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Mezcal – Rediscovered

The Fifty Best Mezcal Tasting 2019

 

The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 8 mezcals with 17 members of our spirits judging panel. Strict tasting rules were applied. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. Each of the mezcals were poured into fresh glasses from new sealed bottles, and served at slightly above room temperature. Only ice water, neutral unflavored crackers and chips were available to cleanse the palate.

The judges wrote down their impressions of each product on score sheets. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the highest. Double-Gold, Gold medals and Silver are awarded according to a set range of final point scores received from the judges. There were no bronze medals awarded for this tasting.

The tasting notes which follow are summaries of the judging panels’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. The agave species and municipalities of origin are identified for each mezcal.

 



DOUBLE-GOLD MEDAL WINNER

Alacrán Mezcal Joven
Agave Species: Espadin
(Oaxaca) 92° proof

Aroma: Vanilla, cream soda, honey, poached apple, pineapple, lemon, lime, citrus, green olives, green beans, grass, herbaceous, mint, anise, licorice, tarragon, white pepper, peppercorn, tobacco, mineral, brine, clay, smoke, wet bark, wood, pine.

Palate: Vanilla, creamy, cream soda, cane sugar, banana, tropical fruit, melon, lemon, citrus, grass, eucalyptus, anise, tarragon, almond, light pecans, pepper, peppercorns, spicy, tobacco, earthy, burnt clay, toasted wood, sweet smoke, light amusing smokiness, smooth, airy.

Finish: Vanilla, melon, charred pineapple, herbs, grass, pepper, white pepper, spicy, tobacco, smoky, minerals, smooth, easy, gentle.

Double Gold Medal
   Double Gold medal



   Alacrán Mezcal Joven



GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

GEM&BOLT Mezcal Joven

Agave Species: Espadin
(Oaxaca) 88° proof

Aroma: Vanilla, honey, pear liqueur, pineapple, pineapple juice, tropical fruit, melon, lemon, lime zest, fresh cut grass, green leaves, eucalyptus, mint leaves, menthol, vegetal, green pepper, dill, tarragon, oregano, spice, nutty, tobacco, mineral oil, brine, earthy, slate, wet stones, ocean mist.

Palate: Vanilla, creamy vanilla, cream, Juicy Fruit gum, corn, melon, citrus, fresh floral, candy cane mint, spearmint, fennel, vegetal, dill, grassy, sandalwood, tarragon, pink peppercorns, peppery, salty, mineral, chalky, charcoal, wood, oak, cedar, pine, full mouthfeel, creamy, rich body, pleasantly round, smooth.

Finish: Vanilla cream, green olives, eucalyptus, grassy, pepper, peppercorns, peppery, spicy, sweet spicy, BBQ smoked ribs, light smoke, smoky, cedar, fresh soil, smooth.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



GEM&BOLT Mezcal Joven



Casta Tribal Mezcal Ensamble Joven
Agave Species: Espadin/Tepeztate
(Oaxaca) 84° proof

Aroma: Green apple, peach, lime, mint, peppermint, grassy, green herb, herbaceous, vegetal, habanero, pechuga, salinity, mineral, perfume, incense, bright green fire, earthy, peaty, char, smoke, very smoky, hearty, rich.

Palate: Prickly pear, citrus, agave, smoked Asian pear, orange blossom, herbaceous, herbal, eucalyptus, anise, grassy, braised greens, roasted vegetables, potatoes, oatmeal, pechuga, tobacco leaves, chili, tangy, salty sweetness, funk, peat, very light smoke, nice smoke, woody, well-balanced, smooth.

Finish: Agave, desert cactus, citrus, eucalyptus, mint, herbaceous, vegetal, dried leaves, moss, earthy, leather, soot, char, smoke, wood, balanced, tangy, clean, smooth.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



   Casta Tribal Mezcal Ensamble Espadin Tepeztate



Mezcal Marca Negra Espadin Joven
Agave Species: Espadin
(San Luis del Rio, Oaxaca) 100.6° proof

Aroma: Kettle corn, butterscotch, buttery, vanilla, honey, agave, vegetal, lime, herbal, anise, green pepper, bread yeast, salinity, leather, mineral, earth, burning leaves, char, light wood, clean, classic.

