What is Mezcal?
I thought it best to start on that big question – what even the hell is Mezcal? Isn’t it just expensive tequila? Well yes, mezcal and tequila are very similar but the best way to explain it is by highlighting that technically – Tequila itself is a form of Mezcal.
A Mezcal is defined as a drink that is made with any of the agave plants that are native to Central Mexico and some portions of the Southwestern US. A tequila on the other hand is a drink that is made with only one species of agave – Blue Agave. This goes on to the next question…
What is Agave?
Before you can even start to understand any of the drivel below – you’re going to have to know what an agave is. I certainly didn’t have much of a clue before researching this and I’m a still a bit confused but here goes.
You know those weird prickly plants that you see in the desert on cowboy films, the ones that look like the top bit of a pineapple? Well that’s an agave. There’s loads of different types and species but they all contain a syrup in the middle – a lovely bit of sweet sweet that can be used to make some seriously strong booze.
As mentioned, the Blue Agave is used solely for tequila production, therefore a Mezcal is the liquor that is made from any of the other agave species – with each one giving different tastes and flavours to the liquid.
Recent years have seen the production of Mezcal increase considerably, with loads of smaller artisanal and local producers getting in on the act and sales are soared. Typically made in Mexico’s Oaxaca state, Mezcal has become an almost cooler younger brother to tequila’s mass produced, corporate stooge.
How is Mezcal Made?
Mezcal is much smokier than tequila, and in fact someone told me a few weeks ago that Mezcal was just smoked Tequila – which is wrong but also pretty right. The smokiness comes from how they make it – they pull the agave out of the ground, chop it up to get to the heart (the piña) and then cook it in a big hole in the ground, usually using hot stones.
The cooked agave is then crushed, combined with water and allowed to ferment while tequila, on the other hand, isn’t cooked at all so you don’t get that smoky flavour. This extra flavour makes Mezcal more of a sipping drink (don’t shot it) and makes it perfect for cocktails.
People have always gone on about Mezcal being the next ‘new’ thing and although it’s still yet to eclipse tequila over here, people in the States are going crazy for the stuff and it’s popularity is slowly creeping in.
There are plenty of places in Manchester that offer at least one or two Mezcal’s but the selection at Pedro’s is seriously impressive. Let’s have a look at some of what they’ve got (as well as some pizzas to eat with em)…
QuiQuiRiQui is the perfect ‘introduction’ mezcal that isn’t too sweet and isn’t too smoky – pretty much something Goldilocks would steal off some bears in the woods. They’ve got a few different variations from different villages using different agaves but the best to start off with is the Matatlan variation, which hails from the small town recently hailed as the ‘World Capital of Mezcal’. It’s strong too – with an ABV of 48%, and its moderate flavours make it perfect for cocktails.
Pizza: Pedro’s Pepperoni – meaty & traditional – just like QuiQuiRiQui
Probably one of the most well-known Mezcals and certainly one of the pioneers of the premium mezcal movement, Del Maguey is available in many different variations and Pedro’s sell a fair whack of them. The label is a little controversial at the moment because it has just been acquired by drinks giant Pernod Ricard, something which many people see as the death-knoll for most small mezcal producers. For the time being though they are still fantastic mezcals which are fantastic in cocktails – especially their ‘Single Village’ line up.
Pizza: Pedro’s World Famous Hotdog Pizza – Beer Soaked Franks, American Cheese, Crispy Onions, French’s Mustard, Ketchup
Although it’s not officially classified as a Mezcal – La Venenosa certainly is one. It’s been produced for over 500 years and is officially known as a Raicilla – only because they decided to change the name of it in the 1780’s to avoid a tax imposed by the Spanish Crown. Each variation of the Raicilla is from a different region, each with its own tastes and techniques – and although I couldn’t really tell too much of a difference between the two on offer at Pedro’s NQ, someone with a more accomplished palate will most likely be able to.
