You’d have to have been living under a rock if you’d never heard of Tequila… It’s one of the most popular spirits around the globe.
And other than throwing back shots until the world spins, we all know that the most desired way to drink this is, of course, making an irresistible margarita.
But what many of us have never heard of is the term mezcal.
You may think that this is a completely foreign term to you; a liquor that you’ve never heard of.
However, it’s not all that uncommon. In fact, tequila is a type of mezcal.
What Is Mezcal?
Mezcal is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from any type of agave plant.
Traditionally, the “heart” of the plant (called the piña) is cooked in a pit in the ground, before being crushed and combined with water and then allowed to ferment. Tequila is a type of mezcal made specifically from blue agave and only produced in the state of Jalisco and in a few other specific regions of the country.
Tequila agaves are not cooked. It is much like Champagne to sparkling wine; all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila.
Mezcal can take many forms. We know mezcal for its smoky flavor, but just like every other type of spirit, each brand, and each bottle can have a unique characteristic, depending on how it’s made, aged, and spiced.
Yes, mezcal can be flavored—my favorite mezcals are passionfruit, coconut, and coffee. However, mezcal is usually drunk straight, sipped, and paired with a bit of worm salt and orange slices.
Oaxaca – the Mezcal Capital
Anywhere in the world, alcohol has had powerful impacts on different cultures in human history. Many countries have a very specific alcoholic beverage that we know them for, and of course, we know Mexico for its tequila (mezcal!).
The state of Oaxaca, Mexico, is the capital of mezcal. Most mezcals are produced here, and there are infinite amounts of different mezcals that you can tickle your tastebuds with—including not only flavors such as coconut and fruit but also mezcal infused with marijuana, scorpions, and jalapenos! How adventurous are you feeling?
Sippin’ Mezcal like a Local
Before I moved here, I had never even heard of mezcal, and I strongly disliked tequila shots. Now that I live here, though, I have learned that mezcal and tequila are not supposed to be shooters. They are meant to be sipped on gracefully, paired with a bit of worm, salt, and fruit, usually oranges, or with regular salt and limes.
Mexicans love sipping on mezcal, and it is something that brings both locals and foreigners together.
There’s a clever saying in Oaxaca about this beverage, that goes “para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, también”, meaning: “for everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good, as well.”
One of the funniest “traditions” I’ve learned of since being here (in the words of a local Mexican man: “the test to become a true Mexican”) is to bite into a raw habanero pepper and then take a swig of mezcal.
It burns… it is not pleasant… but I can officially say that I am now “a true Mexican”; erm, well, at least in the eyes of a few locals in Oaxaca!
Mezcal Margaritas and Classic Cocktails
Of course, there are other ways of drinking mezcal than to sip it straight or take on an obnoxious test of your will. Mezcal cocktails are a big hit here in Oaxaca.
Almost every basic local cocktail is made with mezcal, unless otherwise requested. Without a doubt, margaritas fall into this category! Whether you like them shaken or frozen, classic lime or strawberry flavor, you just have to try this traditional heavenly beverage made with mezcal.
Don’t like cocktails? No problem! You can mix your mezcal with any juice or soda you’d like. And be sure to look out for promotional deals of a combination of mezcal and beer to save a few pesos every time.
It may take some getting used to—mezcal can be a bit of an acquired taste. Once you learn to sip it and pair it properly, however, you will probably love it! My biggest piece of advice truly works: after you take a sip, do not breathe in, but breathe out slowly, and then bite your piece of fruit. It really works.
So now you are a mezcal expert! Go try your favorite type of margarita with mezcal next time you are in Oaxaca, and try a local mezcal tour, paired with an array of delicious foods! Be sure to let us know how your experiences are with this wonderful beverage of Oaxaca, Mexico; the famous mezcal!
by: Talysha Bradshaw