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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

August 15, 2013


Malternatives, eight espadin mezcals

After the dodgy ones ‘con guzano’ (worm – actually a caterpillar) that we had the other day, let’s go on with our exploration of mezcal. Mezcal (or mescal, MS Word really wants to write it mescal) has become one of my favourite maletrnative spirits since I’ve tried a few Real Mineros last year, thanks to my friend Nicholas. It’s one of the spirits that does not need aging since ‘everything’ is right there in the new make, which is exactly the contrary of 99% of the Scotch whiskies. Well, of course there’s ‘commercial’ crap in mezcal, like in any category, but I’ve decided to try to learn a little more about the best ones. And to me, learning means tasting! However, here are a few facts:


1. The best mescals are made out of 100% blue agave (maguey)

2. The best mescals come from the Oaxaca region of Mexico. They’re distilled from some kind of wine made out of ‘cooked agave’ using either copper pot stills, or small earth/clay pot stills.
3. Various varieties of agaves can be used, the most widely known being Espadin. The mescals can be made either out of one single variety (usually Espadin) or out of a blend of several varieties, including some wild ones.
4. The very best mescals come from ‘single villages’, where they are distilled in very small family distilleries. They’re artisan products. In mescal, ‘artisan’ really means ‘better’.

That’s pretty much all I seem to know. As usual, we’ll start this with a little aperitif, the only ‘aged’ mezcal we’ll have today, an anejo (minimum 1 years of aging). BTW, contrarily to whiskymakers who won’t tell you much about the barley they use (except sometimes Bruichladdich and maybe some new craft distillers), mescal producers are very proud of the varieties, their exact origins, the altitude, the soils in which they grow and so on. In that sense, they’re much closer to real good winemakers than to most whisky distillers.

Ilegal 'Añejo' (40%, OB, mezcal, anejo, 100% agave, +/-2013)

Ilegal 'Añejo' (40%, OB, mezcal, anejo, 100% agave, +/-2013) Three starsNothing illegal here, this seems to be much about branding and ‘stories’. It’s made from 100% espadin by Destileria Tlacolula and aged for 14 months in new or recharred whisky barrels. Colour: straw. Nose: this is immensely sour, briny and lemony at first nosing. Some vanilla and sawdust (more than pencil shavings) manage to shine through but the core remains on some kind of blend of lemon juice and seawater. There might be a little rancid butter and damp wood too, but very little smoke. I like this. After ten minutes, huge notes of lavender and violet sweets (not perfume!) Mouth: more smoke and liquorice, quite some vanilla and some gin. We’re closer to malt whisky now. A little chestnut honey too, those violet sweets again, then more dried fruits as well as some pastis (big aniseed). Sure this would be better at 43 or 46%, but it’s a spirit of high quality. Finish: unexpectedly long, much saltier now. Lemons in the aftertaste. Comments: a very entertaining aged spirit and despite the vanilla and the sweetness on the palate that are a little disturbing (vanilla is the new enemy!), I think this would please many a whisky drinker. SGP:552 - around 82 points.

Real Minero 'Espadin Organico' (45,9%, OB, mescal, joven, 100% Agave, batch L00401, 2008)

Real Minero 'Espadin Organico' (45,9%, OB, mescal, joven, 100% Agave, batch L00401, 2008) Four stars This one was distilled in some 80 litres clay pot still by the Angeles family in Santa Catarina Minas and bottled in 2008. It is single village mescal. We already tried another batch back in 2012 and loved it (WF 85). Colour: white. Nose: absolutely nothing to do with the Illegal. This is much more mineral and smoky, sweet as well (hazelnut liqueur?), and I cannot not think of Ardbeg’s new make (serious). Also gentian (hurray) and a little antiseptic, before more brine and green olives start to shine through. I told you, Ardbeg. It’s even to be wondered if they don’t make more ‘old style Ardbeg’ in Oaxaca than in Kildalton ;-). Capers. Great nose. Mouth: explodes in front of your palate with, successively, touches of honey, brine, black and green olives, maybe a little cardboard, smoked fish, lemon and lime juices and maybe one or two small gherkins. Finish: long, even smokier and quite ashy to boot. Juniper. Comments: top notch white mescal, with an amazing complexity and a very ‘Islay’ profile. Does that also come from the stills that are made out of clay? Try to try these! SGP:563 - around 87 points.
<< Lorenzo Angeles Hernandez

