Sipping Wisdom: How to Drink Mezcal

Mezcal is not just another alcoholic drink. It’s a product of centuries-old tradition and an integral part of Oaxacan culture.

The drink is made from the agave plant, which grows abundantly in Mexico. The process of making mezcal is labor-intensive and involves roasting the piña (the heart of the agave) in underground pits for days on end.

The history of mezcal can be traced back to pre-Hispanic times when it was consumed for its perceived medicinal properties. Over time, it became an important part of religious ceremonies and cultural celebrations in Oaxaca.

Today, mezcal has gained worldwide recognition as a premium spirit that represents the essence of Mexican culture. Knowing how to properly drink mezcal is important because it allows you to fully appreciate the unique flavors and aromas that set it apart from other spirits.

It’s not just about getting drunk; it’s about experiencing the magic that comes with drinking something that has been crafted with care by skilled artisans who take pride in their work. Whether you’re new to mezcal or a seasoned enthusiast, this guide will teach you everything you need to know about how to drink mezcal like an Oaxacan bartender.

From choosing the right bottle to pairing it with food or mixing up your own cocktails, we’ve got you covered. So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of mezcal!

Choosing the Right Mezcal

Understanding the Different Types of Agave Used

When it comes to choosing the right mezcal, one must first understand the different types of agave used. In Oaxaca, there are over 30 different species of agave that can be used to make mezcal, each with its own unique flavor profile.

Some of the most common varieties include Espadin, Tobala, Tepextate, and Madrecuishe. Espadin is the most commonly cultivated agave and is known for its sweet and smoky flavor.

Tobala is a smaller agave that takes longer to mature but results in a more complex flavor profile with hints of floral and fruit notes. Tepextate has a more vegetal taste with earthy undertones, while Madrecuishe has a bold and savory profile.

Knowing the Region Where It Was Produced

Another important factor in choosing the right mezcal is knowing where it was produced. Each region in Oaxaca produces mezcal with its own unique terroir that affects the taste and aroma. For example, mezcal from Miahuatlan has a distinct minerality due to its high limestone content in the soil, while mezcal from Santiago Matatlan has a smokier profile due to its traditional pit-roasting process.

It’s also important to note that some regions have certification denominations of origin (DO), which ensure quality control standards are met during production. These DOs include San Luis del Rio, Sola de Vega, Tlacolula de Matamoros, Yautepec de Zaragoza.

The Importance of Reading Labels

When choosing your mezcal it’s important to read labels carefully. Look for information on what type of agave was used (and if it’s wild or cultivated), where it was produced, and who the producer is. The label can also indicate if the mezcal is joven (young) or reposado (aged).

A good mezcal producer will take pride in their product and provide detailed information on the label. Knowing these details can help you make an informed decision and ensure that you’re getting a quality product that reflects the unique characteristics of Oaxacan mezcal.

Preparing Your Palate

Eating a Light Snack Before Drinking

Before sipping mezcal, it’s best to prepare your palate by eating a light snack. Oaxacan bartenders recommend eating something neutral like crackers or bread. This will help to neutralize your taste buds and remove any lingering flavors from previous meals.

Avoid strong-tasting foods, such as spicy or heavily seasoned dishes, which can affect the taste of the mezcal. Additionally, it’s best to avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach.

This can lead to faster intoxication and make it difficult to properly appreciate the flavors of the mezcal. By eating a light snack before drinking, you’ll be able to fully enjoy the unique taste and aroma of this traditional Mexican spirit.

Avoiding Strong Flavors that May Interfere with the Taste

When drinking mezcal, it’s important to avoid strong flavors that may interfere with its unique taste. Oaxacan bartenders recommend avoiding anything too sweet or sour, such as candy or citrus fruits.

It’s also important to avoid using mouthwash or brushing your teeth right before drinking mezcal. The strong flavors and scents from these products can linger in your mouth and affect how you perceive the drink.

