If you haven’t been paying attention, mezcal is taking over the world. Importers are bringing new expressions of the spirit into the country and bartenders are turning to the smokier cousin of tequila to give cocktails more depth. Mezcal can be a bit of an acquired taste because of its smoked character (some love it, some don’t), but don’t let that turn you off of the spirit altogether. Like in the world of scotch, there’s a wide variety of smokiness to different bottles of mezcal. Some taste like a recently extinguished forest fire, while others barely have a hint of a blown-out birthday candle. These two new mezcals, introduced to the U.S. by Mezcales de Leyenda, help illustrate just how varied mezcal can be.
Mezcales de Leyenda has five different mezcals in their portfolio, and these two newest bottles are sourced from two different Mexican states, one from Puebla and the other from San Luis Potosi. Remember, mescal and tequila come from the same plant, but mezcal can be produced in a number of different Mexican states, while tequila has to come from Jalisco.
All five mezcals are certified USDA Organic and Fair Trade Certified, so pouring a glass of this stuff is basically like freeing a dolphin from a six-pack ring and teaching ESL in a third world village. Right? Right?!
Anyway, we tasted both mezcals back to back. Here’s what we thought.
Puebla is produced from agave poatorium, which is cooked in a lava rock-lined pit for four days before being fermented in open-air oak vats and double distilled in a copper still. It has an earthy, kind of nutty nose, which you’ll find again once you take your nose out of the glass and start drinking the stuff. There’s almost a meaty, coconut thing going on, as well as a caramel-like sweetness. All of that is carried away by a significant layer of peaty smoke that’s reminiscent of scotch. But it’s not nearly as smoky as most of the other mezcals on the market, and the smoke here isn’t overpowering; it works hand in hand with that sweetness, as well as a faint hint of salinity.
Put it on ice and it becomes incredibly citrusy. The smoke dissipates, as does the caramel, but you get bright notes of lime, more saltiness and maybe a little orange. Neat or on ice, it’s easy to sip. I like the sharp, citrus notes I found once the ice was added, but actually miss a bit of the smoke from before. It’s there in the aftertaste, but I want more of it in the sip over ice.
First of all, I like the name because it sounds like a swashbuckling hero who once saved a ship full of virgins from pirates. So that’s cool. This mezcal is produced from salmiana agave, cooked in traditional clay ovens for two days, then fermented in natural vats before being distilled in a copper still. SLP has a brighter nose than Puebla, more grassy than earthy and more reminiscent of tequila. The defining characteristic of this particular mezcal is how smooth it is. That sounds like a compliment, but hang on—while this mezcal is incredibly easy to drink, it’s also not as complex as its counterpart. There’s a grassy element in the taste, and a bit of alcohol heat, but almost no smoke whatsoever, and no layers of sweetness. On ice, things get better. A sweetness comes out to play, and I found a chili-pepper-like spiciness too. The more you let it open up in the ice, the more caramel you’ll find. But it’s still not as complex as the Puebla. It’s fine. Easy to drink. But I think San Luis Potosi is suited for cocktails, while Puebla is something I could sip neat.