Alipus 'San Juan Espadin' (47%, Los Danzantes, mezcal, joven, 100% Agave, batch SJR004109, 2009)

Alipus 'San Juan Espadin' (47%, Los Danzantes, mezcal, joven, 100% Agave, batch SJR004109, 2009) Four stars Distilled in a 280 litres copper pot still by Don Joel Antonio Cruz in San Juan del Rio. The espadins were not irrigated, it seems. Colour: white. Nose: this one is even smokier than the Minero but it’s much less briney and globally less sour. Some fresh almonds, putty, a little tapenade, a faint dustiness, wet gravels, sour apples… So it’s quite smokier than the Minero but it’s also globally less aromatic, less complex as well. And less Islay. Mouth: ah, no, this is huge. It hasn’t got the same long and complex development but it’s high-impact smoky mescal, and in that sense we’re even more on Islay. Smoke and salt all over the place, plus a little wax ala Clynelish. Give this blind to some whisky pals and check their reactions! Finish: long, smoky, briny. Grapefruits and pears in the aftertaste. Comments: not a very complex one but the palate is spectacularly… peaty, if I may so? SGP:455 - around 85 points.

<< Joel Antonio Cruz

Del Maguey 'San Luis del Rio Azul 47' (47%, Del Maguey, mezcal, joven, +/-2013)

Del Maguey 'San Luis del Rio Azul 47' (47%, Del Maguey, mezcal, joven, +/-2013) Two stars and a half This small batch single village mescal by the famous Del Maguey brand comes from the same village as the ‘San Juan’ that we just had, which comes handy. Colour: white. Nose: more, much more happening again, but it’s a little ‘all over the place’ and reminds me of the Illegal. Bags of sour apples, butter and seawater, then some juniper, walnuts and a lot of capers. I may be completely wrong but it’s a little closer to white tequila. The biggest and the least complex so far. After twenty minutes: quite some solvent. Mouth: absolutely huge! I think it’s pretty narrow spirit but the brine is immense and this is almost olive juice (not oil). It’s even a little drying/earthy, which doesn’t happen very often with unaged spirits (unless you distil grass, I imagine). Sour. What’s sure is the smoke in the previous one did not come from the location, as this baby’s much, much less smoky. Finish: long, with a little more sweetness, more juniper… Maybe caraway? Comments: very good, but simpler than the two previous blanco ones. The notes of solvent are a little disturbing. SGP:561 - around 78 points.

Alipus 'San Baltazar Espadin' (47,2%, Los Danzantes, mezcal, joven, 100% Agave, batch 003/09SBG, 2009)

Alipus 'San Baltazar Espadin' (47,2%, Los Danzantes, mezcal, joven, 100% Agave, batch 003/09SBG, 2009) Two stars and a half This one was fermented in pine vats instead of oak. It was distilled by Don Cosme Hernandez in San Baltazar in 280 litres copper pot stills. Colour: white. Nose: a much gentler one again, more or less in the style of Alipus’ San Juan, only with less smoke. It’s maybe also a little more flowery, which is funny. Lilac? Touches of vanilla too, and yet this is unaged. A fairly rounded nose. Mouth: it sort of feels more like a reposado (a few months of age) as it’s got some vanilla and caramel. Strange… It’s a rounded one, there’s some cane sugar, even some gingerbread! Very good but a little too sweet ‘in this context’. The olives, capers, gherkins and the smoke are rather kept to minimal levels. Finish: long but sweet and kind of ‘coated’ while I enjoy zesty, sharp, clean ones better. Comments: I am absolutely sure that they wouldn’t have added sugar to this one (that would be forbidden anyway, I guess) but it feels a bit like they have. But it remains some very good mescal, of course. Not very smoky. SGP:642 - around 77 points.

