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Mezcal – Rediscovered

The Fifty Best Mezcal Tasting 2020

 

The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 9 mezcals with 16 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 WINNERS

Montelobos Mezcal Artesanal Joven
Agave Species: Espadin
(Puebla) Organic. 80° proof

Aroma: Smoked caramel honey, charred pineapple, citrus, grapefruit, raw fennel, green pepper, vegetal, herbal, spearmint, grassy, peppery, roasted nuts, chicory, toasty, earth, peaty, mesquite, campfire, smoke, oak, clambake, summer on the beach.

Palate: Lemon peel, lemon jelly slices, lime, citrus, pineapple, banana leaf, raw green beans, minty, spice, wood burning spices, brine, sweet earth, peaty, ash, smoke, tongue tingling, zesty, smooth.

Finish: Honey, cream, licorice, mint, cinnamon, brine, toasted seaweed, sandalwood ashes, embers, smoke, well balanced, smooth, ethereal, great, delicious.

Double Gold Medal
   Double Gold medal



   Montelobos Mezcal Artesanal Joven Espadín



Sacrum Mezcal Artesanal Joven
Agave Species: Madrecuishe
(Oaxaca) 80° proof

Aroma: Caramel, toffee, brown sugar, vanilla, charred vanilla, creamy, cream soda, honey, spicy honey, bright oranges, lemon, citrus, apple, dried figs, cookies, dandelion, nutmeg, clove, musty, peat, sweet smoke, light wood, oak, great char, bourbon-like.

Palate: Vanilla, peppery vanilla, creamy, sweet cream, roasted pineapple, orange zest, coconut flakes, birthday cake, honey, lemon blossom, floral, herbal, vegetal, green olive, mushrooms, nutmeg, clove, spicy, oak, earth, peat, peaty bourbon, balanced, mellow, delicate, soft, smoooooth, delicious.

Finish: Light caramel, creamy, vanilla, brown sugar, raisins, orange, shaved lime, mint, Indian paan, smoke, super smoky, zesty, mellow, soft, smooth, great, delicious.


Double Gold Medal
   Double Gold medal



   Sacrum Mezcal Artesanal Joven



Doña Vega Mezcal Joven
Agave Species: Espadin
(Oaxaca) 86° proof

Aroma: Charred fruit, coconut, roasted tomatillos, herbaceous, herbal, lemons, green pepper, vegetal, grass, sandalwood incense, clean crisp sea breeze, saline, briny, mesquite, BBQ, smoke, smoked meat, lusciously smoky.

Palate: Pepper, agave, roasted chilis, cane sugar, chicory, lemon, citrus, herbal, spearmint, grassy, liquid sandalwood, nutty, saline, peat, fire pit, BBQ, smoked bacon, smoky, nice sweetness, beautifully balanced, finesse.

Finish: Peppers, olives, herbs, grassy, roasted scallions, white pepper, salty, mineral, stone, charcoal, burnt oak, charred wood, bacon, nice smokiness, very soft, elegant.


Double Gold Medal
   Double Gold medal



   Doña Vega Mezcal Espadin Joven



GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

PWB Mezcal Joven Ultrapremium

Agave Species: Espadin
(Oaxaca) Organic. 100° proof

Aroma: Caramel, toffee, burnt vanilla, vanilla, cacao, brioche, sweet agave, banana, melon, verbena, olive, green beans, spinach, vegetal, jalapeño pickles, herbal, light mint, menthol, mineral.

Palate: Caramel, pineapple, tangerine, bitter orange, citrus, quince, smoked pears, roasted plantain, roasted corn, roasted flavors, bell peppers, herbs, nutty, sweet cinnamon, mint, ginger spice, spice, peppery, brine, mineral, resin, campfire, smoky, burnt wood, piney, cedar, complex, smooth.

Finish: Vanilla, honey, smoked fruits, charred banana leaf, ginger, herbs, mint, spice, black pepper, brine, juniper ashes, earth, smoky, wood, balanced, smooth.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



PWB Mezcal Joven Ultrapremium



Montelobos Mezcal Artesanal Joven
Agave Species: Tobalá
(Oaxaca) 80° proof

Aroma: Charred caramel, smoky honey, cream soda, orange Creamsicle, honey, coconut, pineapple, papaya, smoked grapefruit, lime, green agave, cut sage, floral, cut grass, grassy, mineral, earth, light smoke.

