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The Art that is Mezcal

Mezcal and tequila are Mexican spirits distilled from agaves (those spiky plants, also known as maguey). Mezcal (or mescal) is the generic term, tequila being a regional type of mezcal. The name mezcal comes from mexcalmetl, Nahuatl for agave.

Making mezcal

Once the agave, or maguey, has reached maturity, it is harvested. The leaves are cut off; the heart of the agave, called the piña is used. Traditionally, the piñas are baked in rock-lined conical pits, or palenques, and then ground to a mash with a stone grinding wheel. The modern industrial producers cook the piñas in stainless steel steam ovens and use mechanical crushers. The mash is then fermented and double-distilled. The mezcal may be bottled immediately, or aged. Aging times are quite short compared to some other spirits (a 4 year old whiskey is young, a 4 year old mezcal is old).


Tequila is mezcal made in an area near the town of Tequila, in the state of Jalisco. Tequila is made from the blue agave, Agave tequilana. Tequila only needs to be made from 51% agave, the remainder usually being corn or cane sugar. Of course, there are 100% agave tequilas as well.


Worms in tequila? Well, no, since worms are not on the list of ingredients allowed in tequila by the Mexican government. Worms in mezcal, yes, sometimes. The worm is an agave worm, or gusano.There is a lot of folklore surrounding the worm, with rumours that the worm is hallucinogenic, or a source of great heroism, or simply that the pickling of the worm is a proof of potency of the spirit. In any case, the eating of the worm is often made into a ritual of machismo. However, the worm isn't particularly traditional; it's a modern marketing gimmick. Read the true story of the worm on the Del Maguey web site.

Some tequila and mezcal terms:
añejo - aged for more than a year, in barrels of 350 litres or smaller
blanco - white tequila, aged less than 2 months
reposado - rested - aged for between 2 months and year

And the list:

Cuervo Especial Tequila: 1000 ml bottle
From Jose Cuervo, this is a reasonable quality and reasonably priced tequila. Good mixer for margaritas, and quite drinkable straight.
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Del Maguey Chichicapa:
[Read more about Del Maguey single village mezcals]
This mezcal has a light, sweet aroma, and a surprisingly sour and minty mild and subtle taste, with a long-lasting dry and smoky aftertaste. Definitely good, and good craftsmanship, but not particularly to our tastes. 49.2% alcohol.
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Del Maguey Minero:
Very traditional, this mezcal is distilled in a clay still with bamboo tubing. Sweetly aromatic, with a tangy nose, this mezcal is deeply and strongly flavoured. Fruity and sweet, and delightfully tangy. And smooth too. Distinctive, interesting, and tasty. 49.1% alcohol.
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Del Maguey San Luis del Rio:
The best of the Del Maguey single village mezcals. It has a fairly mild aroma, sweet and slightly smoky. This mezcal has a perfectly balanced taste, with sweet, smoky and spicy elements complementing each other beautifully. Very smooth and easy to drink, even with a 48.3% alcohol content. The Rolls-Royce of mezcal?
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Del Maguey Santo Domingo Albarradas:
This is a light and clean mezcal, with a sweetish, lightly spicy, rather woody flavour. Flawless. 49.2% alcohol.
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El Toro Gold:
The best thing about this tequila is the cute little red plastic sombrero on the cap. Harsh, and quite unpleasant to drink. Can be cooked with, and this is probably the best use, except perhaps as an industrial solvent.
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Mi Amigo:
Silver tequila, bulk import into Australia. Respectably smooth, tastes okay, a fairly mild easy-drinking tequila. Perhaps too light in flavour for best mixing, but easily tolerable for drinking straight. 38% alcohol.
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Monte Alban Mezcal con Gusano: 50 ml bottle
I found this to be quite good. It's peppery and flavourful, with nary a trace of sweetness. This would probably make good Margaritas. For drinking straight, it's close to, but not as good, as Cuervo Especial. The other tasters didn't agree: "It's disgusting and it's got a bug in it" and "Fermented toilet water."
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Sauza Conmemorativo Tequila Añejo: 700 ml bottle box - front box - back 700 ml bottle with box
A pale yellow tequila. Rather delicately flavoured, this is a very smooth, well aged tequila. If you like tequila for the taste, you'll probably like this. The flavour might be a bit bland for some. The packaging forces special attention, as it has a pourer top to stop you from just swilling it straight from the bottle.
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Sauza Hornitos Reposado:
A light-straw coloured 100% agave tequila, this is strong and powerful, with an uncompromising (and not particularly pleasant to all) taste. A little harsh, but drinkable. A very good thing to drink when in the mood for the flavour. 40% alcohol.
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Sauza Tequila Blanco:
Advertised as Mexico's most popular silver tequila, and why not, as this is pretty good. Lightly peppery, and smooth enough to go down very easily. 38% alcohol.
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