Mezcal and Tequila are two of the most misunderstood spirits that have ever been introduced to the states. They are so immersed with memories of nights ending in fights, or waking up with the worst hangovers, that for the longest time, they have been overlooked as qualified contenders to the scotches, wines and bourbons of this world. I know how that’s how it was for me. One night of drinking a shitty bottle of tequila and waking up next to the porcelain throne ruined me for a long, long time. So why do these two spirits have such a bad rap? Hopefully this article will spoil those preconceived notions and give you a better appreciation of the spirits I have grown to love.

To better understand these spirits, let’s break them down.

tequila-mezcal-2To begin, you need to understand what they are made of and where they come from. Tequila is made from the blue agave plant that is grown in one region of Mexico called Jalisco. There are three basic types: Blanco, Reposado and Anejo. Blanco, which means “white”, is bottled immediately after distil- lation or stored for less than two months; Reposado, which means “rested”, is tucked away in casks anywhere from two months to 364 days; and finally, Anejo, which means “aged”, can be rested anywhere from one to three years.

When buying a bottle of tequila, the most important thing to look for is if the bottle is a mixto or 100 percent agave. Mixto means that it is 51 percent agave, with 49 percent ad- ditives such as sugar or neutral spirits. The god-awful, headache inducing mixtos are the producers of those haunting memories from the past, so do yourself a favor, and check the label before purchase.

Next, let’s take a look at the question most people ask: What is mezcal and how does it differ from its sibling tequila? While tequila comes from the region of Jalisco, mezcal comes from the region of Oaxaca, which is located on the southern peninsula of Mexico. Unlike tequila, mezcal can be produced from any number of agave plants, although the vast proportions of distillers use the espa- din agave. While tequila is roasted mainly in factories, mezcal is roasted in rock-lined pits called palenques and are produced mostly by small villages. The palenques are covered to seal in the smoke. Sealing in the smoke enhances the flavor of the spirit and gives it the smokiness that you would find in a peaty scotch.

tequila-mezcal-3Now that you understand the basics, let me share a couple of my favorites that you can find here in the Utah liquor stores. Espolon Tequila makes very nice Reposado and Blan- co tequilas that run around 25 dollars a bot- tle. Although both are great by themselves, I prefer to use them for mixing in cocktails. Herradura is also another favorite of mine es- pecially their silver tequila that runs around 43 dollars. With its woody, citric and slight herbal notes, I prefer to drink it neat or on the rocks with a lemon twist. If you are looking for a nice Anejo tequila, I recommend the Corzo Anejo. A top shelf tequila that is priced quite moderately for its complex flavor, I find it the best value.

Utah liquor stores have yet to break into the Mezcal world, since only recently has it become what some would say “the next big thing”, so selection is limited. My favorite Mezcal that is available is called, Ilegal Mez- cal Reposado. Running 60 dollars a bottle, this Mezcal is best enjoyed by itself or over ice. If you are looking for a Mezcal for mixing into a cocktail, I recommend the Monte Al- ban Mezcal, which is a little more affordable, running around 23 dollars a bottle.

Cocktail Recipes

Italian Cactus

Add all ingredients to mixer. Add ice and stir until frost builds on glass. Strain into glass. Garnish with orange twist.

Maid In Mexico

Add cucumber slices and mint to a shaker and gently muddle. Add the rest of the ingredients, fill wuth ice and shake vigoursly. Strain into glass filled with ice. Garnish with mint sprig.

Nouveau Carre

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass or metal shaker. Add ice and stir ingredients until frost forms on glass. Strain into rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with lemon twist.