Move over, Tequila – the national liquor of Mexico has enjoyed the spotlight for generations, but the distilled alcoholic drink made from blue agave is now facing sibling rivalry from its historically less appreciated relative, Mezcal.
Nahuatl for "oven cooked agave", Mezcal or Mescal, like Tequila, comes from agave - a succulent plant resembling aloe and commonly mistaken for a cacti. While agave comes in over 200 species, Tequila is derived specifically from the blue agave in a highly regulated method in Jalisco. Mezcal, on the other hand, is made from a variety of different agaves in various parts of Mexico and can be combined in much the same way wine is, to create a more complex palette.
In recent years the younger generation in Mexico has taken an interest in underdog, Mezcal, making trendy what was once perceived to be a cheap drink for the poor and working class. New varieties of Mezcal, many of which wouldn't be considered "cheap" by most people, have popped up along with "mezcalerías" which are similar to wine bars in ambiance and dedicate themselves to serving a wide selection of the more than 150 brands of the now popular alcoholic drink.
While Mezcal is not as highly regulated as Tequila and can legally be made elsewhere while still being called Mezcal, not all Mezcal is considered authentic. According to The Guardian, the only Mexican states which are "certified agave-growing areas and production facilities" are Durango, Oaxaca, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí and Tamaulipas.
An Oaxacan saying goes, "Para todo mal, Mezcal, y para todo bien también" which translates to "For everything bad, Mezcal, and for everything good, as well" – and with the diverse brands being created, there is sure to be a Mezcal for every mood.
Tracy López is a bilingual writer living outside the Washington DC metro area. She is the founder of Latinaish.com.