Origin

The mezcal market still largely depends on small-scale distillation. Produced on farms, some of which are situated over 2,000 metres above sea level (San Luis del Rio), mezcal production fits naturally into the agricultural cycle, rarely exceeding 400 litres per month.

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  • Agave cuite au four © Del Maguey
  • Moulin à agave © Del Maguey
  • Alambic © Del Maguey

Mezcal – precursor to tequila

Technically speaking, all tequila is mezcal, however, the reverse is not true.
Originally, all alcohol produced from agave juice was called mezcal. It was only in the 19th century that a distinction was made between the two spirits when, with the industrial revolution, it became possible to cook agave hearts (les piñas) in steam ovens, giving rise to tequila.
This was an advanced technique that was rapidly adopted by the majority of producers in the state of Jalisco, who left traditional cooking methods (ovens dug in the ground) to the Oaxaca mezcal producers.

Mezcal – Mexico’s soul

The mezcal market still largely depends on small-scale distillation. Produced on farms, some of which are situated over 2,000 metres above sea level (San Luis del Rio), mezcal production fits naturally into the agricultural cycle, rarely exceeding 400 litres per month.
There are an estimated 500 or so mezcal producers who still use traditional methods. Since 2005 each distillery – whatever its size – has had a name and identification number on their labels in order to be able to identify the origin of the product.

The heart of the agave

Mezcal production is permitted in seven states of Mexico: Oaxaca, Guerrero, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, Durango and Tamaulipas.
The natural geological constraints (mountains, poor soil) restrict the agave fruit which cannot be as intensively cultivated as in Jalisco. Producers often use terrace cultivation and the yield for the rarer varieties does not exceed 400 agaves per hectare.
Only one variety of agave, the Tequilana Weber Azul, can legally be used in the production of tequila; mezcal, however, can be produced from various species grown in the above-mentioned seven states. 
There is one dominant variety, however, called ‘espadin’. In Oaxaca, espadin accounts for almost 90% of the plants used, which exposes local growers to the same risks as those in Jalisco: using one sole variety of plant leads to weakened genes from continuous cloning, which in turn leave it more susceptible to disease and insect infestation (caterpillars). Agave growers run the risk of losing several years of work in a few months. To avoid this, several producers prefer to diversify and use other varieties.

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