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The Original Agave Spirit: Mezcal Deep Dive

Wed, Jul 19, 23  |  agave spirits

Agave Spirits: Mezcal

Like its other agave counterparts, mezcal’s history dates back centuries and is rooted in the cultural heritage of Mexico. The origins of Mezcal can be traced to pre-Hispanic times when indigenous peoples in the area produced fermented beverages from agave plants. These early spirits were known as “pulque” and were made from the fermented sap of the agave plant.

The distillation techniques introduced to the indigenous peoples by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century played a significant role in the production of mezcal. The techniques brought by the Spanish along with the use of copper stills, led to the evolution of agave spirits from pulque to spirits like mezcal.

Unlike tequila, mezcal encompasses a wide range of agave spirits produced in Mexico. Originally, “mezcal” was a general term that was used to describe any spirit distilled from agave. However, over time, the term has become associated with the specific spirit produced in certain regions, most notable Oaxaca.

Oaxaca is located in southern Mexico and became a prominent center for the production of mezcal. The diverse agave species in the region, along with fertile soils and ideal climate, all helped contribute to the creation of unique and highly regarded mezcal. Oaxaca continues to be renowned for the wide range of quality mezcals produced there today.

The production of Mezcal has historically been a craft deeply tied to local traditions and techniques. The traditional method of mezcal production involves roasting the agaves hearts in underground pits that are lined with volcanic rocks. This unique roasting process gives mezcal its distinctive smoky flavor.

Though Oaxaca is arguably the most well-known producer of mezcal, production is not limited to that region alone. Other states in Mexico like Guerrero, Durango, Michoacan, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, and Puebla, also produce mezcal. Each region brings its own unique agave varieties, production methods, and flavor profiles to the table, benefiting the diversity of mezcal available today.

While still firmly rooted in historical traditions and production methods, mezcal has experienced a resurgence in popularity and global acknowledgement. Gaining acclaim for its artisanal production methods, unique flavors, and cultural roots, the appreciation for traditional, small-batched mezcals has led to an increase in he number of brands, and a focus on sustainability and preservation of traditional production techniques.

To help preserve the quality and heritage of mezcal, the government officially recognized it as a Denomination of Origin (DO) product in 1994. This ensures that the production of mezcal is regulated and protected and that only those mezcals produced in designated regions can be labeled as such.

Production Method

Unlike tequila, which is made exclusively from blue agave, mezcal can be produced from various species of agave plants. Some of the most commonly used agave species for mezcal include Espadin, Tobala, Tobaziche, Arroqueno, and many others. Each agave species contributes its unique flavors and characteristics to the final product.

The production process of mezcal is similar to tequila, but more often utilizes traditional production techniques in the process.

First the mature agave plants must be harvested and stripped down to the core, or piña. Traditionally, these piñas are cooked in underground pits lined with hot rocks. This cooking method is known as “roasting,” and imparts a smoky flavor to the agave. Modern techniques may use ovens or autoclaves for the cooking process.

The cooked plants are then crushed to extract the juices. Traditional production methods use a stone wheel called a tahona, that is pulled by a horse or mule, to crush the piñas. The resulting extracted juice is then collected for fermentation.

The agave juice is then fermented in large vats or barrels. In traditional production, natural airborne yeasts initiate fermentation, which can last from a few days to several weeks. This fermentation process contributes to the complexity and flavors in the final mezcal.

After the fermentation process, mezcal is typically distilled in a small clay or copper pot stills called “palenques” or “alambiques.” The resulting fermented juice, called mosto, is then distilled twice, and sometimes three times, to increase the alcohol content and strengthen the flavor. The resulting spirit is the final mezcal.

Region Varieties

The production of mezcal in Mexico is deeply rooted in specific regions and each has its own unique mezcal traditions and flavor profiles. These are some of the notable mezcal-producing regions:

Oaxaca: Considered the heartland of mezcal production, Oaxaca is known for producing a wide variety of mezcals, including those that are made from the rare and prized Tobala and Espadin agave varieties.

Durango: Mezcals from Durango will often feature flavors that range from smoky and earthy to fruity and floral. The agave species Cenizo and Durangensis are commonly used in this region.

Guerrero: Mezcal production in Guerrero is characterized by rich and robust flavors. Varieties of agave like Cupreata and Mexicano are commonly used in this region.


Mezcal’s production methods, regional characteristics, and diverse agave varieties make it both distinctive and celebrated among enthusiasts around the world. Today, mezcal is lauded as a spirit that showcases the rich cultural heritage and craftsmanship of Mexico and its historical roots and traditional methods continue to capture agave lovers everywhere.

By benhemstock117@gmail.com

Tags: agave spirits mezcal