The Ultimate Mezcal Guide

Marca Negra Tobala

During my big Negroni tasting we wondered which spirit or cocktail we should sample the next time. Soon we decided on trying different mezcals. So, as you will see we gathered ten different ones to find out all about the different characteristics and flavours. And guess what, even we were surprised on the wide range of flavour this smoky agave spirit provides!

 

After my recent experiment with mezcal and a tasting of Mezcal Amores this is the third time I am writing about mezcal. Compared to articles on other spirits like – let’s say gin – this is close to nothing! To change that, this article will give you a rough idea on which mezcal to buy, if you are overwhelmed by the new availability of this agave spirit. Originally, we had planed on tasting the different mezcals ranging from 30 € to 95 € a bottle and spanning four different agave varieties neat and in two drinks. However, after sampling all ten of them on their own, we were pretty exhausted by their rich flavour profiles and decided to skip the two drinks. Therefore, I will just give you examples on what we think would be a great drink to be mixed with each individual mezcal.

Bartender’s favourite

Our first mezcal on the list, was this agave spirit work-horse that is widely available here in Germany. As mentioned in my previous article on the San Cosme Mezcal this is one of bartender’s favourites and because of this I just had to include it in the comparison. The San Cosme is distilled in Santiago Matalán in the state of Oaxaca by José Mendez. It uses the cultivated agave variety Espadín as a base with the agave hearts being smashed by a stone mill, also called “Tahona”. It is smoked in an underground pit to make the carbohydrates available for the yeast and afterwards fermentation takes place in wooden casks. Then the mash is distilled twice on copper pot-stills before being filtered and bottled.

San Cosme Mezcal

  San Cosme Mezcal
Alcohol: 40 %
Price: 43 € per litre
Appearance: Clear, medium sized windows, slow tears
Nose: Smoke, minerals, some glue, citrus notes, agave, whiff of menthol, chilli powder, paprika, candle wax, rose petals
Taste: Sweet, glue, agave, hint of smoke, slight sweetness, fruity, apples
Aftertaste: Medium long, glue, some smoke
Rating: 3,5 Lions

Being the first mezcal in the tasting, the smoke was clearly noticeable. I am almost inclined to apologize for stating the obvious, but after the third mezcal we almost were not able to smell or taste any smoke at all. It is funny how quickly you get accustomed to it. Back to the San Cosme, even though it is bottled at only 40 % ABV, it delivered a whole bunch of flavours. Another thing I found interesting was the fact, that when I came back to my glass of San Cosme after trying the second mezcal it tasted totally different with candle wax and rose petals. In conclusion, this still is the best Mezcal on a budget and therefore the number recommendation you should grab when mixing mezcal highballs. We especially enjoyed the San Cosme in a Mezcal Paloma.

Mezcal from different states

Next up we continued our tasting with the Derrumbes Mezcal series. This relatively new series of three mezcals is distributed in Germany by Ferrand Germany. All three bottlings come from a different Mexican state and use different varieties of agave. The first one with the lowest ABV of 43 % is the Derrumbes San Luis Potosí. It is made on the high planes of San Luis Potosí using the wild Salmina agave variety. The Salmina agave is relatively common, but it has a very low yield. This means that four times as much have to be used when compared to making tequila from the blue agave variety. Another interesting fact is that this variety grows on soils with a higher chalk content and is therefore said to show a special terroir. Apart from that, the piñas are cooked in an above ground oven instead of an underground pit and this results in a mezcal without any smoke aroma. After that, the agave hearts are crushed using a “Tahona” and then fermented with wild yeasts before distillation on small copper pot stills.

