by Comrade Hunter
In previous years, we here at the Kensington Wine Market have celebrated Cinco de Mayo by hosting a class showcasing Mexico’s inextricable spirit: tequila. But, as those of insatiable mind and palate have hunted for new and exciting spirit experiences, a spirit has emerged in our midst captivating the interest of a small but devout following here in Calgary. This spirit, the spiritual predecessor to tequila, has endowed tequila with many of the methods of production that make tequila the special sort of spirit it is today.
To clear the air of this unnecessary vagueness, the spirit I speak of is mezcal, the beautiful result of mixing terroir and distillation into one. For the uninitiated, like myself as of 2½ years ago, I was under the impression that those characteristics of terroir that defined wine were mutually exclusive from distillation. Each defined by a very unique and distinct process, the worlds of each appeared unreconcilable. Mezcal shows that wrong, bringing a peculiar harmony to each world of expression, offering micro-climate distinctions, varietal variations among the foundational ingredient, i.e., the agave, quirky distilling apparatuses and methods that add to the vast variation, and lastly, but not exhaustively, pure expressions unaffected by barrel ageing, the spirit’s unique character a strict result of the many and varied factors that go into the production of mezcal. If this burdensome wall of text has yet to convince you, really, don’t take my gushing recommendation to try it; but, do yourself a favour and get thee to a mezcal-(ery). I give this recommendation tentatively though, for it isn’t apparent to all exactly what there is to like about mezcal immediately; and perhaps, like most things in life, it isn’t for everyone. That’s okay, do not fret, we can’t all enjoy the best things in life equally. And as they say, we can’t all have good taste, and for those that don’t, there will always be tequila. My warmest regards during these lovely summer days, I hope this finds you with mezcal in hand and on a sunny patio. In the following, I will describe the various mezcals we tried as a congregation of devotees to this magical spirit, and if any of them catch your interest come down to the store to give it a taste. Here is what we tried for Cinco de Mezcal.
Mezcal Union – Joven Espadin & Cirial Marriage
As the name implies, this bottling is procured from a cooperative of Mescaleros and bottled under one label. Particularly, this bottling is their flagship release and serves as an introduction to the Mezcal Union range. What is peculiar about this bottling is that it uses both Espadin and Cirial agave varietals to concoct the spirit. In contrast to most introduction bottlings which generally use the more prominent espadin agave varietal as the sole agave, this Union bottling offers a slightly more nuanced style of mezcal for their entry level. It would seem that this combination brings about a softer, more approachable character to the spirit. In this humble mezcal enthusiast’s opinion, this release is a wonderful introduction to those mezcal-wary folk that have yet to be convinced of this spirit’s quality. The smoke characteristics expected of mezcal are softer than usual, offering more fruity, tropical overtones. Expect notes of tropical fruit salad, pineapple, mango, freshly picked and vibrant. Further, whiffs of smoke, only trace, like a stick burnt to charcoal and left out overnight in a rainfall, damp and vaguely fired. For the price point, this release is standout and a worthwhile buy for an entry level mezcal. $62.99
Creyente Mezcal – Joven Espadin
I feel this is one of those bottlings that strives for visual appeal more so than spirit quality. That is not to say that Creyente is a bad mezcal, but I feel for the price point to quality ratio, there are other less stylishly packaged mezcals that offer a similar quality spirit for less money. But to caution those who read this, I also favour full flavoured, bolder expressions of mezcal. It is noted that this bottling is intended as a softer, more approachable style of mezcal that contains the fierceness of the creature depicted on the label (a chimera of sorts). One thing I really appreciate in mezcal is its potency of characteristics, its tones generally pungent and intense. In the previously mentioned mezcal, the fusion of potency with an approachable style is tenable; one can achieve a fine balance between these seemingly opposed natures and I would forward that is the sign of a great Mescalero. Overall, the Creyente is a decent entry level, new to mezcal oriented spirit. The flashy packaging will stand out on your shelf, and the spirit won’t disappoint those looking for an easy to drink summer afternoon spirit. $69.99
Pelton de la Muerta – Joven Espadin
The epitome of a mezcal mixer, this spirit belongs in a margarita mix. You could make a case for the Pelton saying that it is decent enough to drink on its own, and sure, but I feel that most spirits at fifty dollars should have that merit. What it lacks is anything special that makes it distinct, it really just tastes like a run of the mill mezcal, and to be perfectly honest I’m pretty sure that is what the folks at Pelton are going for. The mezcal is fine enough, but its price point is an obvious give away for what one ought to expect from the bottle. The main selling point of this one is the price, as it is a difficult endeavour to find decent mezcal for this price. Taste wise, expect notes of pepper, ashy smoke, a dry, earthen, dustiness, permanent marker, and some tones of crushed foliage, a chlorophyll-like character. $48
Bruxo No.1 – Joven Espadin
My favourite of the first four, the Bruxo offered something a little peculiar to the usual, entry-level mezcals available on the market. Imagine tones of fresh clay pottery, a wharf in the summertime, as in damp, old wood, crushed lemon, maybe edging on verbena, and intermittent whiffs of petrochemical or diesel tones. A fairly vibrant and expressive release, and once more at a very reasonable price. The difficulty with these entry level releases is that most producers are limited to espadin as the agave varietal given that it is one of the only farm-cultivated agaves available, most others needing to be foraged from the wild. This leaves the expressions of the mezcals slightly more limited to factors of distiller technique, distilling apparatus, and perhaps one could say espadin terroir, as in where were the espadin agaves grown. With this in mind, the Bruxo does a fine job of offering a quality take on something that is a little more limited in expression. I would further note that the Bruxo range, of which includes an interesting Pechuga (a special celebration mezcal that is distilled with a turkey breast in the still), alongside a handful of other releases that are very quality for being under the $100 mark. Something to keep your eyes out for. $60
