Ron Cooper founded Del Maguey (pro tip: “del ma-gay”) in 1995, created the category of artisanal mezcal in the U.S. singlehandedly. The brand has gone nowhere but up since, thanks certainly due to the way it works. Rather than being a bulk product, Miller works with 12 different families in 10 villages in Oaxaca (and one in Puebla) to source true, terroir-driven mezcal that is made by hand, in small batches. Like, with horses dragging stone wheels around.
During a tasting with New York-based brand education director Éva Pelczer, she said Miller wants folks to think about Del Maguey mezcal the way they think about wine — considering the different varietals of agave, different regions, and different production methods used to make the spirit. Sure enough, among the 25+ different expressions that the green-glassed Del Maguey now spans, the flavor profiles available really run the gamut. They even change slightly from year to year due to a variety of elements ranging from climate to the wild yeasts that happen to land on the agave hearts. (Batch numbers are printed on all Del Maguey bottles, so you can easily compare one year to another if you’re so inclined.)
To demonstrate all of this, I tasted through four expressions of Del Maguey with Pelczer via Zoom, and my thoughts on all four bottlings follow. Let’s kick things off with the traditional mezcal-sipping toast of Stigibeu! (A sort of thank you to the earth.) To which one must eventually respond: Bakeen! (Let’s drink!)
All: NOM 014X.
Del Maguey Vida Mezcal – Espadin agave, made in the village of San Luis Del Rio. The most common (and cheapest) Del Maguey expression and the one you’ll commonly see used in cocktails. There’s a reason for that: This is really fruity, and almost rum-like at times, with a grilled pineapple aroma evident. One of the smokier expressions from Del Maguey, the palate keeps both smoke and fruit in the conversation, the mezcal becoming minty and herbal as it develops. Again, more pineapple on the clean but sweet finish. 84 proof. B+ / $35 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS] [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Del Maguey Las Milpas Mezcal – Espadin agave, made in the village of Las Milpas. A wildly different style, kicking off with popcorn aromas, almost burnt, on a palate that is rustic and extremely earthy. Barely sweet at all. Rustic and extremely earthy, it’s not a smoky mezcal but rather a heavily roasted one, evoking scorched vegetation, onion tops, and roasted meat. Brooding and chewy on the finish, like a Sunday stew. 92 proof. B+ / $55
Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal – One of Miller’s original bottlings, made from espadin from the village of Chichicapa; it’s still on the market today. This is a balanced and rightfully beloved mezcal, bright on the nose with citrus, white pepper, and a soothing note of freshly baked bread. Gently grainy on the palate, those bready notes quickly give way to more citrus, a gentle layer of baking spice, and an enveloping, sesame-sweet finish, with only the slightest hint of smoke along the way. Chichicapa is tough to put down, and stands as one of the top bottlings of the Del Maguey line, approachable by novices yet fully enjoyable by pros. 96 proof. A / $75 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS] [BUY IT NOW FROM TOTAL WINE]
Del Maguey 100% Tobala Mezcal – This was the first non-espadin mezcal from Del Maguey, made from wild tobala agave by a producer whose name and location was kept anonymous for years to protect his agave safe from poachers, hence the varietal-centric name. Now that’s finally been revealed, and a label change is in the works. Meanwhile, this exotic mezcal is immediately mushroomy, savory, and rich, evoking the Las Milpas bottling to some degree. Things brighten up on the more rounded palate, showcasing apple and pear notes, some herbs, and a light floral touch. That mushroomy, umami-laced character lingers throughout, complementing a complex and sultry mezcal nicely. 90 proof. A- / $125 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS] [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE] [BUY IT NOW FROM TOTAL WINE]