Category Archives: Mezcal

Review: Mezcal El Silencio

El Silencio Mezcal 240x300 Review: Mezcal El SilencioEl Silencio is a new brand of premium mezcal, produced in small batches in Oaxaca from, per the distillery notes, a “blend of 100% wild agave using 10- to 12-year-old plants.” It’s then double distilled and bottled, sans aging. The name is indeed a reference to David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

The nose is bright and big: lemon odds with hefty smoke character. No wallflower like some more muted spirits, this is a mezcal that makes its presence known from the start. The body is even more powerful, offering more of that citrus character and touches of cinnamon and vanilla. But again the raw smokiness is palpable. It tastes the way you smell after coming back from a night-long campfire on the beach, all wet smoke and salty air clinging to you. The finish strains under its own weight, singing the throat

Beyond that, complexities are tough to find. The smoke character pushes them all aside. That’s not a bad thing — there are plenty of drinkers out there who enjoy this level of intensity (and I do as well from time to time)… but it does come at the cost of nuance.

80 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #0640.

B / $79 / mezcalelsilencio.com

Review: Los Amantes Mezcal Joven

los amantes mezcal1 119x300 Review: Los Amantes Mezcal JovenLos Amantes, “the lovers,” is a Oaxacan mezcal made via traditional methods, using an underground pit to smoke 100% Tobala and Espadin agave pinas for three days, then triple distilling the juice pressed from them.

This Joven mezcal has a faint color. Although joven mezcals can be lightly aged for up to 2 months in oak barrels, Los Amantes’ distiller says it isn’t aged at all, which surprised me. Los Amantes also makes a longer-aged Reposado, which we didn’t try.

Los Amantes Joven is excellent stuff. Here you’ll find a lightly smoky but quite approachable nose — even mezcal novices should have little trouble tucking into it. On the tongue, you’ll find plenty of delights awaiting. First is a light chocolate character, just a touch that works nicely with the rich agave core. The smoke is there, but it is balanced with sweetness, barbecue-style, coming on a bit stronger in the moderate and comforting finish. The body on this mezcal is light and lively, with citrus notes that provide mouth-cleaning acidity (a must to keep that smokiness from clinging to your palate for too long). It’s a solid spirit where everything comes together surprisingly nicely, easy to drink but inviting serious reflection.

I also love the antique bottle with oversized cork stopper. Whatever you think of the mezcal, the presentation is a conversation piece, too.

80 proof.

A- / $50 / losamantes.com

Review: Don Amado Mezcal Rustico

Don Amado Low2 279x300 Review: Don Amado Mezcal RusticoDon Amado makes a line of regular, 80-proof mezcals (blanco, reposado, and anejo — none of which we tasted but which are pictured nonetheless), but this is Rustico, a higher-proof mezcal bottled at a big 94 proof. (The same distillery also makes Mina Real, which we recently reviewed.) These are Oaxaca mezcals, double-distilled in ceramic stills and triple filtered before bottling, but the overall production method for Don Amado (unlike Mina Real), is fairly traditional. Here’s how it shakes out.

The nose hints at smoke, but the overproof alcohol level balances that out by adding quite a bit of fire, at least at first blush. On the body, that heat isn’t anywhere nearly that overpowering. Rather, it’s a very pretty silver mezcal, not particularly smoky but rather well-balanced among light ember notes, citrus, apple wood, and a bit of marshmallow cream on the back end. The finish is moderate but cleansing, leaving you with neither a mouthful of smokiness nor a sickly sweet mess. Very inviting and easy to sip, don’t let the older-than-old-school label fool you: This is one of the finer mezcals available on the U.S. market today.

The name is also a bit of a mystery. The overall effect of this spirit is not particularly rustico but rather refinado. Really worthwhile.

94 proof. Reviewed: Lot #10.

A- / $44 / haas-brothers.com

Review: Mina Real Mezcal Silver

mezcal mina real bot high 141x300 Review: Mina Real Mezcal SilverOaxaca-based Mina Real is 100% agave mezcal that is made with a hybrid modern and historical technique. Per the company: it is “made from agave that has been steam-roasted in low pressure brick kilns in order to highlight the plants’ bright highland flavor and floral bouquet without the layers of smoke traditionally found with wood-roasted mezcal agave.”