Palate: Praline, creamy, sweet toffee, brown sugar, pineapple, spiced pear, spicy raisins, roasted red bell pepper skins, buckwheat, light sandalwood, chili pepper, burnt pepper, spicy, briny, peat, smoke, applewood smoke, no rough edges.

Finish: Caramel, Mexican hot chocolate, honey, licorice, white pepper, fading chili pepper, spices, BBQ, cured meat, applewood smoke, charred oak, flavorful.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



   Montelobos Mezcal Artesanal Joven Tobalá



Doña Vega Mezcal Joven
Agave Species: Tobalá
(Oaxaca) 86° proof

Aroma: Green pepper, poblano pepper, cactus, green herbs, herbal, grass, lemongrass, menthol, incense, black walnuts, earth, mineral, red slate, charcoal, mesquite, smoke.

Palate: Lemongrass, lemon/lime notes, citrus, herbal, grassy, anise, dill, green pepper, chayote squash, vegetal, roasted tomato, jalapeño pepper, pepper, spice, salty, briny, charred meats, smoked game, smoky, very woody, balanced, smooth.

Finish: Lemongrass, grassy, lime, spice, salty, maritime, earthy, mineral, ash, fire pit, ethereal smoke, very woody, velvety, soft, mellow.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



   Doña Vega Mezcal Tobalá Joven



El Tinieblo Mezcal Artesanal Joven Ensamble
Agave Species: Espadin & Salmiana
(Tamaulipas) 108° proof

Aroma: Vanilla, smoked caramel, butter, rasmalai, sour cream, cream cheese danish, peach nectar, pears, sweet corn, popcorn, agave, bread, sweet peat, earthy.

Palate: Chocolate, creamy, honey, juicy pear, green apples, citrus, pineapple, roasted pineapple, smoked fruit, toasted coconut, cinnamon toast, herbal, pepper, chili pepper, light chicharron, BBQ, earth, campfire, smoke, sweet smoke, charred wood, smooth.

Finish: Papaya, charred papaya, pineapple, peach cream, light vanilla, sweetened bacon, cinnamon, spice, spicy, peppery, grassy, herbaceous, mineral, smoke, cedar, silky, ethereal,


Gold Medal
Gold medal



El Tinieblo Mezcal Artesanal Joven Ensamble Espadin Salmiana



La Fogata Mezcal Artesanal Añejo
Agave Species: Espadin
(Oaxaca) 80° proof

Aroma: Praline, banana cream soda, creamed corn, creamy, toasted marshmallow, Bazooka Joe bubble gum, papaya, apples, green apple, lime, green olives, herbal, toasted cereal, bread, salted peanuts, pepper, maple bacon, peaty, wet pine.

Palate: Vanilla, creamy, honey, pineapple, sweet apple, Fruity Pebbles, blue corn, peanuts, toast, sweet pepper, green pepper, pepper, vegetal, grassy, minty, herbal, tarragon, sandalwood, tobacco, mineral, light earth, hickory smoke, smoke, good flavor balance, extremely complex, smooth, mellow.

Finish: Caramel, vanilla, cream, pumpkin, blue corn, white pepper, juniper berry ashes, mineral, minerality, wet stone, earth, soft, satisfying.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



La Fogata Mezcal Artesanal Añejo



SILVER MEDAL WINNER

El Tinieblo Mezcal Artesanal Joven Ensamble

Agave Species: Espadin & Salmiana
(Tamaulipas) 80° proof

Aroma: Butterscotch, toffee, taffy, chocolate, coffee & cream, roasted pineapple, smoked bananas, plantains, peach, lemon, chipotle apple salsa, sweet cheese, smoked cheese, mac & cheese, cheesy, herbaceous, briny olives, black mushroom, strong bacon, burning sage, toasted oak, cedar.

Palate: Caramel, creamy, ambrosial, honey, roasted apples, tropical fruit, banana, kiwi, mango, fig, lime, buckwheat, charred corn, nutty, herbaceous, menthol, cinnamon, sweet pepper, pepper, applewood smoked bacon, sandalwood, musty, soil, oaky, smoky, smoked, smooth, bright, zesty.

Finish: Burnt vanilla, roasted agave, charred apple, honey, applewood bacon, pepper, spice, tobacco, mineral oil, mineral, earth, charcoal, smoke, woody, locust wood, clean.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



El Tinieblo Mezcal Artesanal Joven Ensamble Espadin Salmiana

 


 

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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