Mezcal Vago – Joven Mexicano
Following our foray into the entry-level mezcals, we moved on to four more exotic expressions. The usage of unique, rare, and generally non-farmed, foraged only agaves offers spirit experiences so unique that each bottling of these will offer a singular, unable to be replicated experience. This is where, in my opinion, mezcal shines its finest. The spirit works as an expression of both terroir and distillation, a hybrid that is seemingly peculiar to mezcal and the condition which makes it so extremely interesting. As the agaves may come in a multitude of varietals, each with their own personality and subject to the varied terroirs, the expression of each distinct varietal will be varied even among mezcals made with the very same varietal. Without boring much more into this matter, the Vago Mexicano release is a true beauty, featuring a drier, more herbaceous, style of mezcal. The usage of copper pot stills opposed to the more traditional clay pot stills offers a more clean, vibrant and high toned spirit. Sage and dried flowers on the nose, the smoke on the nose is like brushfire, dry, dead wood. Sweet tones develop on the palate alongside a minty coolness, touches of smoked vanilla bean and charred cedar developing amidst the now black peppery herb tones. Usually, I am not as excited by these copper pot stilled releases as they offer a leaner, more polished mezcal that is less true to the ancestral method (clay pot stilled), but this release is superb and a fine example of this Mescalero’s expertise. To note on the varietal, this is the very first Mexicano varietal mezcal I have had, and I would be curious to know whether this bottling’s personality is more driven by the Mescalero’s techniques or by the varietal. Of the four more exotic releases this bottling was my second favourite, alongside coming in third for the People’s Choice of the night. $135
Los Siete Misterios – Joven Arroqeuno
Arroqueno as a varietal is quite uncanny. It takes quite a while to mature an Arroqueno agave to full maturity and/or ripeness (under best conditions 15 years, under more typical conditions 20 years plus). Further, Arroqueno is the biological mother to the espadin varietal, and thus it offers some similar characteristics as far as tasting notes go for each. The major difference is that after 15 to 20 long years of maturation the Arroqueno Agave becomes massive, full of starches ready to be converted into sugars by the agave cooking process. Expect a slightly sweeter, richer, more oily experience from this varietal, keeping in mind that no rule holds Mezcal in its place. Variation is the name of the game, and as I chose this bottle I realized I had two unique batches of Arroqueno from Los Siete on my hands at the beginning of the tasting; one in which there were 940 bottles produced, another in which only 42 were. I can only imagine the variation between the two of them would have been immense and truly wished I could have opened them both to try each side by side. The tasting budget sadly did not permit, alongside the fact we were already pouring eight different mezcals. So I had to settle for only one. The larger batch release has notes of durian, seaside decomposition, wet cement, overripe mango, brine, menthol, tobacco ash, five cent bubble-gums, and a hint of damp moss thrown over the fire. Very interesting, one of the quirkier mezcals I have had to date and I hope to try more in the future. $130
Los Siete Misterios – Tobala Joven
Another rare varietal, Tobala is considered to be a bit of a currency in the mezcal making world. The reason being that Tobala is exceedingly rare, growing in only very distinct microclimates and the agave itself being quite a bit smaller than most other varietals. Having read that the standard Espadin, which as a reminder is mostly farmed opposed to foraged like the Tobala, grows to an average size of 100 kilograms, the Tobala at maximum reaches half that, topping out at 50 kilograms at optimal maturity. Lastly, Tobala typically takes a bit longer to reach this stage, reaching maximum maturity around 12-15 years. All said, Tobala is a real treat to taste, the style being similar to Arroqueno in sweetness, but a little more refined, offering an elegant mezcal experience. This release is full of perfume, tortilla chip, floral gardens in the middle of spring bloom. Imagine oneself also doing spring cleaning in the flower garden, digging up dirt and weeds, the smell of greenery and moist, sweet earth. The smoke is exceedingly clean, as if it wasn’t in one’s immediate vicinity but nearby, maybe a firepit just starting up in the neighbourhood. You can’t tell exactly where it is, but the air is ripe with dry, savoury sweet wood smoke. Second favourite of the class, and a close runner-up for myself. $130
Los Siete Misterios – Coyote Joven
Like the above mentioned Mexicano, this is the very first coyote mezcal I have had and it is a bomb. Like the wrapping together of the Tobala sweetness and the Mexicano herbaceousness, this was the true star of the night. Not only was this my favourite release of the evening, this coyote joins the canon of my top 10 favourite mezcals. I really was not expecting something this remarkably stunning when I selected this bottle, but this release is something to marvel at. As per the usual fare of my tastings, I recommend you come in to try this one. Sometimes words do not do justice when it comes to certain spirits, and I think this not a failure of vocabulary for there are many flourishing words one could use to describe the experience, but instead a failure of words. Some experiences are special, those that resonate a certain way and give a certain feeling. And if this doesn’t get your blood pumping, you are lost to me. $145
The internet curfew airhorn is going off, and it is time your spirit comrade signs out from this log. I hope the mezcal in your glasses finds you well, and that the Censor does not find you in possession of this transmission.