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Tequila and mezcal, an elegant heart and a rogue spirit

12/10/2022 Spirits

For years tequila has been considered a rough drink with a strong intoxicating power, the worst price to pay as a consequence of having too much. And if tequila has been underrated, then that makes mezcal its forgotten and misunderstood sibling.

Today, thankfully, tequila and mezcal are at the centre of an extraordinary renaissance. These spirits have a divine, exciting and complex side that is full of nuances. Drinks that have nothing to envy in the world’s great spirits and that are keen to be explored and, most importantly, enjoyed without fear, guilt or remorse.

Why not give them a try?

The main ingredient in the production of tequila and mezcal is the maguey (agave), which is not actually a cactus. Agave is its own type of plant, of which there are more than 200 species. One of the differences between mezcal and tequila is that the latter is made only with blue agave (Blue Weber agave tequilana) from the state of Jalisco, whose juice is highly prized by distillers because it contains a large quantity of sugars that can later be transformed into alcohol. This is the basis of the best tequila, but a lot of patience is needed, because it takes 10 to 12 years for an agave plant to be fully developed and ready to make tequila.

The agave plant also has ancient ritual significance. The Aztecs used to extract the sap (syrup) from the agave and ferment it to make pulque, which in pre-Hispanic times was considered a drink worthy of the gods and is still a popular drink in Mexico today.

With the arrival of the conquistadors, along came technology and this pulque began to be distilled to make an alcoholic drink. This was the basis of what we know today as tequila.

How is tequila made?

The heart of the agave or pineapple is used to make tequila. The pineapples are prepared by hand and placed in steam-heated ovens for slow cooking (the heat breaks down the high molecular weight starches and helps them convert into sugars). The softened pineapples are chopped and ground and then placed in open fermentation vats. Yeast, a little water and agave must are added and left to ferment. The liquid is distilled two or three times to make a clear spirit with a 40% alcohol content. 

Unlike whisky, the law does not require tequila to be aged; instead they seek the purest possible expression of the agave’s natural flavours. 

Types of tequila:

Tequila blanco or silver

Tequila blanco is made through two or three distillations. It is bottled as it is to preserve its purity and freshness.

Tequila reposado

This is aged in used oak barrels, which have usually contained wine, cognac or bourbon. Tequila reposado stays there for 2 to 12 months, just long enough to round off its flavour and achieve additional organoleptic notes. 

Tequila añejo

This type of tequila is also aged in barrels for a minimum of one year, and can be aged for up to three years.

Tequila extra añejo

These spirits are matured in barrels for a minimum of three years and the notes provided by the wood start to become more noticeable, they begin to take on vanilla, spices and flavours from the wines that had been contained in the barrel. These are particularly enjoyed by those who are used to spirits like whisky, cognac or rum.

Mezcal

While tequila production is concentrated in the city of the same name in the Mexican state of Jalisco, mezcal reigns supreme in Oaxaca, much further south. This spirit is not as showy as tequila, which is why it was practically unknown.

Although it is made in a very similar way to tequila, mezcal has a more rustic and traditional flavour, but unlike tequila, the regulations for making this spirit allow the use of different types of agave, which increases the expressive richness of mezcal.

Despite having spent many years in the shadow of its big brother, tequila, mezcal is starting to show us that it is the perfect way to combine variety (agave) and terroir, similar to what happens with wines, the living expression of a variety (grape) and a territory. 

In organoleptic terms, mezcal is also different from tequila because of its characteristic smoky note that comes from the production method. To make mezcal, the pineapples are toasted very slowly in deep pits that are filled with stones and heated on top with wood and the fibrous remains of the pencas (the arms) of the maguey. That means the pineapples are infused with the oily and smoky nuances left by the ashes and these notes appear in the final spirit.

How should you enjoy tequila and mezcal?

First of all, let’s try not to think about movie scenes where a guy drinks a shot in one swig. Just think, no one with any sense would drink a good whisky like that. If we are going to get drunk, let it be with joy and excitement, so let’s take it easy. To lose your fear of a good tequila or mezcal, you have to drink patiently and not to excess, savouring its delicious complexity. These spirits share many nuances with exquisite drinks like whisky.

Remember that tequila and mezcal are very versatile spirits, so they can also be enjoyed in delicious and refreshing cocktails.

Here are a few recommendations, which are pure divine pleasure, so that you can start over with tequila and discover how extraordinary a mezcal can be. Cheers!

Tequila Clase Azul Reposado

Exquisite presentation and extraordinary content. The Tequila Clase Azul Reposado is considered one of the best ultra premium reposado tequilas. Its “slow fire” production and 8 months of aging in American whiskey barrels result in a tequila of extraordinary smoothness.

Tequila Herradura Silver

With a light 45-day aging in American white oak barrels, Herradura Silver tequila retains its authenticity and freshness, but also offers a beautiful straw colour and unique smoothness and aromas. A very versatile tequila that can be enjoyed on its own or as part of refreshing cocktails.

Tequila Patrón Añejo

Aged for more than 12 months in French oak, Hungarian oak and used American whiskey barrels, Patrón Añejo is another great tequila worth trying once in a lifetime. Bright and balanced, it offers a range of aromas and flavours from white chocolate and cashews to butterscotch, orange oil and a spicy nuance of white pepper. Really quite something!

Los Danzantes Young Mezcal

Made from the Espadín agave variety, Mezcal Los Danzantes Joven is produced in an artisan way. Fermented for six days in 800-litre wooden vats. This mezcal is fresh, smooth, very balanced and presents an elegant finish with a subtle note of wood and smoke. A lovely surprise!

And if you are keen to find out more, be sure to visit the tequila and mezcal section on the Decántalo website and enjoy these spirits, which are as roguish as they are captivating and elegant.

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