This month at Capella Ixtapa we are celebrating a very traditional Mexican plant – agave. Throughout the Month of Agave we are having agave related activities; we are hosting mezcal and tequila experts, who share their secrets about these two popular spirits, we offer tequila and mezcal tastings, margarita making classes, tequila and mezcal pairing dinners, exhibitions, and more. Sommelier and mezcal expert Miguel Angel Quiroz from Ixtapa Zihuatanejo was kind enough to take a couple of minutes after his guest appearance at our events last week, and we chatted about agave and mezcal.
Miguel Angel, can you give us a short history about mezcal?
Mezcal is a prehistoric drink, produced from cooking and fermentation of agave. Its origins are in the American continent, our ancestors were fermenting the drink, but it wasn’t until the Spanish colonies arrived that we learned the distillation technique brought from Spain.
How many varieties of mezcal exist? And what is its relation with tequila?
There is three types of mezcal, white or young, reposado and añejo (like in tequila). Mezcal and tequila have a lot in common and at the same time very little in common. Both are obtained from the agave, but from different types; tequila is produced from one single kind of agave (tequilana Weber or agave azul), while mezcal can use more than 20 different kinds of agave except for azul or tequilana Weber, which is exclusive for the creation of tequila. Both are harvested in a similar way, they are cooked, fermented and distilled. Today, due to its international popularity, tequila has become more industrialized, while mezcal is still artisanal in its produtcion. The cooking of agave for tequila is done in steel ovens and the cooking for mezcal is done underground in clay ovens with mezquite wood logs.
How would you define a good mezcal?
A good mezcal can be identified just by looking at it: shake the bottle to check for the formation of bubbles, or “pearls”; the finer these are the better the quality, and if they last longer it also means it’s a high quality mezcal. On the palette a good mezcal should be balanced, elegantly smoked, and with an interesting spectrum of smells. I recommend you to taste it with small sips (we call them kisses) and find the different aromas and flavors that it offers.
What is the story behind the Mezcal worm?
The worm was frequently used in the first days of Mezcal mostly to give it an identity of its own and to generate expectation among consumers, today less and less mezcals use the worm, partly because the spirit is already perfectly recognizable by the consumers. The myth that if mezcal doesn’t have a worm than it isn’t mezcal is completely false.
Can you tell us some other myths and rituals of Mezcal?
There are two most common myths about mezcal, but both are false; If it doesn’t have a worm it’s not a good mezcal; and If you eat the worm you won’t get drunk.
One of my favorite rituals is savoring the mezcal: Drink it by kissing it, little by little, with thirds of orange and worm salt.
What are the most traditional and what are the new trends in enjoying Mezcal?
The most traditional way to drink it is to have the entire glass in one sip. But as I mentioned, these days it is suggested (and I recommend that as well) to enjoy mezcal little by little and savor it, try to find all its flavors and aromas, with the thirds of orange or even with bitter chocolate. If you want to pair it with food, try it with typical Mexican snacks – they go along perfectly!
In your personal opinion which region in Mexico produces the best mezcal?
I think the best mezcal for each person depends on their tastes, but without a doubt Oaxaca is today the largest and most important producer of great mezcal in Mexico. Personally I love the ones from Oaxaca and Guerrero.
Which are your favorites?
I like Mezcal Katrina, which is a mezcal from Guerrero and it’s created with 3 different agaves, it is an intense, elegant and delicious blend. From Oaxaca I like Mezcal Amigos Reposado with 9 years of aging in glass containers. This is a reposado with a very crystalline look, a strong smoke and very interesting overall. As a digestive I would recommend you to try Mezcal Amigos Añejo, aged 3 years in cherry barrels with delicious notes of fresh red fruits.
These sound amazing, I can’t wait to try them! For the end, can you tell me are all mezcales done in an artisan way?
Yes, until today all mezcals are created in an artisan way – and I hope it stays that way [smile].
Thank you very much Miguel Angel!
It is my pleasure!