It’s not the thing with the worm
There’s a lot of misunderstanding and debate about the worm in mescal. What most specialists agree on, is as follows: it was invented by a guy in the 50’s to help sell his terrible “mescal”. And it worked…for tourists and the lot. The worm is in fact a larva that infests the agave the mescal is made from. I was told once, that it was just to mark the mescals that were made with infested crops of agave, but I don’t know if that is true. The only thing I know for sure is that you should avoid any bottle with worms in it. Be it mescal or anything else.
The real Mezcal
Most people in our country are rather suspicious about agave based spirits, like tequila and mezcal. We know it from our glorious student times, when we got drunk fast on the so-called “tequila boom boom”. You know, the thing with the lime and the salt. Actually those tequilas we drank back then, were crap to begin with, when it doesn’t say ‘100% agave’ on the bottle, you probably want to throw it away. It’s hangover juice, that’s what we drank. Tequila is actually a mezcal made solely from the blue agave. But the real deal, the true Mezcal, is something else entirely. (I don’t want to say that tequila is bad, I’m just saying that the tequila we drank when we were in our twenties was a poor choice. There are some fine tequilas available in specialist stores)
Traditional, artisanal, pure liquid passion
First of all, it is 100% artisanal. There isn’t a single machine involved in the process. Apart from their own minds, their passion, their traditions en their experience, the most complicated thing they use is a horse. Imagine the millions of tubes, valves, dials and switches you encounter in an average distillery…now imagine a horse.
The fermentation of the agave for instance, takes place for 5 to 12 days in wooden containers. The Maestro Mezcalero will listen to the wooden containers each day and he will hear (!) when the fermentation is ok.
They also measure the alcohol volume by counting bubbles. It’s not magic, just experience. They leave the mescal for 7 years in glass containers to rest and lower the alcohol burn (not the volume, but the feeling). It doesn’t need wooden casks to improve its taste. “Mezcal is aged in the Earth,” so they say.
Terroir and tradition
There are about 40 different species of agave used for the production of mezcal, each with it’s own specific flavour. Also the area from which they come, the soil type and the height at which they grow, have influence on the taste. It’s the “terroir” of the agave as it were.
Also every village that makes mezcal have their own traditions and ways to make their product, which results in different mezcals and of course every batch differs from the previous.
Respect and rituals
The mezcaleros have an enormous respect for the spirit, the agave and the earth. They make libations to the gods and Mother Earth while drinking and producing it. Mezcal is the celebrating drink on special occasions like a wedding, birth or death. There’s even a “ritual mezcal” for very special occasions, this is called ‘pechuga’, which means ‘breast’. And that is because they put the breast of a turkey and some fruit in the pot still, while making the mezcal. It tastes very special: umami, vegetal, agave, smokey, vaguely fruity with a hint of anise.
Nuestra Soledad and El Jolgorio
One afternoon in Cocktails@Nine (Antwerp), Asis Cortés from Casa Cortés explained to us everything, from the different kinds of agave to the production process of mezcal and the history and tradition of his family, who is making mezcal sinds 1840. We tasted Nuestra Soledad en 3 different El Jolgorios, of which one was Pechuga, they were all fantastic. Great stuff to drink, neat with a couple friends or to celebrate something. You should definitely try it! I already got a bottle on my wish list, together with a horse, a turkey and some agaves 😉
You can find more information here at Casa Cortés.
Thank you Asis Cortés, for a delicious afternoon with mezcal. Dixeebe! (pronounced as “dish-waay”, Zapotec English for “to your good health” and at the same time “thank you Earth”)