Everyone knows mezcal. The liquor is made from a type of cactus which has a worm that contains hallucinogenic mescaline included in the bottle. Although that might appeal to some, most of the previous statement is patently false. Given that mezcal is gaining popularity with bartenders and mixologists, I thought a refresher course about mezcal might be in order. Let’s begin by debunking the previously stated myths.
Mezcal is made from up to 30 variations of the maguey or agave plant. Agave is no relation to cactus or to aloe, which it resembles in appearance. Agave is a succulent related to the yucca plant and thrives in torrid, arid climates because its shallow rhizome root network enables it to subsist on meager amounts of water. The “worm” is in fact not a worm at all, but is the larvae of the night butterfly or the agave snout weevil which infests agave plants. Spoiler alert: The high-end mezcals gaining popularity these days eschew the worm. And there is no hallucinogenic material involved, but some have enough alcohol one might still think they are seeing things.
Prior to the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the locals drank a milky beverage called “pulque” which was fermented from the agave plant. The myth was that a lightning bolt hit an agave plant, releasing sweet, cooked juice and leading to the moniker, “Nectar of the Gods.” When the Spanish arrived, they brought with them distilled spirits such as brandy. Once their supply was depleted, they turned to the readily available agave as a source of fermentable and then distillable libations. Mezcal earned Denomination of Origin status in 2005. Better quality bottles will feature a DOM number and a hologram sticker depicting an agave plant.
Although tequila and mezcal are similar, they have notable differences. Imagine that if tequila is a prim and…