Pizza: The Godfather Pt 2 – Spicy Meatballs, Tomato Ragu, Parmesan Shavings, Rocket, Garlic Oil
Montelobos Joven Mezcal
An unaged mezcal, Montelobos is crafted by molecular plant biologist Iván Saldaña so even though it’s still made using traditional method, like a tub of L’Oreal Elvive – there’s a lot of science that goes into it. Fully 100% organic, Montelobos (which dramatically means ‘Mountain of Wolves’) is the brainchild of Saldaña who studied at the University of Sussex and is considered a world-renowned expert on the agave plant. He must be a lot of fun at parties. The mezcal itself is another relatively entry-level number with a complex, smoky note that is perfect for sipping on its own.
Pizza: Blueberry Hill (v) – Feta, Red Onion, Blueberry, Watercress & Balsamic Glaze.
An unassuming bottle with a rather annoying black hand print on it, Marca Negra is famed for its fresh, clean taste and very high ABV – around 50%. They produce a rather impressive range of variations on their recipe, each one using different agave plants for different tastes and flavours much like wine or whiskey. Each agave gives a different taste such as the Arronqueno which is rich and tropical, while the Ensamble gives off a chocolatey, bubble gum vibe. There’s even one, the Tobala that comes in at 52% ABV and will blow your tits off – only for professionals.
Pizza: The KFC – Sriracha Fried Chicken, Mimchi Slaw, Red Chillies, Spring & Red Onion
This mezcal was originally designed for the Germans, who have embraced the drink to their bosoms as they did with holidays to Magaluf in the 80’s. As you’d expect for such a Hipster haven, Mezcal is extremely popular in the bars and dens of Berlin and San Cosme is probably the most common bottle you’ll find knocking about. It’s a decent, entry-level bottle of mezcal which goes perfectly well with pretty much everything and on its own with nothing.
Pizza: Lucky Lucky Kat, Katsu Curry Sauce, Spicy Panko Breaded Chicken, Red Chillies, Soy Soaked Leeks, Cashews
You’ll find a line of Alipus bottles in both Pedro’s locations, each one with a different colour bottle and varied contents. Alipus are basically an umbrella label who represent and bottle many smaller distilleries scattered throughout the state of Oaxaca. Each bottle has a little logo/crest towards the neck, representing the distillery it came from and the difference between the bottles is like chalk and cheese. For example, the pink Alipus from San Andrés is meaty and smoky while the Black San Juan is fruity and sweet. There’s a lot of praise for the pink one – go for that.
Pizza: Kimbo Slice – Pulled Pork, Pepperoni, Salami, Ham, Beer Soaked Frank, Smoked Bacon, Sweet Scotch Bonnet Sauce
Real Minero Barril Mezcal
A true family business, Real Minero Mezcal has been made by the same gang for over 4 generations and now each bottle is poured by Mother Dona Florentina, and each drop produced by Father Don Lorenzo and Son Eduardo, all while daughter Graiciela does the marketing. The mezcal itself is made by a very rustic and ancient method using clay stills and bamboo tubing. The Barril variation found at Pedro’s is a bit of an acquired taste – the barril agave is noted for its rather intense flavour but it’s definitely worth a try especially considering the fact that this variant is quite difficult to find outside of Mexico.
Pizza: Hawaii 5.0 – House Sliced Ham, Pulled Pork, Black Pepper & Pineapple
You’ll recognise Pierde Almas from its brown paper label depicting some weird looking creature with wings flying head first into an agave plant – and this is pretty much exactly how you’ll feel once you’ve had a couple of measures of these strong buggers. Each variation uncovers a different taste and strength but it’s the +9 bottle that you should really concentrate on. This beauty is a Mezcal & Botanicals hybrid – basically Mezcal and gin and is a brilliant replacement for everyone’s favourite British tipple. Try it in a Tonic or with some apple juice and you’ll never want to go back.
Pizza: Margarita (v)
My favourite bottle, each one depicts a little scene that could be straight out of Pixar’s Coco or that game from the 90’s that nobody seems to remember – Grim Fandango. Starting in 2010, Siete Misterios was devised by a bunch of people who were a little disheartened by big business encroaching on Mezcal production and ownership and wanted to halt the potential industrialisation of the drink (as was seen with tequila). They want mezcal to remain traditional and keep the old processes (and flavours) alive and this shows with their product. There are loads of different variations using different agave plants or methods – give them all the Pepsi Challenge to see which is your favourite.
Pizza: Wacko Jacko – Pepperoni, Jerk Chicken, Jack Cheese, Onion, Olives, Jalapeno