuishe) expression known for offering mineral, floral and vegetal flavors. Tasting notes from the producer suggest earthy beet and sweet potato and hints of pollen.
New to the U.S. as of May 2020, Convite, named for an Oaxacan term that roughly translates to “invitation to feast,” has launched three varieties. Esencial is made from espadín; the producer describes it as “perfect for cocktails.” Madrecuishe blends wild espadín and wild madre-cuishe agaves for a sipping mezcal with citric and fresh herb tones, while “sweet and subtle” Coyote is produced from 12-year-old wild coyote agaves.
Founded by a former PR executive and launched in late autumn 2019, Doña Vega is made by a female mezcalera who runs the farm where it’s distilled with her three daughters. The debut includes two expressions: Espadín (“the people’s maguey”), for light smoke plus fruity undertones, and the rarer Tobalá (“a true connoisseur’s spirit”) from the high desert region, for vanilla and toasted oak tones.
Though it was founded in 1960, El Rey Zapoteco made its debut in the U.S. only recently. The single-estate Espadín plus wild-harvested Tobalá, Cuishe and Tepeztate arrived in select markets in June 2020, plus a barrel-aged Pechuga (wild turkey) bottling is expected to join the lineup by the end of the year. El Rey bills itself as Oaxaca’s oldest artisanal mezcal brand to make its mezcal entirely in-house.
Introduced to the U.S. market in March 2020, this joven is sustainably made from wild agave grown on the high-altitude mesas of the state of Durango. The producer describes the mezcal as scented with banana and green apple, with fruity and lightly smoked flavors.
The core espadín expression from Pelotón de la Muerte has found favor with bartenders. Like the original, two new expressions, both available as of August 2020, are made with wild agave grown in the Mexican state of Guerrero. While most pechugas are distilled with a chicken breast (“pechuga”) or other meats, this pechuga is, notably, vegan, featuring botanicals hung from the still during the second distillation for herbaceous savory notes.
Positioned as mild and mixable, Vamonos Riendo, new to the U.S. as of August 2020, sports a cheery soft-hued label and a name that translates roughly as “Let’s Go Laugh.” What’s in the bottle is a blend of eight-year-old espadin and 14-year-old tobalá, sourced from distilleries in the high altitudes of the Sierra Madre mountains. The producer describes the mezcal as “fresh, vibrant and bright,” with “subtle black oak smokiness.”