Palate: Pineapple, pear, citrus, lemon peel, ginger, thin mint, spearmint, herbal, agave, vegetal, black olives, pimento, green pepper, anise, thyme, white pepper, peppery, incense, mossy, forest floor, charcoal, charred, smoky, smoke, sharp oak, complex, balanced.

Finish: Vanilla, bubblegum, peach, pear, agave, citrus, minty, spearmint, anise, pepper, spicy, salted nuts, smoky vegetal, smoke, well balanced, hearty, smooth, pleasant, amazing.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



   Mezcal Marca Negra Espadin



Mezcal Marca Negra Ensamble Joven
Agave Species: Espadin, Sanmartin, Mexicano
(La Noria, Ejutla, Oaxaca) 98.6° proof

Aroma: Vanilla, vanilla bean, cream, honey, agave, sweet corn, buttered popcorn, warm butter, coconut oil, strained banana, grilled pear, herbaceous, herbal, incense, minerals, charcoal, char, gentle smoke, delicate.

Palate: Ripe agave, Meyer lemon, lemony, lime, pear, rose, herbal, mint, peppermint, leaves, unripe watercress, green pepper, peppery, toast, red slate, peaty, charred, smoky, nicely sweet, well-balanced, very creamy, velvety, smooth.

Finish: Agave, ginger, dried fruit, herbal, green pepper, peppery, white pepper, black pepper, roasted nuts, dusty, crisp, mineral, peat, light smoke, balanced, super-light, solid.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Mezcal Marca Negra Ensamble Espadin Sanmartin Mexicano



Casta Tribal Mezcal Joven
Agave Species: Espadin, Tobalá, Madrecuishe
(Oaxaca) 92° proof

Aroma: Peach, nectarine, pear, lime, citrus, charred agave, charred grapefruit, pickled fruit, floral, herbal, herbaceous, peppermint, grassy, mustard, tabasco, mineral oil, mineral, tobacco, musty wood, burning palm fronds, smoke, hearty.

Palate: Agave, melon, tart citrus, honey, charred guava, caramelized pineapple, sweet black olives, cucumber, grassy, cilantro, nutmeg, clove, incense, mineral oil, smoked, nice expression of smoke, sweet undertone, balanced, hearty, smooth, pillow and clouds, delicious.

Finish: Peach, pineapple, cocoa, herbs, minty, tea, grassy, oregano, incense, mineral, peat, smoke, wood, cedar, clean, smooth, hearty, flavorful, really enjoyable.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Casta Tribal Mezcal Ensamble Espadin Tobalá Madrecuishe



SILVER MEDAL WINNERS

Tres Papalote Mezcal Joven

Agave Species: Cupreata
(Guerrero) 92° proof

Aroma: Light vanilla, creamy, nectarine, light pineapple, melon, smoky fruitcake, smoked citrus, rosewater, floral, herbal, grassy, mint, wet stones, clean, faint smoke, bacon.

Palate: Cream soda, whipped cream, creamy, vanilla, honey, melon, sweet grapefruit, lime, lemon juice, dried fruit, agave, floral, anise, licorice, herbal, spearmint, grassy, green pepper, bell peppers, salsa, black pepper, peppery, cinnamon, leather, cedar, pine, charred wood planks, smoky, delicate.

Finish: Sweet cream, hot chocolate, honey, citrus, grassy, green olives, spicy, peppery, wet stone, light smoke, earthy, oak, cedar, well-rounded, tangy, fresh, smooth, creamy, velvety.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



Tres Papalote Mezcal Joven



Mezcal Marca Negra Joven
Agave Species: Tobalá
(San Luis del Rio, Oaxaca) 92° proof

Aroma: Cupcakes, vanilla, roasted agave, pear, lemon, lime, grassy, fresh-cut greens, herbal, floral, perfume, incense, saline, leather, earthy, smoke, burning oak, burnt wood.

