Tequila and Mezcal, flavours of South America

gin sloe overproof flavoured dry cask-aged

Tequila and Mezcal, two of Mexico’s most celebrated spirits, offer unique and diverse tasting experiences that captivate enthusiasts around the world. While both are distilled from the agave plant, their production processes, flavours, and regional influences set them apart. I have always been partial to both, so this article delves into the nuances of Tequila and Mezcal, providing insights on what to look for in each, and offering guidance on how to appreciate their distinct tastes. Additionally, I’ll touch on the availability of these spirits in the UK, where they are highly regarded yet sometimes challenging to find.

Understanding Tequila: Origins, Production, and Flavour Profiles

The Origins of Tequila

Tequila is a spirit with deep cultural roots in Mexico, specifically from the region surrounding the city of Tequila in the state of Jalisco. By law, Tequila must be produced within this region and from the blue Weber agave plant. This geographical indication ensures the authenticity and quality of the spirit.

The Production Process of Tequila

The journey from agave to Tequila involves several intricate steps:

  1. Harvesting: The blue Weber agave plants are harvested by skilled jimadores, who expertly trim the leaves to reveal the heart of the plant, known as the piña.
  2. Cooking: The piñas are cooked in ovens or autoclaves to convert the agave’s complex carbohydrates into fermentable sugars.
  3. Fermentation: The cooked agave is mashed, and the resulting juice is fermented with yeast to produce a low-alcohol liquid called mosto.
  4. Distillation: The mosto undergoes two rounds of distillation to produce a clear spirit known as silver or blanco Tequila.
  5. Aging: Depending on the desired type of Tequila, the spirit may be aged in oak barrels. The aging process can vary, resulting in different categories:
    • Blanco: Unaged or aged for up to two months.
    • Reposado: Aged for two months to one year.
    • Añejo: Aged for one to three years.
    • Extra Añejo: Aged for over three years.

Flavour Profiles of Tequila

The flavour profile of Tequila varies based on its aging process and the terroir of the agave:

  • Blanco Tequila: Typically, Blanco Tequila offers bright, crisp flavours with strong agave notes. You can expect hints of citrus, pepper, and herbs, making it an excellent choice for cocktails.
  • Reposado Tequila: Reposado Tequila has a balance of agave and oak flavours, with added complexity from aging. Look for notes of vanilla, caramel, and dried fruits.
  • Añejo Tequila: Añejo Tequila boasts rich, deep flavours with pronounced oak characteristics. Common tasting notes include chocolate, toffee, and tobacco.
  • Extra Añejo Tequila: Extra Añejo Tequila is the most complex, with an extended aging process that imparts intense flavours of dark chocolate, coffee, and dried fruits, along with a smooth, velvety texture.

What to Look for in a Good Tequila

When selecting a Tequila, consider the following aspects:

  • 100% Agave: Ensure the label states “100% agave” to guarantee quality.
  • Region: Check for Tequilas from reputable regions within Jalisco.
  • Aging: Choose the aging category based on your flavour preference.
  • Brand Reputation: Opt for brands known for their craftsmanship and dedication to quality.

Exploring Mezcal: A World of Diversity

The Origins of Mezcal

Mezcal, often referred to as Tequila’s smokier cousin, has a rich history that predates Tequila. It can be produced in various regions of Mexico, with Oaxaca being the most prominent. Unlike Tequila, Mezcal can be made from multiple varieties of agave, contributing to its diverse flavour profiles.

The Production Process of Mezcal

Mezcal’s production process is artisanal and labour-intensive:

  1. Harvesting: Similar to Tequila, agave plants are harvested and their piñas extracted.
  2. Cooking: The piñas are roasted in underground pits lined with stones and wood, imparting Mezcal’s signature smoky flavour.
  3. Fermentation: The roasted agave is crushed, typically using a traditional stone wheel, and the pulp is fermented in wooden vats.
  4. Distillation: The fermented liquid is distilled in small copper or clay stills, often resulting in a higher-proof spirit.