And yet Mina Real is still smoky. The nose offers an aroma of barbeque pits, sweetened up with a touch of honey. On the tongue, this sweetness is even stronger than you’d expect, with a mouth-coating viscosity that layers your tongue and throat with jammy liquid. It’s got a deep flavor of blood oranges, strawberries, and some green pepper/green bean notes — all laced with lightly smoky touches. I’m not sure it comes together the way the distillery may have hoped, but it’s definitely a mezcal for newcomers who aren’t thrilled by smoke to try — though that uncharacteristic sugariness may be ultimately misleading.

A reposado bottling (pictured) also exists, but we have not seen it for review.

84 proof.

B- / $30 / haas-brothers.com

Review: Sombra Mezcal

sombra mezcal 175x300 Review: Sombra MezcalSombra is Oaxaca-area mezcal (from the village of San Juan Del Rio, specifically), made from organic espadin agave grown at 8000 feet.

An unaged mezcal, Sombra offers immediate and heavy smoke on the nose, more barbecue than forest fire. There’s a strong undercurrent of sweetness as well — almost a tangy apple, or perhaps applewood smoke, at least.

At 90 proof, the extra alcohol is immediately evident on the body, creating an instant level of fire that goes along with the smoke. There’s ample fruit: Again, apples, but also cherries and some banana, particularly on the finish, which offers very ripe banana, caramel, and popcorn notes. These are some interesting flavors in a mezcal, but it doesn’t all come together perfectly, never quite melding the savory and the sweet in a way that truly great mezcals manage to do.

Still, a quite drinkable little potion.

B / $34 / sombraoaxaca.com

Review: Wild Shot Mezcal Silver

wild shot silver mezcal 238x300 Review: Wild Shot Mezcal SilverA beverage with a name like Wild Shot doesn’t exactly wear subtlety on its sleeve, and this unaged mezcal — complete with, or rather extremely proud of, the worm at the bottom of the bottle — doesn’t really hold back. Country musician Toby Keith is the man behind this celebrezcal, and you can click the official link below if you’d like to see the man with a gusano between his teeth.

Made from 100% green agave, Wild Shot pours clean and offers a rich and straightforward smokiness on the nose, far more savory than sweet. On the body it’s more of the same — mesquite fire smoke, with a sweeter finish that offers some caramel and just a hint of citrus fruit. Very simple and straightforward, it’s a fine mezcal that novices will undoubtedly enjoy, but which lacks the depth that true mezcal fans will want.

But hey, at least you get to eat the worm.

86.8 proof.

B / $43 / wildshot.com

Review: Zignum Anejo Mezcal

Zignum Anejo mezcal 112x300 Review: Zignum Anejo MezcalWe last encountered Zignum’s mezcal earlier this year in its reposado incarnation. Now the brand is back, this time with an anejo version.

Made from green agave and aged more than a year, this is mezcal with much of the smokiness aged right out of it. You’ll find lots of exotic, tropical, and caramel notes on the nose — and no smokiness to speak of — enough to make you think this is standard tequila, not mezcal at all.

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Review: Montelobos Mezcal Joven

montelobos mezcal joven 300x228 Review: Montelobos Mezcal JovenCrafted in Oaxaca from 100% agave espadin, this lightly overproof, unaged mezcal is a classic example of the spirit from head to toe.

The nose of Montelobos is intensely smoky, with a barbecue-like sweetness underpinning the char. On the tongue, it follows through on this promise. A rush of fresh barbecue smoke, followed by intense vegetation — not just agave but green beans, asparagus, and artichokes. Sounds nasty, sure, but it works, much like a plate of grilled vegetables on the campfire… with a sausage on the side.

The finish is mouth-filling and long, fire, brimstone, and deep savory notes. Solid mezcal start to finish, with an extra little kick due to a touch higher alcohol content.

86.4 proof.

B+ / $50 / montelobos.com

Review: El Buho Mezcal

Made in Oaxaca, this mezcal is made from espadin agave plants and roasted with mesquite for a full week in a fire pit before being crushed (by a burro!) and pressed for the juice. The fermented mash is twice distilled in an alembic pot still before bottling, unaged.

