We’ve already mentioned that artisanal mezcal is 100% agave – nothing added. Agave is a succulent plant native to Mexico and is long considered sacred in Mexican culture due to its versatile properties.
Agave can be very dramatic looking as it’s covered in spikes (I was once pinched by its needles while dancing in an agave field in Mexico, and it hurts! – no regrets) but it is oh so sweet inside!
Unlike tequila, which can only be produced from the Blue Agave (Agave Tequilana) grown in a specific region, there are dozens of agave species across Mexico that can be used for mezcal, making the spirit comparable to wine in its diversity of flavours. The exact number is a mystery, although the CRM (Mezcal Regulatory Council) has identified at least 12 main species and over 90 variations of maguey (name for agave species), which can grow across 9 states of Mexico.
Some of the most popular species, among producers and consumers, are Espadín (Angustifolia Haw), Chino (Cupreata), Cuish (Karwinskii), Tobalá (Potatorum) and Tepeztate (Marmorata).
Espadín is the most commonly and traditionally used agave in mezcal making thanks to its exceptional properties and easy cultivation. In fact, espadín is the only domesticated maguey, allowing producers to sustainably cultivate the plants without endangering the species. Espadín is also rich in sugars and one of the juiciest magueys, making it friendlier on people’s palates (especially for first time drinkers) and blends incredibly well in cocktails. Today espadín accounts for over 70% of the market.
Agaves are harvested when they reach their maturity age, which is usually between 8 to 12 years. The espadín used for Mezcal Xamán is harvested at 10 years of age to obtain the richest flavours. However, some types of agaves can take up to 20-30 years before they are picked to make mezcal.
All agaves yield completely different tastes for all palates. Even within the Espadin variety, age, climate, soil, altitude, all influence the flavour composition. Mezcal is the most complex spirit in the world! No two batches are the same and this is part of the magic! Espadín mezcal is known for its citric and earthy notes always accompanied by the distinct smoky taste and Xamán is no stranger to that.
Next time you have mezcal, appreciate the explosion of flavours by sipping it slowly (you don’t shot mezcal, you KISS it!).
The trick is not to put it directly on the tip of your tongue, which is particularly sensitive to tastes. Place it in the middle, and let your senses be stimulated by the magic of mezcal.