We’re willing to bet good money that you’ve indulged in tequila on more than one occasion — or perhaps even overindulged. But you might not be as familiar with what we like to think of as tequila’s older, smokier and all-around more mature brother: mezcal. Over the past decade, mezcal has experienced a surge in popularity outside of its native Mexico, and our cocktails and palates are better for it. It’s quickly gone from behind-the-bar curiosity to top shelf spirit.
A quick note to remember as we talk mezcal: Technically, all tequila is a mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. (It’s the boozy version of the old math adage "All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.")
The History of Mezcal
Mezcal comes from the Nahuatl words metl and ixcalli, which together mean “oven cooked agave.” Centuries before the Spanish set foot in Mexico, indigenous people were using the agave plant both as a sweetener and to make pulque, a fermented alcohol. When the Spanish arrived, they brought distillation expertise, which came in handy when a trade route between Mexico and Manilla supplied them with stills. But they didn’t have the grapes to make brandy as they were accustomed. Lucky for them, the agave plant was there to offer its juices. After the first mezcals were made on the west coast in the 1500s, it didn’t take long for the spirit to spread throughout the country. Where there were Spanish settlers, there was mezcal.