Mezcal, the Artisanal Spirit to Have in Your Spirits Collection

Apr 02, 2020

by Brian Lee, Spirits Specialist

When I moved out of my small one bedroom apartment and into a house, I decided to take stock and get organized. As it turns out, working in the liquor business means that most of your cabinets, closets and bookcases become overrun with bottles of various types of booze. Among my collection, can you guess what I had the most of? You might be surprised to know it’s mezcal.

How could I possibly have so many—every expression just tastes like smoke, right?  Not necessarily! In my opinion, mezcal is the epitome of the small-lot, craft production, artisanal spirit most distillers strive for, for three distinct reasons.

Banhez mezcal agave

First, mezcal can be made in eight different Mexican states from almost any agave, although a massive amount of mezcal is made in Oaxaca from the agave Espadín. Espadín is closely related to Blue Weber Agave, the plant used exclusively to make tequila. Some producers, like Mezcal de Leyenda, showcase the agave that is most common and indigenous to the state: Oaxaca has excellent Espadín, but to ignore their wild agave Cupreata from Guerrero with its gentle smoke and tropical fruit notes would be a crime. Other producers, like Bozal, choose to focus on each agave varietal and create single agave mezcals for several different families. Instead of showing the terroir from each state, they showcase the distinct and individual flavors from each specific plant. In recent years it’s become common to create “ensambles” or a blending of several different varietals. Like many fine wines, adding other varietals to a mix can bring a complexity and softness that’s rarely found in many single agave expressions.

Mezcal de Leyenda agave plant mezcal
Mezcal de Leyenda agave plant mezcal
Mayalen Machetazo agave mezcal

Second, mezcal distillation practices vary wildly from village to village. It is not uncommon for distillers to be the third or fourth generation, using the same procedures their great grandfathers did in the early 20th century. Small things can make a massive difference: native yeast from wild fermentation, the fuel source for smoking agave pinas, whether a still is made from copper or clay—to name a few. Changing just one of these facets can create wildly different products. This is what makes mezcal such a unique spirit; no product is the same and each distiller puts their own fingerprint on each product. For example, while Salmiana agave mezcals carry a heavy green chili note, Mayalen Machetazo’s variation tastes significantly more vibrant due to the distillers using vapor to cook the agaves instead of smoke. The result is a mezcal that is so bright and lively that it’s often described as refreshing.

Madre Mezcal blessing the hearts

Finally, mezcal is a family process. Mezcals have been used for hundreds of years for many different purposes, varying from drinking for pure enjoyment to ceremonial purposes, disinfectant for tools, field aesthetic, and the list goes on. Due to its familial ties, it’s not surprising to find practices similar to what Jose Ines Garcia Morales uses for Madre Mezcal. Jose oversees production with his father and brother cutting and lifting agaves. His mother cooks the agave hearts while his wife plants the new agaves, and his uncles oversee the distillation process. Working together may bond the family but it also makes for a harmonious product.

Banhez mezcal agave
Banhez mezcal agave

In rare and exciting circumstances, some producers take this a step further and create whole village co-ops of many families working together. In the town of San Miguel Ejutla in Oaxaca, 36 families have banded together to create Banhez, a co-op formed to help farm, plant, cook, distill and create an excellent line of different mezcals that showcase the talent of one small village, using the proceeds to give villagers and future generations better lives. So, before you pass over mezcal in your cabinet, bar or store—consider giving one of them a try.

Now settled in my new place, my cabinets and closets only contain the absolute, bare bones essentials that I can’t do without. Now all I have to do is find a place to put my folded towels, clean clothes, linens and boxes of precious photos and keepsakes.

Mezcal Lineup

Banehz_750ml_Ensemble mezcal

Comprised of 90% Espadin and 10% Barril agaves, Banhez Ensemble is a delightfully mild, floral and fruity (pineapple, banana) mezcal perfect for first-time mezcal tasters and wonderful for cocktail innovation. Winner of Best Mezcal and Double Gold awards at the 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. 

Banhez_750ml_Cuishe mezcal

Produced in limited quantities due to the scarcity of this exceptional species of agave, Banhez Cuishe is an incredibly easy sipping mezcal with all the tropical fruitiness, fresh herbs and balanced flavor profile that Cuishe is known for.

Banhez_750ml_Pechuga mezcal

Banhez Pechuga (“breast”) is comprised of 100% Espadin mezcal redistilled with indigenous seasonal fruits and raw turkey breast hung over a copper still, imparting deliciously balanced flavors and complexity in the alcohol’s vapors before condensation takes place. Pechuga has been consumed across Oaxaca on special occasions for centuries.

Bozal mezcal-Espadin

A slightly smoky, yet herbaceous undertone rests on the center of the palate, while citrus and floral notes from the Barril are introduced and strengthened by the warm viscose finish of the Mexicano. This is a light and easy sipping mezcal, which will delight and surprise you with its complex lingering finish.

Bozal mezcal-Cuishe

Driven by intense citrus and strong minerality, the Cuishe has a dry entry. As is experienced in the rich tropical fruit on the palate that moves to sweet potato on the front. Green vegetal notes in the mouth and a dry smoky finish then follow. A complex flavor profile that proves quite enjoyable.

Bozal mezcal-Tobasiche

With an unconventional sweet nose this mezcal exerts traces of quince, anise, and strong minerality. This bouquet is complimented by rich herbaceous botanicals on the finish.

Madre Mezcal 750ML

Madre carries a hint of smoke with a sweet copal fragrance. Herbal notes of sage, earth and minerals appear on the tongue, with a lingering floral finish.

Machetazo Mayalen Cupreata mezcal

Our original and most elaborate variety of Mezcal Machetazo is from the mountains of Mochitlan, Guerrero. The higher elevation where this agave grows is ideal for the absorption of minerals giving way to a sweeter flavor unique to the Wild Cupreata Agave. The Wild Cupreata Agaves must reach a level of maturity of approximately 7 years to ensure the ideal concentration of natural sugars and minerals in the heart of the agave or piña.

Machetazo Mayalen Espadin mezcal

Mezcal Machetazo Espadin 45% has subtle floral notes with a light spicy finish. These are influenced by the tropical-desert climate where our distillery is located. Espadin reaches maturity and an ideal sugar concentration between 8–12 years. The mezcal master must cut the leaves and penca at this time, soon before it starts to flower and sprout a quiote. Like our Cupreata varieties, the Espadin agaves are cooked in an earthen oven releasing aromas of roasted fruit.

Machetazo Mayalen Salmiana mezcal

Wild Agave Salmiana grows in the state of San Luis Potosi and takes 7 years to reach maturity. The desert climate of Charcas, San Luis Potosi gives way to an aroma of fresh vegetation and wooden flavors. The production process of our Mezcal Machetazo Salmiana 45% differs from the common cooking of agaves in an earthen oven because these piñas are cooked through vaporization. The sloped construction of the distillery’s floor ensures consistent production from beginning to end as the liquid from the cooked agaves trickles down through each production process by way of gravity.

Mezcales de leyenda_GUERRERO

Wild agave cupreata from the state of Guerrero. This dynamic mezcal has a clean entry, with sweet tropical fruits & salty undertones.

Mezcales de leyenda_OAXACA

Agave angustifolia from the state of Oaxaca, this citrusy mezcal has aromas of lemongrass and a bright mouth feel.

Peloton de la Muerte_750ml mezcal

Pelotón de la Muerte is produced in a very unique way to deliver a well-balanced flavor, offering subtle, beautiful smoke from the local oak that is used to cook the agave, with creamy caramel and herbaceous notes.

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