El 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
Los 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.
A- / $50 / losamantes.com
Don 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
Oaxaca-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.
B- / $30 / haas-brothers.com
Sombra 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 [BUY IT NOW FROM MASH & GRAPE]
A 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.
B / $43 / wildshot.com
We 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.