What is it? Mezcal is a distilled Mexican liquor made from agave plants. Basically the term mezcal refers to all agave-based distilled liquors that are not tequila which is made exclusively from the blue agave plant found in the Jaliso, Mexico area.
How is it made? After the agave plant matures for 6–8 years, it is harvested by magueyeros (agave farmers) & the leaves are chopped off using a machete, leaving only the large piñas (pineapples) or corazones (hearts) behind. The piñas are then cooked and crushed, producing a mash called tepache which is then placed in large (300–500-gallon) wooden vats to ferment for two days, after which 10% village water is added and stirred into the mix. The Mexican government requires that 80% of this mix be from agave (as opposed to tequila which is regulated at a lesser amount: 51%). Cane and corn sugars may also be added at this time. When the fermentation stage is complete, the mash is double-distilled. (The first distillation yields ordinary low-grade alcohol.) After the first distillation, the fibers are removed and the resulting alcohol can then be added back in. This mixture is then distilled once again after which point, the mezcal may be bottled or aged.
Let's talk nitty gritty. Mezcal ages quite quickly in comparison to other liquors. It is aged in large wooden barrels for two months to seven years. During this time the mezcal acquires more and more of a golden color, and its flavor is influenced by the wooden barrels. The longer it is aged, the darker the color and the more noticeable the flavoring effect.
- Añejo (aged) – aged for at least a year in barrels no larger than 350 litres.
- Reposado (rested) – aged two months to a year.
- Joven or blanco (young or white, often marketed as silver in English) – colorless mezcal, aged less than two months.
Although the custom is relatively recent, larvae are used frequently by several brands of mezcal to give flavor to the drink. A whole larva is deposited in the bottle, normally after having previously been cured in pure alcohol.
When a worm is included, the mezcal is known as con gusano (with worm). Aside from its consumption with mezcal, the maguey worm is considered a delicacy in Mexico and can be found on restaurant menus throughout.
At Cafe No Se the top secret mezcal bar is in a special room that is entered by crouching through a tiny door. Oops, guess this secret's out of the bag!
In this room is where we honored our friend Dan with some of his last drops of alcohol, before he returns home to Michigan to begin work at a "dry" college, where he will commit to a "dry" lifestyle. Sounds awfully "dry" for a guy who digs sucking down wormy liquor, doesn't it?