Derrumbes San Luis Potosí

  Derrumbes San Luis Potosí
Alcohol: 43 %
Price: 60 € per litre
Appearance: Clear, small windows, slow tears
Nose: Paprika, wet earth, clay, gouda cheese, pickled paprika, hint of pineapple, spices
Taste: Sweet, glue, earth, cheese, paprika, umami, salty
Aftertaste: Prolonged aftertaste, salt
Rating: 2,5 Lions

This was the most controversial mezcal in the tasting! There clearly was no smoke, but it had a powerful umami taste instead. It reminded me of gouda and that was a little too much for me, but that is just my opinion. Other tasters noticed a honey like note which I could not make out, but I guess there is a certain fruitiness to it. My first cocktail idea for this mezcal would be a Bloody Maria, although I am not a big fan of tomato juice either. Yet, I think the strong umami notes of the San Luis Potosí would pair well with the spices and the tomato in this recipe.

Mix of two agaves

The second bottle of Derrumbes Mezcal is distilled from a blend of Cenizo and Cupreata agave varieties. They are cooked in an underground oven using black oak and fermented in underground tanks lined with pine wood. The most interesting part is that the distillation is done according to the Filipino method. In this technique a wooden pot containg the mash is placed on top of a fire or oven and a large copper pot containing water is used for cooling the spirit vapours. After distillation the Michoacan Mezcal is allowed to rest in large glass bottles for some time before bottling.

Derrumbes Michoacan

  Derrumbes Michoacan
Alcohol: 46 %
Price: 71 € per litre
Appearance: Clear, small windows, fast tears
Nose: Rubber, smoke, worm salt, honey, menthol, minerals, paint thinner
Taste: Sweet, agave, smoke, fruity, earthy, burned rubber
Aftertaste: Rather long with glue, smoke and agave notes
Rating: 3,5 Lions

As I said, our sensitivity for the smoke aroma sank with every new dram of mezcal and therefore the fact that we clearly noticed the smoke in the Michoacan Mezcal means that it must be quite powerful. Moreover, I probably should mention that when it comes to mezcal, descriptions like burned rubber and paint thinner actually have a positive connotation. Just in case some of my avid readers are not familiar with the complex and sometimes overwhelming flavours mezcal brings to the table. That being said, I quite liked the Michocan it is powerful with agave, fruit and smoke flavours. However, it received mixed reviews from other participants in our small tasting group. My first choice of drink using the Derrumbes Michoacan would be an Mezcal Old-Fashioned.

The familiar one

Despite the unusual elements of the first two Derrumbes Mezcals the third one, at least on paper, promised to be more familiar. First, it is distilled in Oaxaca and second, it is made from Espadín agaves with just a small amount of Americana agaves in the mix. The piñas are again cooked in an underground pit using black oak and the fermentation takes 72 h. Afterwards the mash is distilled two times on copper pot stills and rested for three months in large glass vessels.

Derrumbes Oaxaca

  Derrumbes Oaxaca
Alcohol: 48 %
Price: 61 € per litre
Appearance: Clear, small windows, medium fast tears
Nose: Glue, UHU all purpose-glue, fruity, full-ripe fruits, worm salt, smoke
Taste: Smoke, glue, paint thinner, fruity
Aftertaste: Long with glue and fruits
Rating: 4 Lions

Maybe it is due to the familiarity of the Espadín agave variety, but the Oaxacan expression of the Derrumbes series was my favourite among the three mezcals. Yes it has a more pronounced glue taste than the other two, but this also means that there are more fruit esters. Also, despite its ABV of 48 % it was a little bit smoother than the Michoacan. Or maybe I prefer burning glue over burning rubber, nevertheless if you are a Mezcal fan I highly recommend checking this one out. Surely, this would be great in a La Ultima Palabra.

Single village mezcal series

Next we tried four different mezcals from Oaxaca all made from the Espadín agave variety. The first one we tasted was the Alipús San Andrés which comes from Xitlapehua, Miahuatlán and is made by Mezcalero Valente Ángel García Juárez. The piñas are roasted in an underground pit using oak wood and then are crushed in a shredder. The fermentation takes place with wild yeasts in cypress wood barrels and the distillation is done twice on copper pot stills with a volume of about 300 l.

