Photo by Sierra Norte Mexican Whiskey
What is Mexican Whiskey?
When you first think of whiskey, you don’t expect to hear the name Mexico in the same sentence.
Mexican Whiskey is a distillate made from corn in the country of Mexico with its first commercial batch being produced in 2013.
Corn and corn products have always been a part of Mexican culture, food, and cultivation.
It is said that corn was first developed in central Mexico 5 to 7 thousand years ago, eventually becoming the main source of food for the native people.
Today Mexico produces about 3% of the world’s corn at 27 million metric tons per year.
Native corn is a lot different than the genetically modified corn that is mostly produced today.
Indigenous corn is endangered and some producers are using it in their whiskey to gain awareness around indigenous corn.
However, the future of indigenous corn does not look bright in Mexico in general.
Commercial Mexican Whiskey may be late to the game, but it it's production in Mexico makes total sense.
What Does Whiskey Have To Do With Mezcal?
First Mexican whiskey producers originally obtained their distillation knowledge from making mezcal. They then applied it to the process of making whiskey.
In the reverse order, mezcal is a very common bridge to cross for whiskey drinkers.
Because of mezcal’s flavor profile and its popularity with the Oaxacan Old Fashioned, the bridge to cross is an easy one.
Oftentimes in Mezcal Facebook groups, you will find first time mezcal drinkers coming over from being avid whiskey fans with large whiskey collections.
Tasting good whiskey or scotch is also similar to tasting mezcal so it is not a far gap for those who like to take their drinks neat.
For unique glasses to drink your mezcal or Mexican Whiskey neat, click here.
What Does Mexican Whiskey Taste Like?
"In the specific case of whiskey, you have to make an almost neutral spirit and then age it.
Mexican whiskey distillers are leaving some of the flavors and aromas of the corn in it before aging it, so it does taste a lot different than Bourbon." According to Javier Leon, Mexican mixologist.
You may get some funky notes of wet cardboard and used socks as well as bright and sweater notes like butterscotch.
What Is Nixtamalization And What Does It Have To Do With Mexican Whiskey?
Nixtamalization is a 4,000 year old Mesoamerican cooking process of soaking the corn in lime water. The acidity of the lime washes and dehulls the corn.
This process is part of the beginning preparation before the corn mash is created.
Mexican Whiskey Brands
Photo by Abasolo Mexican Whiskey
Abasolo Mexican Whiskey
A brand of the Casa Lumbre Spirits company, Abasolo is the rising star and one of the only stars in the category.
Ivan Saldaña is a bit of a chemist and is always on the forefront of marrying mindful commercialization of Mexican spirits with Mexican tradition.
According to Abasolo “Abasolo El Whisky De Mexico is crafted and distilled from 100% Mexican Cacahuazintle (kaka • wha • SINT • lay) corn, which has been cultivated and passed down for more than 200 generations by local farmers for its distinct, extraordinary flavor.”
The color of the Mexican Whiskey is light and the unique flavor profile has notes of butterscotch, corn honey vanilla, and black tea.
Distillery Photo by Abasolo Mexican Whiskey
The distillery is located at an altitude of 7,800 feet in Jilotepec de Abasolo, one hour away from Mexico City.
It is said that this distillery is one of the highest in the world.
The specific location they chose is a 4th generation corn farm over 100 years old located in the heart of the soul of corn.
Abasolo Mexican Whiskey’s main values are to respect and reinvent ancient tradition and Mexican culture.
Their Mexican Whiskey has a six step distillation process is as follows according to their website;
- Ancestral Cacahuazintle corn is dried in the field before harvesting.
- A portion of the corn is then malted.
- Abasolo’s roasted, nixtamalized corn flour is dissolved in stainless steel tanks with hot water. Malted corn is added to the mix and stirred for several hours. Through this process, the transformation of starch into wort occurs and can then be fermented by yeast.
- Abasolo wort is slowly fermented with a select yeast for more than 120 hours until all sugars are converted into alcohol and other volatile compounds. The fermented wort will go on to distillation, the next phase of the process.
- Fermented wort is poured into traditional copper stills to make a first distillation where the volatile compounds are trapped. A second slow distillation concentrates the alcohol enough to make it ready for aging.
- The obtained corn distillate is matured in new toasted and used oak casks in an open warehouse with a light roof and no walls where temperature fluctuations and changing conditions provide a unique aging profile before Abasolo is bottled.
Photo by Sierra Norte
Sierra Norte Mexican Whiskey
Another pioneer of Mexican Whiskey is located in San Agustín de las Juntas, Oaxaca.
Sierra Norte’s claim to fame is the use of non-GMO heirloom corn that is local to and traditionally farmed in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Douglas French is the Master Distiller, previously producing mezcal for about 20 years.
Sierra Norte has a vast selection of distillations that use black corn, white corn, yellow corn, and purple corn in combination with French Oak Casks.
In 2019 Sierra Norte was producing about 3,000 cases per year of Mexican Whiskey.
Founded by Jonathan Barbieri in 2016, Pierde Almas is a mezcal brand now owned by Diageo Spirits since 2018.
Their Mexican whiskey is unaged, however they do not seem to be focusing on the production of their Mexican whiskey any longer most likely due to the mezcal boom or lack of demand.
Information on this particular product is very limited.
Mexican Whiskey Cocktails
As suggested by the mixologists behind these brands, here are the most popular cocktail riffs to try with Mexican Whiskey.
Simply just substitute the whiskeys from your recipe book with Mexican Whiskey.
Mexican Whiskey Old Fashioned
Modelo with Mexican Whiskey sidecar
Mexican Whiskey Sour
Mexican Whiskey with Topo Chico
Mexican Whiskey Mint Julep
Greg Rutkowski, President
Greg is a lover of agave spirits, handicrafts, and barware. In 2020 he married all of his loves and created a business bringing amazing pieces from all over Mexico to the United States. Learn more here.