Mezcal, Straight and Simple
by Hunter Sullivan
One thing that is not always clear about the spirit industry is the vast disillusionment one sometimes can experience in being a part of it. The constant exposure of the whisky lamp, one’s secret favourites becoming old bag, respect turning to “oh, they’re owned by a massive corporation now?”, and the fogeys will not stop jabbering about the good ol’ days. It seems I have joined their ranks.
I love whisky, but sometimes I am quite chagrinned with the direction it appears to be heading. Perhaps in tasting so many legends so young I’ve grown up too fast, touched the light and fizzled like another hundred gin distillers hitting the market too late. All this barrel steeping nonsense has got me wound up; maybe pessimism regarding the sport is part of the age. I have to be against something if I’m going to remain relevant in this market (see: edgy).
For those who are of like mind or are just interested in a quasi-new experience, give mezcal a try. It isn’t exactly clear as to why anyone likes this stuff, but let me try to tempt you. When one drinks mezcal, one is not simply drinking another ambiguous grain distillate. Instead, what you may be trying is a terroir and varietal specific expression of a spirit whose distillation process was passed down via a multitude of familial generations. These distillation practices are notoriously ancestral, usually attributed to some distant and foggy tale of a specific way that great-great-great (ad infinitum) grandma or grandpa harvested, cooked, milled, and distilled a ground pineapple (a.k.a. agave) that takes somewhere in the 12-year range to reach appropriate distillation maturity. Methods of this sort uniquely combine the terroir of specific agave species, of which only grow in very specific areas and in very limited quantities, along with distillation practices that uniquely highlight the style of each mezcalero’s technique and apparatus. This juice is highly detailed, delightfully unrefined, and antiquarian in nature. It holds the beauty of something long since gone and uses methodology steeped in tradition that has yet to be tainted by the rising tide of spirit enthusiasm.
There is much more to know and be found out about the spirit in tasting it. Here is what I poured for Mezcal, Straight and Simple.
A preciously delicate release from this cooperative of agave farmers/distillers. High toned, a mortar full of green and leafy herbs, jade leaf crushed between your fingers, cracked pepper, glossy in feel. Smoke and earth are delicate, soft strokes of soot, match stick and vegetable matter in smouldering charcoal. Everything is strung together so well, nothing disjointed. Easy to pick up and enjoy. 3rd favourite of the night. – $76
The heartier, rough around the edges brother to the Matatlan. All the edges of this spirit seem to be ragged and doused in oil. Heady scents of diesel exhaust, jalapenos, and wet clay. Slate minerality, smoke from a treated wood fire; cloying in a secondary way, something lingers on the backhand that is semi-noxious. Absolutely lovely for all those miniature modellers, this bottle reminds me of making Warhammer in my basement. – $79
Here is the weird cousin of the former two, the one you love but know you can’t hang with all the time because they’re best in small doses. I don’t mean to imply you couldn’t drink a lot of this stuff, it is darn tasty. The problem for me is this uncanny oil and acid combo this bottle has going on for it. Usually you will have one or the other but having both makes this opulent spirit tangy, sharp on the tongue without the heat of alcohol. This bottle is something else. Tastes of plantains while a cigar shop burns down nearby. Brine, lemon tang (just the sour tang), and an old fur coat. Maybe it’s mothballs, this is a tough one. Unique experience for a great price. – $70
Just trying Jolgorio products is a dream. You can take a real trip tasting whatever these guys put out. The mama and papa releases with respect to Nuestra Soledad as mentioned above. Fun fact about Tobaziche, this varietal of agave is one of the rarest and hardest to procure of all agaves on the market. As well, with the increasing number of mezcal fans, Tobaziche mezcals are becoming a bit of a commodity, but the full extent of that info is for another mezcal class. Nosing this spirit is like smelling a bag of McDonalds burgers with no toppings but mustard and bread and butter pickles. Are you scintillated yet? Highly polished, exacting refinement on the smoke. Earthen characteristics are softened in the background; high tropical fruit tones float overtop. To taste it is otherworldly; this is one you need to try in order to fully comprehend the extent of madness happening in glass. – $235
As you may have been able to tell by the preamble, I’m not scrambling for the barrel aged bottlings at the moment. Don’t get the wrong idea, I love whisky still. Simply put, when I want to experience a mind-shattering white spirit that expresses dreams in a tangible form, I want to taste the spirit, not a barrel. Though, for posterity and for our collective knowledge, it is reasonable that we see the sights and visit the whole park, not just the best and most exciting rollercoaster. If that means getting on the weird ride in the corner of the park run by a guy that wouldn’t qualify as the most savoury of characters, so be it. Let’s get on “Woody’s Wild Ride”.
The reposado smells of something vaguely medicinal, like walking into a distant entrance wing of a hospital. Not full blown, but noticeably sterile and hazmat like. The smoke is trying its darndest to push through the barrel influence but the barrel wins out. Wet ash pits that were burning minutes ago, echoes of campfire on the clothes. Lemon meringue and sweet tones flit above the bed of embers. – $84
The Anejo is the suave devil. Silky, bourbon barrel vanilla and melted toffee amidst the cigar room. Crème caramels and crème brulee mingle with rubber galoshes sitting next to a fireplace filled with hickory. Nothing special, just good to drink juice squeezed fresh from the barrel, barrel fresh in all its character. – $99
Cut, this movie is bad.