Mezcal is having a moment. U.S. sales have increased by 50% over the past three years, and the category is projected to top $1 billion by 2027; in fact, more mezcal is consumed here than in Mexico.
While both tequila and mezcal are produced from the agave plant, there are significant differences between the two spirits. Tequila at its best has a smooth and sweet flavor, but mezcal tends to be savory and smoky. The production methods are different, with mezcal being cooked in large underground pits lined with organic rock. Traditionally, mezcal is consumed straight with chili salt and an orange slice. However, given its smokiness, complexity and layers of flavor, mezcal has become a sensation among cutting-edge bartenders—so much so that it’s hard to find a craft cocktail list that doesn’t contain at least one mezcal-based drink.
What’s behind the popularity? Mezcal tends to be an artisan product, made by small producers and reflecting the character of the terroir it springs from. As such, it appeals to the current demand for quality-oriented and socially responsible consumables. A perfect example is Amaras Mezcal, which collaborates with master distillers in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero who are committed to preserving centuries of traditional craftmanship.
Amaras plants ten times more agave plants than they use, and currently have over 150,000 in their nurseries. At each point in the process, they respect the land, ecosystem and the people who make the product. Their mezcal follows a holistic cycle that goes “from seed to sip.”
The entry-level spirits from Amaras are the Espadín and Espadín Reposado, made from eight- year-old agave plants of the same name, although crafted by different mezcaleros; both retail in the $40 range. Espadín is clear in color, with aromas of citrus and sweetness on the nose. The hint of sweetness continues on the palate, along with flavors of red cherry, tropical fruits, cinnamon and clove. The light tan color of the Reposado derives from having rested for a minimum of three months in oak barrels. It is earthy and fundamental on the nose, but the wood seems to rob the spirit of the freshness and charm that makes the regular Espadín appealing.
Amaras Mezcal Cupreata ($60) is made from Cupreata agave harvested from mountain slopes in the Rio Balsas basin in Guerrero; due to the harsh climate of the region, it takes the plants almost 13 years to mature. It has an intriguing nose with whiffs of baking spices, citrus, cocoa and roasted pumpkin. The palate is complex, with smoky flavors of lemon, green pepper and mint. Mixologists could have a field day with this.
Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture, as well as three novels. His first novel, Friend of the Devil, has been re-released on Amazon in print, e-book and audio book formats. Has America’s greatest chef cut a deal with Satan for fame and fortune?