The smoky nose reveals little about what’s underneath, but the first sip starts off with a surprisingly high amount of sweetness on the tongue. Very fruity, it offers mainly tropical notes — papaya and a bit of pineapple, backed with touches of lemon. The smoke returns for the finish, as is typical of mezcal, a bit sticky sweet, perhaps due to that mesquite coming through.

I like El Buho’s components a lot, but as is often the case with smoky spirits, the balance is a bit off here, with sugar and fire not quite coming together into the burnt/caramelized sugar character that you want to take away from the experience.

Nice as a starter mezcal.

86 proof.

B+ / $47 / elbuhomezcal.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

El Buho Mezcal Review: El Buho Mezcal

Review: Zignum Reposado Mezcal

A new product from Casa Armando Guillermo Prieto, Zignum Mezcal is made from green Espadin agave. Silver and reposado expressions are currently hitting the market. An anejo will arrive later this year.

We sampled the reposado, aged more than two months in oak barrels. Very lively and fresh, the medium gold color looks too good to be true for a mezcal with just a couple months of age on it. The nose offers marshmallow, cedar planks, and burnt coal embers — just a hint that this is smoky mezcal and not tequila. On the tongue, more of the same: Bracing sweetness, balanced with more smokiness than you get in the nose.

Creamy and rich, this is a lush mezcal that counters the many thin and limp agave products on the market. With good balance and a long, pleasing finish, it’s quite a winner. Great value, too. Looking forward to checking out the anejo down the line.

80 proof. Kosher.

A- / $30 / casaagp.com.mx

Zignum Reposado Mezcal Review: Zignum Reposado Mezcal

Review: Mezcals of Agave de Cortes

It’s not every day you meet a 6th generation palenquero (mezcal maker), but that’s exactly what Asis Cortes, pictured below in my kitchen, is. Cortes and his family make mezcal in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Some of it is only available in the country, and in addition to its own the company also exports a variety of other producers’ mescals to the U.S.

Cortes walked me through four of his company’s products, each representing a fairly different style and approach to the spirit. Thoughts follow.

Sacacuento Silver Mezcal – One of Cortes’s import products, a light, fresh, and fruity mezcal loaded with lemon and citrus notes. The smoke is subtle and delicate on the finish. Arguably my favorite of the tasting. Made from agave espadin. 80 proof. A- / $43

El Jolgorio Silver Mezcal – Made in tiny batches and released 600 liters at a time, this mezcal is available only in Mexico, where it is one of the company’s rarest offerings. Made from white madrecuixe agave grown in the mountains of Oaxaca, this organic mezcal is as different as you can imagine from the Sacacuento. A huge flavor bomb, this is a gut punch, full of aloe, lime, sugar cane, and incense character. Again, not much smokiness, but there’s no delicacy here, just raw intensity and a wild expression of agave. 92 proof. A- / 900 Mexican pesos

Sacacuento Anejo Mezcal – Age Sacacuento Silver in American oak barrels for a year and you get this light brown spirit, intense with earth and menthol characters. There’s old wood on the nose, almost funky in the way it comes across. But the body is something else entirely, smooth cocoa, butterscotch, and caramel notes, all quite lasting. Quite a dichotomy between nose and palate. It opens up over time, much like a good anejo tequila. 80 proof. B+ / $70

Agave de Cortes Extra Anejo Mezcal – Aged three years in French oak barrels, this espadin agave offers a beautiful nose of old rum and a fair bit of wood. There’s a surprisingly lightness on the palate, fresh and young with herbal characteristics, with the agave remarkably still coming through after all that time in oak. What’s left behind is caramel and orange peel. 80 proof. B+ / $120

Review: Craft Distillers Mezcalero Release #2 San Baltazar Guelavila

First a primer on how most mezcal makes it into the U.S.: Some American gets on a plane and road-trips through Oaxaca, Mexico, tasting his way through artisan distilleries until he finds something he loves. That American then becomes an importer, and in the case of really good mezcal, sometimes only a few hundred bottles make it into the States.

Craft Distillers did just that with Mezcalero, now in its second edition, and available initially with less than 200 bottles allocated to our country, all in California. The company has just 60 bottle left on hand, so if this sounds at all interesting to you, now’s the time to act before it’s all gone.

