Tasting: 2 Wild Agave Mezcals from Gracias a Dios

Drink Features mezcal
Tasting: 2 Wild Agave Mezcals from Gracias a Dios

In the world of agave-based spirits, much of what we end up drinking is based around the careful cultivation of planned agave–or maguey–harvests, grown by commercial farmers. This has grown more true over time, as the long ramp up in tequila and mezcal popularity in the U.S. and beyond has resulted in the mass planting of various species of agave throughout Mexico, to the point that in many places agave is now vastly overplanted, cratering prices. Put simply, there’s a lot of commercial agave out there these days, and enough time has passed that much of the quicker maturing species like the Blue Weber Agave used in tequila have had time to come of age.

At the same time, however, agave always grew naturally in Mexico, which is how the art of tequila and mezcal fermentation and distillation arose in the first place. Likewise, there are hundreds of known species of agave out there, several dozen of which can be used to make commercial mezcal. They’re all radically different plants, some of which take decades to mature and ripen for use in making spirits. Gracias a Dios is a company that is largely focused around that more esoteric pursuit, in allowing wild agaves to fully express their flavor in mezcal.

Each Gracias a Dios expression from owners Pablo Lopez, Enrique Jimenez, Xaime Niembro and Oscar Hernandez is a reflection of a single species of agave, with the Espadin expression functioning as a fairly affordable ($40 MSRP) flagship, and rarer agave varietals–many of which take longer to mature–commanding higher dollar figures. Each features a different flavor profile, though most are produced through the same traditional methods, cooking in conical earth ovens before fermentation in pine wood vats and double distillation in copper pot stills. The goal, unsurprisingly, is to capture as much terroir from each agave varietal as possible.

So with that said, let’s get to tasting two mezcal expressions from Gracias a Dios that both feature particularly old, mature agave.

Gracias a Dios Tobalá Mezcal

ABV: 45% (90 proof)
MSRP: $80

This Tobalá mezcal is made from agave between 10-13 years old when harvested. It feels like the more conventional of the two expressions, the one that is more likely to be immediately familiar to the average tequila and mezcal consumer. On the nose, this is rich in caramelized agave sweetness and grapefruit candy, with ribbons of more earthy mesquite. Initially, the nose registers as quite gentle in terms of real “smokiness,” though that characteristic does become more prominent over time as it sits in the glass. I’m getting butterscotch sweetness here, and floral notes, with the overall effect being something like a distant campfire as smelled from a citrus grove.

On the palate, the first and immediately impressive thing here is how gentle this is in terms of texture and ethanol–even at the slightly elevated proof point, this is not hot at all, and is very accessible. I’m getting big cooked agave sweetness again, along with orange and grapefruit citrus, with a profile that then turns pretty strongly toward charred wood and smoke–all the smokiness that isn’t present so much on the nose really rallies to come forward on the back end here. That melds pretty well with sweetly floral tones and deep, rich herbal roastiness. In general, this feels like it would be pretty immediately approachable to most consumers who enjoy mezcal, and I’m sure it would do just fine in a mezcalita, or modern mezcal cocktail such as the Naked & Famous.

Gracias a Dios Tepextate Mezcal

ABV: 45% (90 proof)
MSRP: $80

The Tepextate agave varietal is a particularly slow growing and maturing one, meaning that the plants used for this second mezcal expression were 20-25 years of age when they were finally harvested and roasted. Like the first expression, these are roasted in underground earthen ovens, fermented in pine vats and double distilled on copper pot stills.

On the nose, it’s immediately clear that this is a more individualistic, unusual expression–you certainly get a sense of “wildness” here. It’s very vegetal, fresh and “planty,” with notes of dried herbs, pine, rubber and resin, along with significant green bell pepper. The vivaciousness of those vegetal notes calls to mind how fresh and vegetal sotol can be as a spirit, though sotol is obviously made from a different plant than agave. In short, this smells less like conventional mezcal, and although there are traces of smoke present they’re harder for me to differentiate among the greener characteristics.

On the palate, this one strikes me as perhaps a bit drier up front than the Tobalá was, though there is still a throughline of sweetness here. That manifests as notes of mint/spearmint, bay leaf and bright lemon citrus–this seems somewhat more bright and acidic. Dried herbs, green pepper, pencil eraser and black pepper complete the unusual profile, with ribbons of charred wood and burnt cinnamon. All in all, I expect this one will be more challenging to the average agave spirits drinker, and something most likely to be embraced by the more adventurous consumer looking to experiment on the avant-garde of this category.

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident craft beer and spirits geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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