Artisanal mezcal is a sip of cultural splendor. Here, we take a deep dive into the process of mezcal cultivation and harvesting, followed by what to expect from the artisanal mezcal flavor profile and overall experience.
What is an artisanal mezcal?
Artisanal mezcal is distilled based on artisanal and traditional methods. Mezcal makers grow wild agaves for 7 to 10 years before harvest to begin the process.
It then continues with cooking, grinding, fermentation and distillation. This might sound simple on the surface, but all stages of the artisanal mezcal production process must be pre-Hispanic and colonial, to get an extraordinary drink.
How is artisanal mezcal made?
The best artisanal mezcal is made by following these five fundamental steps:
1. Cultivation and harvesting
The first step is to get and grow the plants. Regardless of where they come from, the key to getting a good mezcal is to use only agaves that have reached maturity.
2. Breaking down the agave
When the agave is ready, the palenqueros are in charge of cutting the sharp leaves of the plants with a coa, a traditional agave harvesting tool, leaving only the heart, also referred to as the mezontle or pineapple. These hearts are typically then cut into quarters in preparation of being cooked.
3. Cooking the mezontle
After preparation, agave plants are cooked in small batches to soften the fibers and transform the starch into sugars that can be easily fermented. This is done by digging pits in the ground, starting a fire, filling it with the agave before burying it and allowing it to slowly smoke while it cooks. This process is what’s responsible for the signature and unmistakable smoky flavors associated with mezcal.
4. Grinding the agave
Once the agave has cooled from the cooking process, a mezcalero analyzes each of them ensuring that they haven’t been roasted too much or that some type of mold hasn’t developed because they have been exposed to the sun for so long.
Once the quality of each heart is verified, they are pulverized thus extracting their sugars and juices. In regions such as Guerrero, Michoacán, Puebla and in some remote areas of Oaxaca this process is done by hand with an axe or a very heavy mallet.
This process of crushing the agave hearts lasts between 8 and 12 hours, until they manage to reduce them to strips of fiber thin enough so that they can be placed in the fermentation tanks. This grinding can also be done by mechanical crushers.
5. Fermenting the cooked and ground bagasse
Through fermentation, the sugars of the cooked and ground bagasse are converted into alcohol. The uncontrollable set of natural yeasts and bacteria that triggers the process of converting sugars into alcohol adds countless layers of flavors.
The taste and aroma of mezcal depends on the type of container used, the type of yeast and bacteria working in the mixture and the temperature at which the liquid is subjected.
Is an artisanal mezcal expensive?
The price at which artisanal mezcal is currently offered is usually high, but it’s true that there are specimens that are worth their weight in gold and that well deserve the investment to enjoy their aromas and flavors.
The market for this type of products isn’t about the public, but about people who not only acquire products for their tangible qualities, but for their symbolic value. From that logic, these mezcals are worthwhile.
Artisanal mezcal is a drink made with dedication following the tradition in which each of the processes is taken care of to offer the highest quality, the most exquisite aromas and the purest flavor.
How to identify an artisanal mezcal brands
First, a mezcal must smell and taste like cooked maguey, the raw material with which it’s made. Although behind this basic smell and flavor you discover its character and a subtle, deep, and elegant delicacy in its multiple flavors and aromas.
Spotting an artisanal mezcal is simplified with these tips:
- Identify legs or tears in the glass: When you tilt the glass, lines should appear all over the glass. That’s a sign that it had a good distillate.
- See its color: If you raise your glass and observe it against the light, the color is very transparent, others may not be and look opaque.
- Perform an aroma test: You shouldn’t recognize aggressive aromas.
- Take a small sip: First give it a small sip to identify it and you must pass it directly and then blow a little. In a second sip, it’s easier for your sense of taste to recognize something good, you must feel a balance of flavors.
Differences between an artisanal mezcal and an ancestral one
Artisanal mezcal can use floor ovens and masonry ovens according to the region, on the other hand, ancestral mezcal only occupies the conical floor oven.
Artisanal mezcal can occupy a mallet that requires man’s strength directly and machinery to tear or grind the maguey fibers that need electricity to function. The creation process can also use a stainless steel pot.
For its part, ancestral mezcal doesn’t occupy anything electric for grinding, only the strength of man or support with animals or tractors. The use of stainless steel, autoclaves, diffusers and column stills is not permitted when creating ancestral mezcal.
Sale of artisanal mezcal La Luna Mezcal
Today, mezcal is one of the few drinks in the world that’s still truly made in an artisanal way, combining pre-Hispanic and European techniques with millenary antiquity. Discover Mezcal cocktail recipes people created and shared with us that you will love!