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Preparing agave to make mezcal
Mezcal is smoky in flavor, served in a terracotta cup, and made in small batches—and its story is as complex as its flavor notes. The spirit’s process and origins are directly tied to its identity. Like another territory-specific product, Champagne, mezcal must be made in designated regions of Mexico in order to be considered “artisanal” or “ancestral.”
But unlike perennial wine grapes, most of the agave used to make mezcal comes with a unique array of challenges: It is resistant to domestication, grown under unique conditions, produces small yields, and requires a long maturation period.
Mezcal has a reputation as a bit of an outlaw in the spirits world—it’s been periodically banned and restricted—and its edgy flavor notes match its history. Often made by families in small batches in small villages and used in a variety of ways, this funky libation is integral to life in Oaxaca.
To make mezcal, agave hearts are roasted over a wood-burning fire, and although this makes the flavors deep, complex, and unique, the process also raises questions about the sustainability of the plant, as well its effects on the region’s environment.
Mezcal’s popularity is on the rise since it can be labeled as artisanal, organic, gluten-free, and vegan, but producers now face the need to balance meeting the demands of a burgeoning international market with more eco-friendly practices at home.
Hear, taste, and savor the full story of tequila’s smoky sister, mezcal, as Miguel Lancha, cocktail innovator for José Andrés ThinkFoodGroup restaurants (including Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, which boasts one of DC’s most extensive mezcal libraries) joins Joe Yonan, food and dining editor of the Washington Post, for a conversation and tasting.
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