THE LAST OF THE WORLD’S GREAT SPIRITS
All cognacs, rums, whiskies were once made entirely by artisanal methods. Now almost all of them are made with semi-industrial equipment and sold as commodities. Mezcal is the last truly great spirit holdout
Mezcals are distilled from agaves, complex plants that take years to mature.
All great mezcals are distilled using artisanal or ancestral methods
Mature agaves, weighing up to 200 pounds, are harvested and trimmed by hand and brought by truck or burro to the distillery.
Agaves, cut up if big, are roasted, often in below-ground wood-fired pit ovens. Roasting converts the carbohydrates in agaves to sugars. The same process happens when you roast an ear of corn.
Roasted agaves are cut into smaller pieces and crushed/milled, releasing the liquids and making the sugars accessible to yeasts.
The milled solids and liquids are moved to fermentation tanks.
Airborne wild yeasts convert the sugars into alcohols. This can take two weeks. You can see the activity by the slow bubbles of CO2 released by the working yeasts.
All of the fermented agave is put into the still, liquids and solids both. Tequila leaves the solids out.
Most mezcals are distilled twice. At the beginning and end of distillation, alcohols that don’t taste good or are toxic can be separated (the word is “cut”).
Finished mezcal is clear. The agave aromas and flavors have been purified, concentrated, and made more complex. If the distiller knows what he’s doing, his mezcal has clean, rich, and distinctive flavors and aromatics.
Agaves can yield spirits at the quality level of the finest cognacs, whiskies, rums . Mezcals are truly the last of the world’s great spirits.