Palate: Agave, roasted pineapples, pear, citrus, herbal, sage, thyme, spicy, peppery, sandalwood, red soil, earthy, dusty, chalky, musty, peat, smoky, woody, creamy, breezy, melodic.

Finish: Pear, eucalyptus, vegetal, herbal, sage, thyme, nutty, salty, peat, light smoke, woody, cedar, great balance, soft.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



Mezcal Marca Negra Tobalá

 


 

Mezcal had mystical origins when the Aztecs produced the beverage in Mexico centuries ago. Then it disappeared into relative obscurity until the 1960s; when groups of American hippies & ex-Vietnam war vets journeyed down to southern Mexico to escape conformity in the quest for mind-altering experiences. While there, the sampling of the local spirit was inevitable. And the mystique of the agave worm at the bottom of the bottles only enhanced mezcal’s mystique.

The Zapotec Indians were the first civilization to process agaves for clothes, food and drink– the oldest recorded site of this is El Palmillo in Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca. The agaves were domesticated and harvested for food and fiber, and eventually pulque (a milky, slightly foamy, viscous beverage made by fermenting and not distilling the sap of certain types of agave). The original technique for distillation was shared with the Zapotecs by Filipino slaves freed by the Spanish in Mexico in the 1500s. They taught the Zapotecs to use clay pot stills and carrizo (Oaxacan bamboo) cooling tubes to distill fermented agave juice into Mezcal. Later, the Spanish put to use their alambique (which is a Spanish derivation of an Arab word for a distillation technique that was brought to Spain during the Moorish invasion). It is still debated whether the Spaniards brought the distillation process to Mexico or if the indigenous tribes had the knowledge before the conquistadors got there.

The distilled spirit allowed to be called "tequila" is produced solely from the Blue Weber agave and grown only in the designated areas of Jalisco or one of four neighboring states. But there are many other types of agaves in Mexico, such as Espadín, Manso, Cenizo, Arroqueño, the rare wild Tobalá, Madrecuixe, and more than 50 other subspecies. Several of these agaves are the pricipal ingredient in mezcal. Nine designated areas in Mexico are formally recognized to produce mezcals, including Oaxaca and Guerrero in the south all the way central north to Zacatecas and Durango.

After 8 years of growth, the mature agaves are harvested and the leaves are cut off with a machete. The heart of the agave plant, or piñas, are halved and quartered, then slow-roasted in conical pits ("palenques") dug in the ground and lined with red-hot rocks with the top covered over by moist fibres, or in brick ovens. After cooking for a few days, the now caramelized piñas are crushed with a large stone wheel pulled by a horse or donkey, or pounded by hand with a mallet. The pulverized juice is transferred to wooden or cement vats for fermentation for about two weeks; then placed in rustic fire-burning clay or copper pot stills, and distilled twice or three times to bottling proof or close to it. The resulting spirit is distinctively very smoky, briny, deep and intense– similar to Islay single-malt scotch whiskey.

Mezcal bottled directly from the still is called blanco, plata ("silver") or joven ("young"). Reposado is aged in casks for two months up to one year, añejo if aged more than a year. Approximately seven tons of raw piña yields 265 gallons (1,000 liters) or 111 cases of mezcal. Most mezcaleros are single village small-craft artisanal producers, producing very limited quanties. Because of the difficult cultivation of the agaves and limited production, a good mezcal is typically priced above $50.

The gusano, or "worm" is actually a larva that infests the roots of the agave plant. Originally used as an appellation control element, the worm does not serve any function other than as a marketing gimmick. However, some experts claim that the worm definitely adds flavor to the mezcal. Despite popular belief, consuming the worm is non-hallucinogenic. Nowadays, aficionados consider a mezcal with a worm to be inferior in quality.

Slowly gaining on the heels of its cousin tequila, mezcals are now earning allegiance by serious connoisseurs, hipsters and mixologists. It is said that mezcal is "Mexico in a bottle”. We'd like to add, “Viva la mezcal revolución!”

 

 

 

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