Move Over Tequila, It's Mezcal's Time to Shine

Move Over Tequila, It's Mezcal's Time to Shine

Production of Mezcal, the smoky sister of tequila, is on the rise to meet the recent surge in consumer demand. 

Sales of this beverage has grown from 50,000 cases being sold in 2009 to 350,000 being sold last year. 

The distilled alcoholic beverage is made from any plants native to Mexico. Tequila, on the other hand, can only be made with one variety, the Blue Agave, a plant that is currently experiencing a massive shortage. 

The taste of Mezcal is often described as smokey, paired with citrus or floral notes. 

What makes Mezcal interesting is the wide range of flavors of the alcoholic beverage. 

“Mezcal can be sweet, smoky, and earthy all in one—and the depth of flavor was amazing. But what caught my interest was that all of those flavor notes changed significantly based on producers and single-family makers. It’s one of the coolest spirits out there considering both flavor and history," said Evan Hawkins, the beverage director of Fox Lifestyle Hospitality Group to "Forbes."

Not sure how to incorporate Mezcal to your beverage menu?

“First, I thought about how I would use the mezcals, so I went down a usage list: from the go-tos, to ones with unique flavors, to those expensive sippers that push the spirit to a new stratosphere,” said Hawkins. “I just approached the spirit through its diversity and usage. I was also beneficial to think about if I had a mezcal bar where I wanted something for every kind of mezcal drinker—cocktails, sippers, highballs, and top shelf."

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Foodable Labs Ranks Top Mezcal Brands

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In the past 90 days, 328K beverage influencers have mentioned the spirit: Mezcal.

Mezcal originates from Mexico and it’s made from the plant agave— just like tequila. What’s the difference between the two, you ask?

Well, technically tequila is considered a type of mezcal but all mezcals are not the same as tequilas. The main reason why is because mezcals are ANY agave-based liquor made from ANY type of agave plant grown ANYWHERE in Mexico. Tequilas in the other hand are strictly made from the Blue Agave plant.

Now that we understand the difference, let's get back to mezcals.

One of the things that is so exciting about this spirit is the fact that it can be made out of over 30 different types of agave plants. Another is the distinct artisanal process to produce mezcal.

The distillation process is over two centuries old and it involves burying and slow roasting the heart of the agave plants in wood-fired earth pits with volcanic rocks. Have you ever tasted mezcal neat? Did you notice a smoky flavor? This process is how you get that distinct taste!

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Grasshoppers, the New Protein Jumping Out of Oaxacan Restaurant Cultura

In a small California beach city known as Carmel-by-the-Sea, Chef John Cox and partner Sarah Kabat-Marcy are bringing a little taste of Oaxaca, Mexico, to their restaurant, Cultura Comida y Bebida. John and Sarah met while working together at Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar restaurant. Their shared love of Oaxacan and other Mexican flavors has translated into a tasty menu of food and drink, some of which use alternative proteins like chapulines.

What are chapulines? Grasshoppers! In an era of increased environmental awareness, Cox wants to teach his community about alternative proteins and how delicious they can be.

“When you look at something like beef that takes two years to produce, it takes tons — literally tons — of feed for every pound of meat that we’re getting, and then you look at crickets or grasshoppers. It’s the same protein content, its higher iron and calcium. This is almost an inevitable shift in the way that we eat as a culture,” he said.

Chapulines are commonly eaten in Mexico after being toasted on a comal (a clay cooking surface) with lime juice, chili, and salt.

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Another alternative protein the partners play with is Sal de Gusano or worm salt. Sal de Gusano is made from the larvae of a moth that lives in an Agave plant. After the moth larvae are harvested, they are comal toasted and ground up with chiles and salts to produce an earthy, spicy, and umami flavor. This salt is then served as an accouterment to Mezcal, along with oranges and some more chapulines.  

“You can either sprinkle a little over the orange and have a bite between sips, or dip your finger in the salt and taste the salt between sips as well,” Kabat-Marcy said, explaining that there is no right way to enjoy the Sal de Gusano with Mezcal.

“We’re not, definitely not, self-proclaimed experts on Mexico or Mexican culture, but it’s something that we feel passionate about, something that we want to learn about," Cox added. "And when we go, whether it’s to Mexico City or Merida or Oaxaca, we’re always open for new experiences and we hope that we bring a little piece of that back home to share with the guests.”

Learn more about the tasty alternative proteins and Oaxacan-inspired dishes at Cultura on this episode of "On Foodable Side Dish!"