Distilled from the wild tobala, wild tepeztate, and domestic espadin agave varieties by the San Baltazar Guelavila distillery, Mezcalero #2 makes no bones that it’s going to be intensely fiery and smoky. Where many modern mezcals rest of their smoldering smoothness, Mezcalero is a torrid heat-bomb. Smoke is overwhelming on the nose and on the tongue. Great mezcal can have lots of interesting secondary character, but aside from notes associated with the grill — black pepper, onions, maybe a touch of brown sugar on the very end — this one is lacking. The body lacks weight and there’s just no balance to the BBQ character. This is wholly drinkable, especially with water, but I’d hoped for more.

96.4 proof.

B / $84 / caddellwilliams.com

Mezcalero no 2 san baltazar guelvila Review: Craft Distillers Mezcalero Release #2 San Baltazar Guelavila

Dispatches from Aspen Food & Wine Classic 2011

“Is this your first Classic?”

It was a question I’d hear more than once over the three days I spent in Aspen last month at what has become the pre-eminent annual food and wine event in America. Emphasis on food. In a single evening I encountered Mario Batali, Jacques Pepin, Jose Andres (who personally prepared the salt-crusted grilled prawn I ate while berating someone for disturbing his onions), and Andrew Zimmern (who heroically saved me from a deadly spider).

A few weeks later, so much of the Classic, hosted by Food & Wine magazine and an event of absurdly high expense to those who pay to attend it, is now but a blur. Is it the Aspen elevation? The long days of seminars and tasting sessions? Or simply the mountain of business cards I now have to follow up on that makes the whole thing seem so daunting in retrospect?

Structurally the Classic sounds like an easy-to-manage thing. For two and a half days, the schedule (basically) runs like this: Sessions (there are a dozen food, wine, or spirits-focused seminars to choose from) start at 10, then the grand tasting event (more on that later) is open for a couple of hours after that. The tent shuts down for a while to allow for more sessions, then it reopens in the afternoon, closing promptly around 6 o’clock so dinners can be had and the parties can begin. Depending on who you know there may be a half dozen to chose from each night.

Friday and Saturday are “full” days, and Sunday is a lighter one, as most people try to get home, fast (not an easy feat from remote Aspen, Colorado).

“The tent” — the grand tasting pavilion — is , for most people, the centerpiece of their experience here. Hundreds of exhibitors represent wineries around the world, spirits sellers, food merchants, kitchenware purveyors, restaurants, even countries hoping to get tourists, cruise ships, car companies, and just about anything else have a booth. Everyone is either pouring or cooking: A quick spin through a fraction of the tent will have you noshing on Korean noodles, sashimi, barbeque, chocolate, salad, root beer, and pork rinds — and probably in that order. While there’s plenty of supermarket brand stuff being poured here, a lot of it is upscale, sometimes extremely so. While there were many fabulous wines (including a whole sub-tent devoted to Spanish wine), I found the spirits purveyors to be the most rewarding: Casa Dragones tequila, private bottlings of all sorts of whisky from Samaroli (see pics), and Ron Cooper personally pouring just about all of his company’s Del Maguey mezcals, including the bizarre but fantastic Pechuga (which is made with a whole chicken breast), of which only 650 bottles were made. I probably looped back to Cooper’s table four times over the two days I was in the tent.

The seminars should not be underestimated. I attended two great ones: One tasting the audience members on old wines dating back to 1980, and another comparing Oregon and California Pinot Noirs of various vintages and regions. (Discovery: I liked southern California Pinot the best of these.) If you’re more into cooking, copious celebrity chef-led demonstrations are available, as are sessions dedicated to all levels of expertise.

Then there are the parties, and one finds that in the tiny town of Aspen, it’s easy to hop from a Macallan event to a tasting of two vintages of Penfolds Grange in a manner of minutes. (The 2006 Grange stands as my favorite wine tasted the entire weekend.) Everywhere you go, someone’s cooking a whole pig or three (as with the Wines of Spain party), or pouring something surprising (as with the “Magnum” party, where several dozen large-format bottles of wines are available to try — all self-serve).

I feel fatter just writing about it.