<< Cosme Hernandez

Alipus 'San Andrés Espadin' (47,3%, Los Danzantes, mezcal, joven, 100% Agave, 2010)

Alipus 'San Andrés Espadin' (47,3%, Los Danzantes, mezcal, joven, 100% Agave, 2010) Three stars Fermented in cypress vats and distilled in copper pot stills by Don Valente Garcia Juarez in Xitlapehua. Colour: white. Nose: we’re very near the San Baltazar. This is delicate, slightly flowery mescal, it hasn’t got the others’ big briny/smoky profile. But some earth and roots there is, so this is very nice in my opinion, just a little shy for an artisan mescal. But the palate could be completely different, let’s see… Mouth: starts with tiny touches of plastic and smoked meat (this is no pechuga, is it?) and goes on with some kind of sweet grassiness. I like these grapefruits I have to say, the growing brininess, the gherkins that are becoming bigger (que gran horror!), the sweet touches of violet bonbons… Having said that, the body’s a bit thin, bizarrely. Finish: maybe a little short, but smokier. Smoked herbs and teas. Comments: the lightest of them all. You just don’t feel the 47%, which is dangerous. It’s a very pleasant one, I’d say, well worth a good score. SGP:552 - around 80 points.

<< Valente Garcia Juarez

Del Maguey 'Chichicapa' (47.8%, Del Maguey, mezcal, joven, +/-2013)

Del Maguey 'Chichicapa' (47.8%, Del Maguey, mezcal, joven, +/-2013) Four stars and a half This one is made by Don Faustino Garcia Vasquez, a ‘humble and talented craftsman with great respect for the ancient processes.’ Acording to some trusted sources, he’s using a continuous still instead of a classic post still. Sounds good! Colour: white. Nose: nothing to do with the others, this one has big wood smoke, straight in your face. That gives it also some tar and some petrol, maybe touches of burnt plastic and also some charcoal. Of course, the agave and the brine are obvious behind the smoke but globally, it’s all very smoky. Maybe a little hay as well, farmyard... Mouth: woohooo! Who did smuggle some Brora in Mexico? Sure I’m joking but this could really be mistaken for some nice sweet peaty whisky and believe me or not, it reminds of a peated Benriach I had the other day. We’re in Scotland… And there’s even quite some tar, oysters with Tabasco, sweetened lemon juice… It’s actually quite sweet, ‘above’ the huge peatiness. Finish: long, sweeter. Maybe a notch too sweet now, but that doesn’t matter. Comments: ‘Westering home and a song in the air, light in the eye and its good by to care…’etc, etc, etc. Seriously, I could have gone up to 90, it’s just that the sweetness is a tiny-wee notch excessive. SGP:655 - around 89 points.

Pierde Almas 'Espadin' (50,6%, OB, mezcal, joven, 100% Agave, batch #05-E, 2010)Faustino Sanchez

Pierde Almas 'Espadin' (50,6%, OB, mezcal, joven, 100% Agave, batch #05-E, 2010) Three stars Distilled by Don Faustino Sanchez & family in San Baltazar. Copper pot stills. Colour: white. Nose: bang! This is now spirity, quite aggressive, with quite some nail polish remover that we did not find in any of the others, but also a lovely earthiness. The green olives are back as well, and so are a few flowers, rather around honeyed yellow ones. Dandelions and such. In fact, once all this varnish has vanished (alliterations kill, S.!) we’re left with a fairly smooth and delicate mescal, with some overripe apples and probably other fruits. After twenty minutes: ouch, the solvents are back. Mouth: this one needs time, let’s not rush it. Starts a little rough and heavy, with some tutti frutti spirit and quite some limejuice. It’s actually a little eau-de-vie-ish, there’s also a lot of brine but it’s, maybe, a little dirty, in a way (well not quite dirty, but I’m sure you see what I mean)… It’s having a little trouble after the brilliant Chichicapa… Let’s try water! With water (while the nose became smokier but also much yeastier, with also more kelp): that worked, there are now lovely lemons and even touches of anchovies in brine. More fruits too, I’d swear I notice bananas! Finish: long, quite fruitier. Pears? Bananas? All that in brine, of course. Not that smoky. Comments: another excellent one, but I’m feeling very tired now. SGP:562 - around 82 points.

PS: in all confidence, that was a very difficult session. While I’m feeling pretty comfortable with around six or seven malt whiskies from the same distillery, it’s another story with spirits I’m not really used to. These mescals are all different, and yet there are very close tgo each other so you have to go to the remotest corners to detect all the nuances, and that consumes a lot of energy. But it’s fun!

(Portrait pictures, thanks to







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