Mezcal is one of the most popular Mexican drinks, besides tequila. In fact, tequila is actually a type of mezcal. The word "mezcal" literally means "roasted agave", so the term "mezcal" broadly covers any agave based spirits.
Have you ever wondered how it tastes? In this article we take you through what you can expect from mezcal in terms of flavour, and some of the factors that determine the taste of the mezcal you drink.
It's not just about the ingredients used, but also the preparation method. Even a simple thing like the kind of pots used in production can affect the final flavour of mezcal.
We'll explore all of this and more, including the different scents and flavours that make up this delicious spirit, and thoughts that come to mind when tasting different mezcals.
When people taste mezcal, they commonly get a smokey impression. Some types are in fact smokier than others.
As you get more into mezcal and taste more of it, you realize that there is more complexity to it than the smoky front. With that in mind, let's delve deeper into this.
There is a saying that the taste of mezcal is worth acquiring. This has to do with the smoky nature of the mezcal, which some people are not used to at first.
However, when people are first introduced to mezcal, it is becoming increasingly rare for people to say that they do not like the flavour. As times change and people adjust more to unique spirits, the majority of people tend to enjoy mezcal.
Regarding the smokiness of mezcal, let's take a look at some of the facts gathered by agave plant and distillate specialists. In this case we will focus on Ivan Saldana. He has a great deal of experience in the mezcal industry and has drawn some interesting conclusions.
Where does mezcal flavor come from? The roasting process? The agave plant? This is what Ivan Breaks down for us and we think his findings are pretty cool.
Before you start tasting some delicious mezcal, it's important to make sure you have the perfect glassware to drink it from! Our unique shot glasses, tumblers and copitas are perfect for making your mezcal tasting experience the best it can be. We also have beautiful mezcal bottles that will have you pouring in style.
The Four Mezcal Flavors
We will take a look at the four distinct groups of flavors which are smoke, cooked agave, bacterial congeneric fermentation and green agave.
The smoky flavor of mezcal originates from the wood used to heat the stones in kibas or underground pits. This flavour is from the molecules released when combusting they are often expressed as notes of wood, fire, chocolate and chilli pepper.
Mezcal with a higher alcohol content will have weaker tasting notes. The differences in the smoky notes are caused by the amount of wood used, type of wood and how big the ovens are. Mezcals prepared through steaming lack these flavours.
Some people may complain that mezcal has a bonfire taste. In this case, it is likely that the person has not tried mezcal many times, or that the mezcal itself has not been balanced very well, meaning the flavour is more intensly smoky.
Even so, when tasting mezcal it is important to look for nuances in the smoky flavour. There are distinct differences between different types and brands. Some are more wood flavoured, whilst others taste more like ash. Some have much more subtly smoky flavour that is actually more of an aftertaste.
So, the next time you taste fire, wood chocolate or chilli pepper, know that the tastes are mostly acquired from the roasting pit. The smoky flavor won't always be equal and you should take the time to consider the unique differences.
When the piñas are cooked, there are chemical reactions that occur. Proteins combine with sugar and generate compounds that affect the mezcal flavour hugely.
A typical mezcal cooked slowly underground will have sweet and roasted and sweet notes like those of caramel, honey, brown sugar, cooked pumpkin, hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts and walnut.
So, every time you experience a sweet taste in mezcal it often comes from the roasting process and the cooked agave. Of course, the amounts of sugar can never be the same because different agave plants have varying sugar content.
Mezcal is made from various types of agave plant and every agave finally made into mezcal will not give off the same kind of taste, even if they undergo the same production process.
For example, in the case of tobalas, they tend to be much sweeter than espadin mezcals.
So when you are tasting mezcal and you are getting sweet notes like honey or hazlenuts, you know that this is due to the cooking of the agave.
Agave plants have compounds with strong and unique aromas and flavors, most notably the essential oils and terpenes.
There are approximately 30 terpenes that have been identified in agave distillates after surviving the whole cooking process. In the cell walls and cuticles of the plants are fats that convert to esters in alcoholic solutions like mezcal.
Raw agave includes notes like floral and green fragrances, citrus and anis. Agave gives vanilla notes naturally as it is a natural compound, without the effect of wood being used in the production process as fuel or natural aging. The green notes can sometimes impart the bitter taste of mezcal.