alipus_san_andres_frei Kopie

  Alipús San Andrés
Alcohol: 47,3 %
Price: 67 € per litre
Appearance: Clear, small windows, slow tears
Nose: Fruity, marzipan, glue, hint of smoke, paprika, mango, agave notes, wet clay
Taste: Sweet, fruity, glue, slight hint of menthol,
Aftertaste: Prolonged aftertaste with exotic fruits and glue
Rating: 3,5 Lions

The Alipús San Andrés is described as being very fruity and just slightly smoky. After sampling it we can fully attest to that! It is maybe even the most fruity mezcal in the tasting with clear pronounced agave notes. I reckon this would make a great Mezcal Margarita, but we were also missing a little bit of the typical “in your face” taste of mezcal. Nevertheless, this is really good to show mezcal novices what this agave spirit is all about, without scaring them for live! We also tried a La Ultima Palabra with the San Andrés, but the Chartreuse overwhelmed the mezcal and so we would recommend using a more powerful mezcal in this specific drink.

Santa Ana

The Alipús Santa Ana Del Rio comes from the accordingly named town of Santa Ana del Rio, Tlacolula and is made by Eduardo Hernández Melchor. Similar to the San Andrés also oak wood is used for cooking the agave hearts in an underground pit, but again a “Tahona” is used for crushing them. Instead of cypress wood barrels oak casks are used for fermentation and as with all of the Alipús series mezcals the distillation takes place on copper pot stills.

alipus_santa_ana_frei Kopie

  Alipús Santa Ana Del Rio
Alcohol: 47,3 %
Price: 67 € per litre
Appearance: Clear, small windows, very slow tears
Nose: Candle wax, glue, smoke, old rubber, paprika, umami, hints of agave
Taste: Slightly sweet, glue, salt, umami, rubber, earthy
Aftertaste: Rather long with glue and fruits
Rating: 3,5 Lions

Well, the Alipús Santa Ana is completely different from the San Andrés, it tastes somewhere in between the Derrumbes San Louis Potosi and candle wax. Again, the taste of candle wax being also a good thing when it comes to mezcal. When thinking of an application in cocktails I would also suggest mixing up an All Betts Are Off with it.

Well-balanced

Mezcalero Baltazar Cruz Gómez makes the Alipús San Louis Del Rio Mezcal in the town of Santa Luis del Rio, Tlacolula. The production is pretty similar to the Santa Ana, because the piñas are cooked in an underground oven using oak, a “Tahona” is used for crushing them and the fermentation takes place in oak barrels. Yet, it is very interesting how different the two versions taste!

alipus_san_louis_frei_neu

  Alipús San Louis Del Rio
Alcohol: 47,0 %
Price: 67 € per litre
Appearance: Clear, small windows, slow tears
Nose: Smoke, glue, carrots, fruits, slight salinity, candle wax, leather, agave
Taste: Fruity, glue, menthol, agave, hint of smoke
Aftertaste: Medium long smoke and glue
Rating: 4 Lions

When it comes to sipping mezcal on its own, the San Louis Del Rio, might be a great choice. Of course, it packs smoke and glue flavours, but it also has a slightly fruity aroma and definitely some agave notes. I would almost go as far as to say that you can get a slight hint of terroir with it, because of its salinity and candle wax flavour. If you are into Mezcal Sazeracs, look no further and try the San Louis Del Rio in it!

Work of the devil!

The difference between the Alipús San Baltazar and the others from the same series is that the agave hearts are smoked using mesquite wood and the fermentation takes place in pine wood barrels. The rest of the production is the same as with the other expressions from the Alipús range. The sons of the master distiller Cosme Hernández are also producing their own line called Koch Mezcal.

alipus_san_baltazar_frei Kopie

  Alipús San Baltazar
Alcohol: 47,2 %
Price: 67 € per litre
Appearance: Clear, small windows, slow tears
Nose: Glue, agave, paint thinner, salinity, pink pepper corns, vanilla, smoke, herbal notes
Taste: Sweet agave, whiff of glue, menthol, smoke, vanilla
Aftertaste: Agave and glue, rather long
Rating: 4 Lions

The Baltazar mezcal is clearly the most powerful in the Alipús range! Nevertheless, it is also quite complex with agave, pink peppercorn and vanilla flavours. Also, quite a fair amount of smoke is noticeable with this mezcal. This is why I would not recommend this bottle to beginners, but as a matter of fact I know that this one works very well in any number of mezcal cocktails. You will get great results in drinks ranging from a simple Oaxacan Old-Fashioned to the complex La Ultima Palabra.

