Published On: Wed, Dec 12th, 2012

Artisan Mezcal Hits Glasgow


The first time I had the pleasure of trying Mezcal it was like smelling a young Islay whisky. It was big and smoky like Ardbeg, had subtle cocoa aromas similar to Caol Ila, the fruitiness of Bunnahabhain and the vegetal aromas you would find in a Laphroig but as well as these familiar smells there were also aromas of pineapple, banana and papaya. On the palate it really packed a punch and I could still taste the stuff two days later. This was like no Tequila I had ever tried and I knew I needed to find out more about this mystical, misunderstood Mexican spirit.

Up to this point I never understood what the difference between Mezcal and Tequila actually was. Well, in fact Tequila is style of Mescal, much like Cognac is a style of Brandy or Speyside is a style of Malt. Both are made from the heart of the Agave plant (which, by the way, is no relation to the cactus). Over time certain rules have been put in place for the production of Tequila such as it can only be made from the one species of Agave i.e. the Blue Agave, and it can only come from five classified states in Mexico (predominantly Jalisco). With Mezcal it can come from any one of seven states (predominantly Oaxaca) and can be made from around thirty different species of Agave. It’s how the Agave is cooked that really sets it apart from Tequila. For Tequila, the Agave is cooked in large autoclaves for a few hours at a very high temperature but for Mezcal the Agave are buried underground in natural earth ovens over wood and hot stones for up to five days. This helps to extract a lot more flavour from the Agave and gives it it’s uniquely smoky character.

It’s true to say that the production of Tequila has become more industrialised than Mezcal, with the spirit being made in factories rather than the small village scale production still found with most Mezcal. This has meant that it has been pretty hard to get hold of good quality Mezcal in Glasgow. That is until now. The Good Spirits Company on Bath Street stocks around 8 different Mezcals from 4 different producers, with sadly none containing a worm (the worm, some say, is merely a marketing trick). Two of my favourite producers are: Ilegal Mezcal and Del Maguey.

• Ilegal Mezcal – Reposado (£42.50) A great starting point for people wanting to get into drinking Mezcal. This has been aged for up to 5 months in American oak, This softens the smoky aroma of the drink and makes it a lot smoother on the palate. Expect flavours of green apples, cut grass, sweet spice, fresh mint and smoked tobacco.

• Del Maguey – Chichicapa (£69) This Mezcal comes from the village of Chichicapa which sits at 7000 feet in a broad valley about thirty miles deep and ten miles wide. It has been hand crafted from 100% organic wild Agave which shows the true ‘terroir’ of the area it is grown. It has a pungent nose yet it is deep and sweet on the tongue with a long distinctive smoky finish. It also comes in a hand woven basket made by the women of the village.

Andrew Glencross