If you’re a gourmand and you have the means (all-access tickets are over $1,000, but tent-only consumer access runs under $400 for the weekend), this is worth an excursion once in your life. Some advice if you go: Stay as close to town as you can, over-prepare for the extreme altitude (various supplements were recommended to me), and get some rest before you arrive. You’ll need it!

foodandwine.com

Review: Ilegal Mezcal

Puritans, be advised: Two Ls or three, Ilegal Mezcal is certainly legal, although the rustic labels and wax-sealed cork stoppers may make you think otherwise.

This small batch mezcal from the Oaxaca region of Mexico is hand numbered and produced in very small lots (typically under 2,000 bottles per lot). All 100 percent agave, of course, and all three are 80 proof. All three bottles reviewed below are part of lot #1.

Ilegal Mezcal Joven – Far less smoky than most mezcals, this is a smooth and velvety mezcal that could easily pass for a slightly brash tequila. Zesty with huge agave character up front, then a tangy lemon and citrus finish. The body is moderate and a touch hot, but it’s refined and easygoing. If you like your mezcal on the smoky side, I expect this won’t strike your fancy. Most of you will love the hell out of it. A- / $60

Ilegal Mezcal Reposado – After 4 to 5 months in new oak, Ilegal takes on a whole new character, buttery in the body and showing more smoke, with a butterscotch, creme brulee-like tone to it. Actually too sweet by quite a bit, I appreciate the attempt to balance savory smoke with sweet candy, but it comes off as a bit wild and unbalanced. B+ / $80

Ilegal Mezcal Anejo (pictured) – Spends a full year in oak, and the characteristics of the Reposado are amped up even further. More smoke, and more sweetness. Almost bacon-like with the blend of sweet and savory. This has a bit more balance but its richness is almost too decadent. A very powerful and unique mezcal, and pricy. B+ / $120

ilegalmezcal.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS!]

ilegal mezcal Review: Ilegal Mezcal

Review: Monte Alban Mezcal

Monte Alban is perhaps the most widely available mezcal on the market, but that doesn’t mean it’s rotgut.

Monte Alban may lack sophistication, but it’s a fine entry point into the mezcal arena. Briny and with the distinct smell of sweat, it comes across as hot. But a little judicious sipping shows that Monte Alban has more to it than that. The palest gold in color, its smoke character is moderate, not overdone, with some fruitiness in the finish. The salty character remains throughout, but it’s not as biting as the initial approach would lead you to think.

80 proof, and every bottle includes a worm — even the 50ml minis.

B / $23 / montealbanmezcal.com

monte alban mezcal Review: Monte Alban Mezcal

Review: Oro de Oaxaca Mezcal

Nothing about Oro de Oaxaca Mezcal screams “premium.” It’s got a cheap bottle (with plastic cap), primary-color logo, and mystery bag of “chile” attached to the neck (more on that in a moment)… and of course it’s also got a worm sunken to the bottom of the bottle.

Ignore all that and tuck into a glass.

Intensely smoky on the nose and the palate, Oro de Oaxaca is one of the biggest mezcals around. If you’re into the smoke thing, you’re going to love this stuff — it’ll knock you down like you’re firing up a pipe.

Beneath the smoke, there’s a bit of fire — some alcoholic heat, a touch of sweetness, and green pepper notes. Pleasant overall, really, with that smoke laced throughout.

Oro de Oaxaca is light gold in color but it doesn’t indicate (nor can I discern) how long it’s been aged, if at all (that is, whether caramel color plays a large role here). I wouldn’t guess it spends long in barrels — maybe a few months. What wood is here is washed out by the smokiness, anyway.

Oh, and about that little bag of chile: It’s salt, ground chile pepper, and ground-up roasted maguey worms. Hey, hey — come back. It’s not that gross. The flavor is actually pretty good, salty/spicy just as you’d expect, and not too hot nor too wormy. There are no instructions included for its consumption, but I presume it’s a substitute for the salt in the traditional salt-booze-lime shot combo. If you’re the kind of guy that pounds his tequila/mezcal, well, you could do worse than having a little ground-up worm in your salt. That’s protein, folks.

80 proof.

B+ / $30 / scorpionmezcal.com

oro de oaxaca mezcal Review: Oro de Oaxaca Mezcal

Review: Maria Mezcal Anejo

Mezcalapalooza continues with this mezcal, a 100% agave anejo, aged one year in oak, and bottled at 80 proof, sans worm or other insect.

