01. Mezcal

The word mezcal, used to describe spirits distilled from agave, derives from an Aztec word meaning cooked agave.” Mezcal is made across Mexico from up to 50 different species of agave (and countless subvarieties), making it a broad, nebulous category that includes countless hyper-regional style variations. Remember: tequila is a regional type of mezcal, made from just the one kind of agave, Weber Blue agave. 

Mezcal and tequila differ in certain production methods. Generally speaking, mezcal has earned a reputation as a smoky” agave spirit thanks to the traditional production techniques of cooking agave piñas in stone-lined pits in the earth (this is the element that imparts a smoky” quality). Mezcal is also often fermented in wooden tanks, stone-lined earthen tanks, or even animal hides, and distilled over direct fire in pot stills made from clay, wood, or copper.

The production of such spirits was, until recently, done on a very small scale and made for mostly local consumption, but the twenty-first century has seen widespread change come to the mezcal trade as interest in the ancestral and traditional version of this spirit category has grown in markets like the US, Europe, and even in major cities in Mexico, where such spirits were once considered unfashionable. Now, the variety of producers making the spirit ranges from small rural outfits using rudimentary techniques to much larger facilities using more modern technologies. 

Mezcal received an official DO from the Mexican government in 1994, which stated that agave distillates can only be called mezcal if made within certain states. Today 9 states are allowed to call their mezcal Mezcal”: Oaxaca, Durango, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Michoacán, and Puebla. Several states (Aguascalientes, Estado de Mexico and Morelos) petitioned for inclusion in the DO in 2019 but have been unsuccessful to date.

In 1997, the Consejo Regulador del Mezcal was formed to oversee and enforce rules and regulations surrounding production (similar to tequila’s CRT). Like tequila, spirits may not be considered certified mezcal unless they are produced in accordance with mezcal’s norma, and their producers must be registered with the CRM.

In 2017 NOM 70 was passed into law, delineating three categories and six different classes of mezcal.

CONSEJO REGULADOR DEL MEZCAL (CRM), formed in 1997, to oversee and enforce rules and regulations surrounding mezcal production.