Flavour Profiles of Mezcal

Mezcal’s flavour is highly variable, influenced by the type of agave, production methods, and regional characteristics:

  • Espadín Mezcal: Made from the Espadín agave, this is the most common type of Mezcal. It offers a balanced profile with smoky, earthy notes and hints of tropical fruit.
  • Tobalá Mezcal: Produced from the wild Tobalá agave, this Mezcal is often more delicate, with floral and citrusy flavours complemented by a subtle smokiness.
  • Pechuga Mezcal: This unique Mezcal is distilled with fruits, nuts, and a raw chicken or turkey breast suspended in the still, creating a rich, savory, and complex flavour profile.
  • Ensamble Mezcal: A blend of different agave varieties, Ensamble Mezcal offers a layered and nuanced tasting experience, showcasing a spectrum of flavours from different agaves.

What to Look for in a Good Mezcal

When choosing a Mezcal, consider the following:

  • Type of Agave: Different agave varieties offer unique flavours; explore options beyond Espadín for a diverse experience.
  • Artisanal Production: Look for Mezcals made using traditional methods for authenticity.
  • Proof: Mezcal is often higher in alcohol content; choose a proof level that suits your preference.
  • Label Information: A good Mezcal will provide detailed information about the agave, production process, and distiller.

Tasting Tequila and Mezcal: A Sensory Journey

Tequila Tasting Guide

Tasting Tequila involves more than just sipping; it’s about engaging all your senses:

  1. Visual Inspection: Pour a small amount into a glass and observe its colour and clarity. Blanco Tequila should be clear, while aged varieties will have a golden hue.
  2. Aroma: Swirl the glass gently and take a moment to inhale the aroma. Identify notes of agave, citrus, vanilla, or oak depending on the type.
  3. First Sip: Take a small sip and let it coat your palate. Pay attention to the initial flavours and texture.
  4. Second Sip: With the second sip, identify more complex notes. Is it sweet, spicy, or earthy?
  5. Finish: Note the finish. A good Tequila will have a smooth, lingering finish without harshness.

Mezcal Tasting Guide

Mezcal tasting is similar but includes some unique aspects:

  1. Visual Inspection: Observe the colour and viscosity. Artisanal Mezcals may have a slight haze.
  2. Aroma: Mezcal’s aroma is often more intense. Identify the smoky, herbal, and fruity notes.
  3. First Sip: Take a small sip and notice the immediate impact. Mezcal can be robust and bold.
  4. Second Sip: Explore the layers of flavour. Look for smokiness, earthiness, and the influence of different agave varieties.
  5. Finish: Mezcal often has a long, complex finish with evolving flavours.

Tequila and Mezcal: Treasures to Discover in the UK

While Tequila and Mezcal are gaining popularity globally, finding exceptional examples in the UK can sometimes be challenging. The limited availability of high-quality Tequila and Mezcal means enthusiasts often have to search diligently to find reputable sources. However, those who persevere are rewarded with some of the finest spirits that Mexico has to offer.

Our Selection of Tequila and Mezcal

We pride ourselves on offering a curated selection of premium Tequilas and Mezcals. Our collection includes renowned brands and artisanal producers, ensuring that you can experience the full spectrum of flavours these spirits have to offer.

Beyond Tequila and Mezcal: Our Diverse Portfolio

In addition to our impressive range of Tequilas and Mezcals, we also offer a wide variety of other fine beverages:

  • Champagnes: Explore our selection of world-class Champagnes, vintage and non-vintage. Perfect for celebrations and special occasions.
  • Liqueurs: Discover an array of liqueurs from around the globe, ideal for crafting cocktails or enjoying on their own.
  • Spirits: Our spirits collection includes everything from whisky and rum to gin and vodka, catering to all tastes.
  • Wines: We offer a diverse selection of wines from renowned vineyards, perfect for any meal or event.
  • Gins: Discover our delicious gins – cask aged, dry, fruity and overproof

Embrace the Adventure of Tequila and Mezcal

Tequila and Mezcal offer an exciting journey for the senses, each with its own story and character. Whether you’re new to these spirits or a seasoned enthusiast, understanding their differences and appreciating their unique flavours can enhance your drinking experience. While finding quality Tequila and Mezcal in the UK might require some effort, the rewards are well worth it. We are dedicated to bringing you the best of these Mexican treasures, along with a wide range of other fine beverages to explore and enjoy.

Embark on a sensory adventure with Tequila and Mezcal, and discover the rich heritage and vibrant flavours that make these spirits truly exceptional