Although I don’t watch the ralfydotcom YouTube channel anywhere as much as I used to, he has mentioned many times that whisky drinkers should have “malternatives”. He is mostly talking to Scotch drinkers in this regard, but this can easily be expanded to whisk(e)y drinkers in general. When keeping your options open, there are several more aisles in your local liquor store just waiting to be explored.
Mezcal, and to a much greater extent, tequila, are two spirits that have a negative connotation to many spirit drinkers, which harken them back to drunken college episodes. Let me assure you that times have changed since then. Yes, the big brands still dominate, but there is a fast growing craft space opening up with both of these spirits.
More so than tequila, mezcal, predominately produced in the southern Oaxaca region of Mexico, is garnering plenty of interest north of the border. It’s rich history, small scale production and adherence to traditional techniques is resonating with whisky drinkers who appreciate craft presentation and are looking for something to expand their taste buds.
This is just the first of many non-whisky reviews that we intend to post here starting this year so they’ll be plenty of time to go into the history of this spirit later. And, I assure you, it’s fascinating stuff!
Our first mezcal is from El Buho. Mezcal can be made from dozens of varieties of agave, but Espadin is by far the most common. This El Buho Espadin was distilled in small batches, is un-aged (as the majority of mezcals are) and bottled at 45% ABV
Nose: More than any other agave varietal, I find the Espadin to be the purest representation of mezcal. This one is actually fairly light on the smoke, which allows the full character to shine through. The sweetness comes across as a light vanilla. A pleasant sour and citrus is reminiscent of a lightly grilled lime. There is a cilantro herbaceous note, which gives this a fresh vibrancy that I love. Inhaling more deeply gives me cracked green cardamom pods.
Palate: The entry is light and sweet with the vanilla following from the nose. As the development unfolds, the lime is joined by orange and the grill marks are a little darker. This introduces a slight bitterness, which helps to balance the sweet and sour combination. Hold this in your mouth for longer and you get a light smokiness as well as a mild green chili and black pepper hit. There’s also just a slight hint of cocoa at the end. Combined with the black pepper, it helps to dry out the experience a little.
Finish: The spicy character of this mezcal sticks around, but does not overpower. The citrus slowly fades along with the lingering sweetness from the entry. This ends with that fresh cinantro.
For those looking to try mezcal, but have always been a bit hesitant, this Espadin would be a great place to start. This isn’t overly smoky, nor is it intensely vegetal. There’s a nice balance here that works by itself in a glass as well as a cocktail. Coming from the world of whisky, I instantly fell in love with mezcal when I tried it for the first time last year. Also, try this in a cocktail containing equal parts of this mezcal, green or yellow Chartreuse, lime juice and Luxardo and thank me later!