What is Mezcal?
Mezcal is a traditional Mexican beverage distilled from agave. The word Mezcal comes from the Náhualt ‘mexcalli’ which means “cooked agave”.
Mezcal is a common word used for all kinds of agave spirits produced in México. These agave spirits are produced using different types of agaves and techniques depending on the region in México.
It has a Designation of Origin meaning it can only be produced in certain parts of México such as Oaxaca, Guerrero, and San Luis Potosi to name a few.
Lalocura - Tobasiche
What is Agave / Maguey?
Agave is a plant native to the Americas, the name comes from the greek Agavos which means 'noble'.
In México the plant got differents names according to the cultures in the regions, mecelt (nahualt), uada(otomi), doba(zapoteco). The most common name used in México is Maguey.
There are more than 160 species of agaves in México although not all of them are used for mezcal.
Harvesting and Cutting
For an agave to be used for Mezcal, it needs to reach its maturity, this is where the diversity of the agaves comes into play, for example, Espadín can take up to 12 years to reach its maturity while Arroqueño can take between 20 to 25 years.
To start the cooking process, an earthen pit oven must be prepared, burning wood is tossed into the earthen oven, and it is covered by a bed of river rocks to allow a slow roasting process.
Once the rocks are completely hot, the oven is filled with the harvested piñas and a layer of wet bagazo (leftover fiber from previous fermentations) is added on top of the rocks this helps to protect the piñas from burning.
The oven is covered with a tarpaulin (lona) with a hole in the middle and is sealed with sand and rocks on the edges to prevent being blown by the wind.
The cooking process takes up to 5 days depending on weather conditions.
Earthen pit oven
After the cooking process is completed, the oven is open and the agaves are moved to a resting area to cool down, the maestro mezcalero will decide when the milling process should start.
Cooked Agaves in the resting area
The cooked agaves are cut into little pieces and during this process, impurities are removed, only the best parts are used during the milling process, as this will ensure the great taste of the Mezcal.
The milling is done with wooden mallets that can weight up to 25 kilos.
25 kg wooden mallets.
Cutting agave into little pieces
The process can take up to 24 hours of nonstop milling to obtain the fibers from the pieces of piñas that will be used for the next step, the fermentation process.
Other types of milling can be used to accelerate the milling process; however, the use of machines can change the taste of the Mezcal (this is still in dispute among different producers)
The fiber obtained from the milling is put into fermentation tanks made of Sabino wood and spring water is added to start a natural fermentation.
The fermentation process takes between 9 days up to 25 days depending on the size of the tanks, temperature, and the types of agaves used.
Fiber obtained from milling agave
Fiber after the fermentation process begins
Advance fermentation process
Once the fermentation is completed, two products are obtained; tepache (the juice obtained from the fiber) and bagazo (fiber once all the juice is drained from the solid part).
The distillation is done with stills made of clay that consist of two clay pots; the first one is filled with tepache and bagazo (depending on the type of agave used in the fermentation).
A hollow clay pot is put on top of the first clay pot and a copper pot is placed in the upper opening, the copper pot is filled with spring water to help with the condensation process inside the clay pots.
The process consists of evaporating all the tepache inside the clay pot, when all the stems reach the top of the copper pot with spring water starts the condensation process. The liquid obtains from the condensation process falls into a wooden spoon that guides it outside of the clay pots into a container.
The product obtained from the second distillation is called ‘puntas, cuerpo y colas’ which are separate in different containers.
Puntas (heads) are the first part of the second distillation with the highest level of alcohol and are rich in aromas.
Cuerpo (body) is the longest part of the distillation from which the Mezcal is mainly made.
Colas (tails) is the last part of the distillation with the lowest level of alcohol.
Clay pot distillation