If you just want to buy one bottle…

When you into cocktails and spirits your back bar soon grows out of proportion. This is why at some point you might be inclined to limit yourself to owning just one bottle of an extraordinary category of booze. When doing so, I would however only settle for the best bottle in a certain price range. This is what I did when I bought my first bottle of mezcal. I tried the Pierde Almas in the Goldene Bar in Munich an instantly fell in love with it. The Pierde Almas series is a collaboration between the artist Jonathan Barbieri and the Sanchez Family. The Pierde Almas Espadín is distilled by Don Alfonso Sachez in San Baltazar, Chichicapam on copper pot stills and fermentation takes place in small wooden barrels.

  Pierde Almas Joven Espadín
Alcohol: 51,6 %
Price: 86 € per litre
Appearance: Clear, small windows, very slow tears
Nose: Glue, paprika, vanilla, raspberries, chilli powder, spices, pain thinner, smoke
Taste: Glue, fruits, spices, menthol, vanilla, raspberries
Aftertaste: Very long, glue and spices
Rating: 4,5 Lions

The Pierde Almas Espadín still is my favourite mezcal! With its complex combination of smoke, glue, red berries and vanilla it is just perfect for spirit forward mezcal drinks. My favourite of them all is the Oaxacan Old-Fashioned. Even though I know that it probably would make a great Paloma, I would not use it in this highball. In this case, it is not solely about the money, but the Pierde Almas’ availability is very poor the moment.

Luxury wild agave mezcal

Two different mezcals from the Marca Negra range are available here in Germany right now. The first one is made from the common Espadín variety, but the second bottle is distilled from wild Tobalá agaves. This variety is also called the “king of agaves”, because it takes the piña up to fifteen years to fully mature and one agave heart only yields about two bottles of mezcal. So, it is not a big surprise that a bottle of Tobalá mezcal clocks in at about one hundred bucks. In the Marca Negras case, the agaves are from the area around Santa Luis del Rio, Tlacolula. The distillation is done twice on small copper pot stills by Mezcalero Jorge Méndez Ramírez after the natural fermentation has taken place.

Marca Negra Tobala

  Marca Negra Tobalá
Alcohol: 52 %
Price: 151 € per litre
Appearance: Clear, small windows, very slow tears
Nose: Candle wax, glue, spices, pepper, menthol, paint thinner, hint of smoke
Taste: Smooth, sweet, glue, fruits, vanilla, pepper, menthol
Aftertaste: Medium long, glue, charcoal and citrus notes
Rating: 4 Lions

It might sound cliché, but the taste of the Tobalá despite its high ABV is surprisingly smooth! There is a little sweetness which rounds off the rough edges and makes sure that the alcohol does not overwhelm the taste. It is very good on its own, but I almost do not dare to say that it is not as complex as the two previous ones. On top of that, I am not quite sure how to use this in a drink. With 100 € a bottle it is almost too expensive for mixing. Usually, I do not have this problem, but how often do you get to try such an exclusive spirit?

All in all, this mezcal comparison was very intriguing, but I have to admit that with such a powerful spirit as mezcal it is also a little bit exhausting. The most interesting fact to take away from this maybe is that even if mezcals may sound the same on paper, there still are grave differences in aroma and taste. Another thought-provoking fact is that even the cheapest mezcal could win us over and that there was just one that was so polarizing that you either hate it or love it. In the end, there is not much left to say, except a big thank you to the people who made this tasting possible and that I am very keen on hearing your favourite mezcal cocktails!

*The fact that I received a product reviewed in this article for free, did not – in any way – influence the rating of said product.

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