When thinking about Mexican spirits, Tequila might be the first drink to come to mind – but mezcal is on the rise. Part of the spirit’s new-found appeal is due to the diversity of styles mezcal can offer. While Tequila must meet very specific criteria – made with only Blue Weber agave and made in the state of Jalisco – mezcal can be made with a whole host of agave varieties from across Mexico.
Each variety of agave plant has its own flavour profile, resulting in very different flavours and aromas for each example of the spirit. Take mezcals made from Espadín or Agave Angustifolia: these are usually herby and light. Meanwhile, mezcals made from Tobalá or Agave Potatorum are usually distinctly fruity due to the agave’s long maturity time before harvest.
One thing that most mezcals have in common is their signature smokiness. This is due to the production process of making mezcal, and is another characteristic the agave spirit has that stands apart from Tequila. In mezcal production, the hearts of the agave plants, piñas, are cooked in pits in the ground, giving them a depth and smokiness that sets mezcal apart from Tequila (where the piñas are instead steamed in an oven). The resulting depth and complexity of mezcal makes it prime for pairing with food, mixing in cocktails or simply enjoying neat.
Clinching one of the top-scoring spots in the mezcal category at this year’s IWSC was Koch Arroqueño Mezcal, a spirit with ‘pine needles, blue cheese and subtle orchard fruits combining on the nose,’ according to judges. The complex mezcal was praised for a smoky palate with a jammy finish.
If Tobala is more your thing, Fósforo Tobala Mezcal comes highly recommended, receiving the Mezcal Trophy and a score of 98 points, and impressing judges with its palate, which displayed notes of ‘gooseberry jam, Bramley apple, sandalwood, zesty citrus and woodsmoke,’ and apparently came with a ‘an intriguing savoury quality.’
Keep reading below for the top-scoring mezcals from the IWSC 2023, and for tasting notes from the experts.
HOW DO WE JUDGE THESE SPIRITS?
We run a tightly structured, rigorous spirits tasting process. That means that each spirit sample is pre-poured into numbered glasses and assessed blindly by the judges. Most importantly, our IWSC spirit judges are experts in their field, who work across all sectors of the drinks industry. For evidence, see our full list of judges.
HOW DO WE SCORE THESE SPIRITS?
Only the best spirits sampled receive a Gold or Silver award. For example, to win Gold, spirits have to score between 95 and 100 points. Meanwhile, Silver wines range from 90 to 94 points. Click here to read more on our scoring system.
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