Maria’s “Mezcal de Oaxaca” is quite unique. Though it offers traditional aromas of smoke laced with agave, the body is something else. Tart like a cherry, it is both sweet and sour and extremely fruity — more than any mezcal or tequila I’ve ever tried. Not sure where all that fruitiness comes from, though, as there’s nothing outrageously different about the way Maria is made. Smoke raises its head again on the finish, but that cherry taste lingers for quite some time.

Is it good? That’s a matter of personal taste, but I find Maria a little too far “out there” for easy enjoyment. Conceivably better in some cocktails, perhaps?

C+ / price N/A / no website

maria anejo mezcal Review: Maria Mezcal Anejo

Review: Mijes Mezcal Joven

No other way to put it: Mijes’ (also known as Mixes on some bottles, see below) mezcal bottles are unmistakeably eye-catching, shaped vaguely like a drunken snail or perhaps a brain that’s been run over by a truck.

Inside, Mijes’ premium joven (a blend of new and old spirit, filtered back to clear) mezcal/mescal (100% agave, 80 proof, no worm in the bottle) is clean and lightly smoky, a classic expression of blanco style mezcal, with fresh agave character followed by sweet, barebecue-like smoke finish or lingering cigar notes.

A very warming mezcal, this spirit is extremely smooth, though one can’t help but wonder: If the blanco version is this good, how must the aged versions taste?

A- / $57 / no website

mijes mezcal joven Review: Mijes Mezcal Joven

Review: Scorpion Mezcals

Mezcal (aka mescal) gets quite the rap. To set you straight, mezcal is made from a number of different types of agave (whereas tequila is only blue agave). The agave (or maguey) is roasted in a wood-fired pit for several days (whereas with tequila the agave is generally cooked in ovens), then fermented — a smoky flavor resulting from this roasting is characteristic of all mezcal. Mezcal must be 80% agave, whereas tequila must be 51%, legally (though, for both spirits, 100% agave results in the best quality spirit). Like tequila, mezcal can be bottled without aging, or after spending time in oak barrels.

Mezcal also has an amazing notoriety for causing hangovers. And then there’s “the worm,” a type of weevil or caterpillar larva that is often added to the bottle before it’s sent off to your local watering hole to get you drunk. Really just a marketing gimmick, the worm has become part of mezcal legend and seems not to be going anywhere soon.

Except for Scorpion Mezcal, which subs in a scorpion carapace in its mezcal bottlings in lieu of the good old worm. Gimmick? Sure, but no more than the worm. In fact, it’s considerably more awesome, in my opinion, to nab an arachnid in your bottle instead of a garden-variety bug. As for the little sombrero on the bottle, well, your kids will probably love ‘em.

We tried three Scorpion bottlings, each aged a different length of time. All are 80 proof and 100 percent agave. Some thoughts follow.

Scorpion Mezcal Silver (Joven) – The nose is agave, tinged with smoke, and that smoke expands heartily on the palate. The finish is surprisingly clean and quite warming, reminiscent of charcoal-fired barbeque grill on a hot day, maybe cooking up a meaty beef rib. A peppery character is evident on additional consumption, but otherwise this is pretty straightforward stuff and certainly a worthy entry into the category. B+ / $38

Scorpion Mezcal Reposado – Aged in oak for 2 to 11 months, but based on the pale color I’d guess somewhat closer to the former than the latter. Smoother on the palate than the Silver, but even smokier than its little brother. More complex than the Silver, with bigger agave notes and a specifically red pepper character to it. A sweet, sugary finish comes on (very) late in the finish, again warming you considerably. Probably a better choice for most than the Silver version for those who want to experience high-end mezcal as a novice. B+ / $42

Scorpion Mezcal Anejo 1 Year – Be advised — Scorpion also makes a 3 Year Anejo and with the exception of some rather small print, the bottles are the same. Now this, this is the stuff. Complexity really ramps up here, as the smoke plays with vanilla and ginger spice from all its time in wood to create something really unique. Not overwhelmingly smoky as many mezcals tend to be, with playful sweetness to cut through that. Amazingly smooth and quite addictive. Excellent price for the quality achieved. A / $48

Scorpion also makes several older mezcals, some aged up to seven years. Hope to give those a try someday and let you know about them.

scorpionmezcal.com