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Mezcal is often spoken about in spiritual, sometimes even religious terms. Many marketing materials of available brands hark back to Aztec mythology, speaking of this clear, fiery liquid as the spirit of the gods. While I don't completely feel myself drawn in by these attempts at such glorification, I do find myself completely in love with the spirit itself. There is a radiant energy coursing through it that I rarely find in any other distillates, and a sense of origin that establishes mezcal as one of the more interesting and uncharted categories in the spirits world. Forsaking the mystique that is commonly associated with the category, what undoubtedly remains is the thought that, through time-honored traditions reaching back hundreds of years, often in pre-industrial production facilities, a spirit of terroir is being created and constantly explored.
Mezcal (a combination of the Nahuatl words metl+ixcalli, meaning “oven-cooked agave”) is most commonly distilled from the espadin agave, which is the easiest to cultivate and the quickest to mature to an acceptable sugar content for harvesting. The taste of espadin - smoke from the roasting process, a burst of tropical fruit, a faint whiff of hot rocks after a summer rainstorm - has become synonymous with what is generally accepted as the flavor profile of mezcal, but that would be a simplification. The beauty truly lies in diversity, in the myriad species of agave and other plants of the desert and mountain that, when distilled, echo in a harmony of flavors, shapes, textures, and impressions. The wild agave that make up the landscape of not only Oaxaca, but much of Mexico, clinging to the steep mountainsides or baking under the hot sun, sometimes taking many decades to mature, offer up a sensory experience that is truly unique and distinct.
As Bruce Springsteen can tell you in his autobiography, “Born to Run,” tequila is a type of mezcal. And that’s an important concept to grasp. The discussion about mezcal is slowly veering away from branding and marketing towards a conversation driven by terroir. The natural bounty of flora (from Chihuahua in the north to Oaxaca in the south and everywhere in between) is being distilled and categorized by the formula of: this species, this place, this flavor. If you haven’t taken the plunge already, we encourage you to check out what’s got the Chambers Street Spirits Department swooning. Oskar Kostecki
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Produced from the wild agave Selmiana in the high altitude Central Mexican Plateau in the state of San Luis Potosi, this is a beautiful foil to traditional Oaxacan mezcal. The agave is not roasted, but cooked (similar to Tequila) resulting in a spirit that is not smokey, but instead bursts on the palate with a crazy array of flavors. Herbal and mineral tones weave their way through a bright citrus and floral character. There's a slight sourness, a funk that I associate with cheese rind, and noticeable acidity, which is quite shocking for a distillate. The wilder side of mezcal. What I also notice with my bottle of Selmiana is that it changes quite remarkably once open. When I first popped the cork, it felt slightly muted and withdrawn, but within 20 minutes all the exuberance I remembered from previous bottles was there again. It is fascinating watching the bottle change and evolve over a period of weeks. Oskar Kostecki
Fabrica La Alteña, located in the "Golden Triangle of Tequila," in the highland town of Arandas, has been crafting some of the most interesting tequilas for close to a hundred years. As one of their most cherished brands, Tapatio has been extremely popular in Mexico, but only recently available in the United States. Made using very traditional methods, the agave is crushed by tahona, with distillation in copper alembic stills, distilling not just the juice but also the fiber of the agave. Tapatio has a rich flavor and definite presence on the palate. The 110 proof intrigued us as being one of very few over-proof tequilas on the market. The nose leads with eucalyptus, mint, chalk, rainwater and honeysuckle. The palate is intense in flavor, but drinks more smoothly than its proof would have you believe. The herbaceousness of the nose follows through on the palate, more eucalyptus, tea tree oil, aloe. Notes of melon rind and raw honey, a viscous, oily texture and very long finish. With a few drops of water more sweetness emerges, along with citrus zest. We don't hesitate drinking this neat, but it also makes one of the best Paloma cocktails we've ever had. Oskar Kostecki
Tapatio Reposado is how aged tequila should be. The notes of spice and pepper coming from oak aging integrate wonderfully with the natural sweetness and tropical fruit quality of the Blue Weber agave. As you take more time with this tequila, it reveals hints of caramel, cacao, toasted coconut and floral perfume. A grassy undertone leads to a crisp and mineral finish. Great as a sipper, this finds a perfect home in cocktails,from Margaritas and Palomas to a Tequila Old-Fashioned. Oskar Kostecki
One of the only mezcales that is farmed biodynamically, Fidencio Clasico comes from the heartland of agave distillation in Oaxaca, Santiago Matatlan. Maestro Mezcalero Enrique Jimenez allows his espadin agave to mature for at least 10 years (most is cut down at 7) before harvesting and fermenting using only natural ambient yeast. An assertive smokiness on the attack gives way to fruit, specifically melon, grapefruit, and under-ripe banana. The finish resolves with a minerality reminiscent of hot stones and salinity. A perfect cocktail option. Oskar Kostecki
Fidencio Tierra Blanca is the ultimate proof that terroir exists in mezcal. The agave used for this extremely small batch bottling come from the same estate as for Fidencio Classico, the only difference being that they are harvested from a small vein of chalk running straight through the property. This is the first time these plants are being distilled separately, and there is only enough for 3 small batches. After they are done, we will have to wait close to a decade to experience this mezcal again. Right on the attack this mezcal is chalky and mineraly, along with a hint of salt water taffy. Only after a second or two do you get a burst of tropical fruit, melon and citrus. Honeyed graham crackers, caramel and baking spice interweave through the long finish. The Fidencio Tierra Blanca is not only bottled at a higher proof than the Classico, but all the flavors are amplified. A truly magnificent example of Espadin. Oskar Kostecki.
This bottling for Nuestra Soledad is the only Espadin-based mezcal that Maestro Mezcalero Pedro Vazquez produces. Made using agave cultivated in the highlands of Miahuatlan, this mezcal is broad, herbaceous and rich on the palate. Salinity and minerality interplay with tropical fruit, ripe banana, melon rind, and cherry making this a very textured and complex expression of Espadin. Oskar Kostecki
Raicilla, a mezcal made in the state of Jalisco, has a 500-year history of agave distillation, using the myriad species that grow in this mountainous region. Puntas, or "heads" in Spanish, are the first part of the distillation process, occasionally used to adjust proof, and very rarely bottled on their own. These excruciatingly small batch bottlings of puntas carry all the intensity and depth of flavor that first made us fall in love with mezcal, and keep us swooning. This particular batch, made by Don Geraldo Peña from agave Maximiliana growing wild in the Sierra Occidental of Jalisco, is particularly exemplary. It automatically asserts itself on the palate, arriving with a burst of earthy and herbal flavors, mint and eucalyptus, tea tree oil, that then give way to floral perfume, violets, notes of cherry, vanilla, and other soft spices. There is huge intensity and presence on the palate, coupled with acidity which is unusual for a spirit, making it one of the most complex distillates I've ever tasted. This bottle is your special occasion. Only 120 bottles produced, extremely limited. Oskar Kostecki
Not part of the agave family , Sotol, colloquially know as the desert spoon, is an evergreen shrub that grows in the northern parts of Mexico and southern United States. For centuries it has been distilled in the Sierra Madras Mountains of northern Chihuahua into a spirit similar to mezcal. When we first asked about it, our friend Justin Briggs described it so: " basically it's like bell peppers, grass, smoke, fresh garden after a thunderstorm and slate." And we still haven't found better terms for this uncategorizable spirit. Oskar Kostecki