Review: Pluma Negra Mezcal, Complete Lineup
Pluma Negra is a new mezcal brand out of Oaxaca’s San Juan del Rio, where the Hernandez family has been producing mezcal for 45 years. Maestro Mezcalero Rodolfo Hernandez is “a third generation Mezcalero who uses time honored traditions to create Pluma Negra — animal drawn tahona to crush the maguey, pine barrel fermentation, and double distillation in copper pots.”
Pluma Negra comprises four expressions comprising three different mezcal varieties: espadin, tobala, and tepeztate. Two expressions of espadin agave are available, bottled at differing proof levels. All four are unaged.
Let’s give them a try.
Pluma Negra Mezcal Espadin 40% (Silver Label) – Aggressive notes of smoked meats dominate the nose, with a pungent scorched grass character I don’t usually encounter with espadin mezcals. No real fruit character is evident here. The palate continues the theme, boldly beefy, heavily smoky, and overwhelmingly vegetal. Great mezcal has a lovely balance of smoke, spice, and fruit. Here, the scales are tipped exclusively to the foremost, and the experience just never livens up. 80 proof. C+ / $74
Pluma Negra Mezcal Espadin 48% (Black Label) – At 8% higher abv, the picture on this espadin mezcal is a little different. A stronger alcohol content perks up some well-hidden notes of spice on the nose — though the touches of cinnamon are filtered through plenty of overbearing smoke. On the palate, a more upbeat body is evident: Lots of pepper starts things off, but it eventually opens up to show off a bigger almond element and some brown butter notes. Lengthy and increasingly bright on the finish, it finds notes of lemon and spiced cake on the conclusion. It’s still a rocky experience at times, but there’s clearly a much better sense of balance than in the 40% offering. 96 proof. B / $79
Pluma Negra Mezcal Tobala – Here we see Pluma Negra at the top of its game, using tobala agave to create a spirit with less overt smokiness and a maritime note that had me thinking about Islay Scotch. Lots of citrus and saline give the palate a spicy edge, though the entire affair is well-balanced, the overall effect being a mezcal that is softer and cleaner than either espadin expression. Mint, chocolate, and a chewy marshmallow note give the finish some sweetness. Altogether it’s a complex and worthwhile mezcal, with a lingering fragrance that enchants the senses. 96 proof. A- / $158
Pluma Negra Mezcal Tepeztate – This rarely-seen agave variety makes for an unusual mezcal, with a nose that’s sharp thanks in large part to its high alcohol level. Notes of iodine give it a salty aroma. Pallet is rustic and punchy, salted licorice being the predominant flavor. There’s a strong spiciness and a black pepper element here, though the finish percolates some fruit in the form of plum and red berry notes. It’s an odd mezcal, but worth tasting if you encounter it. 104 proof. B+ / $173
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