"Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, también."
Photo credit: Singusano.com
You don’t need to delve too deep into the significance of mezcal to stumble across this aphorism: “For everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good as well”. More than just a drink, mezcal take a lot of its significance to the Mexican people from the cultural importance of the agave plant. Before Spanish settlers brought the magic of distillation to Mexico, the locals had been creating pulque by fermenting the juice of their sacred agave plants. Consumption was always closely connected to religious ritual, and it is thanks to this, and the perceived sacred power of the plant, that mezcal is still treated with similar reverence today. From celebrations to funerals there aren’t many occasions in Oaxacan life that don’t being with a measure of mezcal.
Misconceptions of Mezcal
Given that the team behind Sin Gusano put education at the heart of what they do, I asked co-owner Alex for the three things he wants you to know about mezcal:
1: Mezcal is not tequila
Mezcal is distilled from a mash made of fermented, crushed piñas – the heart of an agave plant. While mezcal can use any type of agave, tequila can only use blue agave. Both spirits also have strict regional restrictions on production, with most mezcal made in Oaxaca (central Mexico) and most tequila made in Jalisco (western Mexico).
Mezcaleros like to play up this difference to avoid the comparisons with the ultimate frat boy party drink – the tequila slammer. As a result, you will often hear them advise you to “kiss your mezcal, don’t shoot it”.
2: Mezcal has a unique flavour and complexity
Given the vast difference in production methods and plants, mezcal has a range of different flavours with a clear connection to their terroir. Sin Gusano references this significant differential with their ‘Los Pueblos’ or villages tasting flight. Three mezcals made from the same agave, but in three villages just a few hours apart. The difference is striking – particularly between the smoked pine of the Santa Ana del Rio and the musty earthiness of the San Juan del Rio. Unbelievable given that these are made just a few kilometres down the same river valley.
3: Despite what the locals will tell you, it still gives you a hangover
Alex laughed when he gave me the third preconception. “If you go drinking mezcal in Oaxaca”, he explained, “They will tell you it doesn’t give you a hangover. You can try and refuse with ‘no, I shouldn’t, I have to work tomorrow’. They’ll say, ‘ah it’s no problem – no hangover!’ But it’s not true!” Take our advice, stick to the ‘kiss it, don’t shoot it’ mantra, and rejoice in the fact that mezcal is decidedly more of an upper than a downer.