Terpenes are are essential constituents from a wide range of flowers and plants. For example, the flavor and aroma of hops, often used in beer of course, originate from terpenes.
Terpenes in mezcal present themselves as floral notes, citrus and anise flavors. Mezcal can be described as plant-like, an almost leafy taste whilst being clean and fresh.
Bacterial Congeneric Fermentation
It is a long and confusing phrase, but hold tight and we'll talk you through what this means.
During fermentation, the sugar is converted to ethanol. In most mezcals, it can take up to ten days for fermentation to finish and the lack of added yeast allows for an active participation of the bacteria in the formation of compounds affecting the product's sensory experience.
Wild yeast adds an extra layer of complexity to the mezcal, as opposed to the exclusive use of added yeast. The effect is the formation of compounds with fruity notes.
The typical aromas and flavors from bacterial fermentations are ripe red and dried fruits, pineapple and banana, as well as other notes like white gas and nail polish. Mezcal fats can also provide animal and leather notes.
Roasted agave is fermented in open air vats with some airborne yeast. The aroma and flavor profile of the agave plant changes as it ferments and they eventually affect the final taste of the product. Therefore, if you taste pineapple or banana in your mezcal, the bacteria had something to do with it. Thank them!
Testing The Taste Of Mezcal
Apart from the suggested flavors above, you may find other types that you sense, taste or smell in mezcal.
Some other things like the type of vat used in fermentation, the type of still used in the distillation process, and the storage containers for distilled mezcal can impact the final taste. You can also get vegetal, floral, ash, earth, sugar, roasted agave, anise, spice and heat from mezcal.
Remember, there are a lot more flavors to be found and the person sitting next to you is likely experience some different tastes to you. Why not get a group of your friends together for a fun tasting session and see what you all come up with?
Examples of Mezcal Flavors in Popular Bottles
Let's take a look at a few examples and see what we can identify in each bottle. These are all great mezcal brands and we wanted to take a look a the flavours from each of the four categories.
Siete Misterios, Arroqueno
- Green agave - A little amount.
- Fermentation - Some bits of ripe banana.
- Cooked agave -Caramel and yummy brown sugar.
- Smoke - Nice and gentle smoke accompanied with a bit of chocolate.
- Other - Very pleasing earthiness may be from the clay pot used in distillation. Additionally, this mezcal feels very viscous, similar to a butterfly Chardonnay.
- Cooked agave - Very little in this category, and maybe some hints of citrus.
- Green agave - Caramel and rich Vanilla.
- Smoke - Smooth smoke with hints of spiciness, heat and chilli.
- Fermentation - Very little in this category.
- Other - Anejo is aged in wood, and this is certainly evident in the vanilla and caramel tastes.
- Cooked Agave - Very little in this category.
- Smoke - Smoke and wood.
- Green Agave - Very little in this category.
- Fermentation - Fruit, ripened banana and mango.
- Smoke - Gentle and light smoke.
- Green Agave - Vegetal. You will certainly taste those terpenes hitting the spot with some anise.
- Fermentation - Very little in this category.
These are just a few of the drinks we have chosen. You can try out different brands and mezcal types for yourself and determine just what kind of taste you get from them.
The taste your friend perceives may not be the taste you perceive. A person that has tasted ash will sense the flavor in mezcal, but if you have not tasted ash before, you may not detect it.
For this reason, professional mezcal testers ensure that they have tried a broad range of different flavours alongside tasting mezcal. This helps them to identify different notes in the drink. This is something you can also try to enhance your tasting experiences.
Are You Ready To Taste Mezcal?
All of these are good mezcals, and in fact, excellent ones.
We are certain that you will have your own varying conclusions when you taste these brands in some cases, but that is what makes it fun and interesting.
Every mezcal has its own unique features, and while the producers keep the same taste profile, you will often find some slight differences from one batch to the next from the same brand. Same as you would with bottles of wine. Flavour is very subjective and it often entirely depends on the person doing the tasting as to what it will taste like.
So, go out and drink mezcal! And why not sip your mezcal from one of our stylish copitas or shot glasses? We have a huge range of glassware and barware to make your tasting experience even more special.