By avoiding strong flavors that can overpower the taste of mezcal, you’ll be able to fully appreciate its complex flavor profile and enjoy it like a true connoisseur. ,

Preparing your palate is an essential step in enjoying mezcal as it enhances its flavor profile and allows for a full sensory experience. Eating something neutral before drinking helps cleanse your palate so that you’re not distracted by lingering tastes from previous meals while choosing simple snacks is ideal for maintaining focus on tasting and enjoying all aspects of this beloved Mexican spirit.

Serving and enjoying mezcal

Using a traditional clay copita or a snifter glass

When it comes to drinking mezcal, the type of glass you use can make a big difference in both the taste and experience. In Oaxaca, bartenders traditionally serve mezcal in small clay copitas, which are handmade and have a wide top with a narrow bottom. This shape allows for the aroma to be concentrated and for the drinker to fully appreciate the flavors of the mezcal.

However, if you don’t have access to these traditional glasses, you can also use a snifter glass. The important thing is that it’s small and able to capture the spirit of mezcal.

Smelling the aroma before tasting

Like with wine or whiskey, smelling the aroma of mezcal can greatly enhance your experience when drinking it. When you first pour your mezcal into your clay copita or snifter glass, take some time to hold it up to your nose and inhale deeply.

You’ll notice that there are subtle aromas that vary depending on different factors like where it was produced or what type of agave was used. By taking this step before tasting, you’ll be able to fully appreciate all that this wonderful drink has to offer.

Taking small sips and letting it rest on your tongue before swallowing

When sipping on mezcal, less is definitely more. Take small sips at first – just enough so that it sits comfortably in your mouth without overwhelming your taste buds. Letting it sit on your tongue allows you to fully appreciate its unique flavor profile – smoky yet smooth with hints of earthiness and sweetness depending on what makes up its blend.

After holding the sip for around 10 seconds (and breathing out through both nose & mouth) swallow slowly so as not miss any of the flavors as it goes down. By taking this approach and truly enjoying your mezcal, you’ll be able to get the most out of your drinking experience.

Pairing Mezcal with Food

Mezcal is a unique spirit that has a distinct and complex flavor profile. When it comes to pairing mezcal with food, it’s important to understand which flavors will complement its smoky, earthy notes.

In general, mezcal pairs well with foods that have bold flavors and rich textures. Here are some tips for pairing mezcal with different types of cuisine.

Understanding which foods complement its unique flavor profile

One of the key characteristics of mezcal is its smokiness, which comes from the process of cooking the agave in an underground pit before distillation. This smoky flavor pairs well with dishes that have similar smoke or charred elements, such as grilled meats or vegetables. Additionally, mezcal has notes of earthiness and minerality that can be paired with dishes that have similar flavors, such as mushrooms or root vegetables.

Another important factor to consider when pairing mezcal with food is the level of sweetness in both the spirit and the dish. Mezcal typically has a mild sweetness that can be balanced out by savory or salty dishes like ceviche or cured meats.

Tips for Pairing Mezcal with Different Types of Cuisine

Mexican Cuisine: It’s no surprise that mezcal pairs well with traditional Mexican cuisine like tacos and enchiladas. For a more elevated pairing experience, try pairing your mezcal with mole sauces or other complex sauces made from chiles and spices.

Asian Cuisine: The complexity and depth in Asian cuisine make it an ideal match for mezcal. Try pairing your favorite bottle of mezcal with sushi rolls or spicy ramen bowls.

Italian Cuisine: The richness in Italian cuisine makes it an excellent partner for a fine sipping experience. Pair your neat pour of mezcals along pasta dishes made from tomatoes sauce-based recipes as well as rich and savory risottos.

Experiment with different types of dishes to find your ideal pairing. With its unique flavor profile, mezcal is a versatile spirit that can be paired with a wide range of foods.

Mezcal cocktails and mixers

While many Oaxacans prefer to drink their mezcal straight, there are also several traditional and modern mezcal cocktails that allow you to enjoy this unique spirit in different ways. One classic way to enjoy mezcal is by pairing it with sliced oranges and a sprinkle of sal de gusano, a salt made with roasted worms. This combination actually enhances the flavors of the mezcal and helps to cleanse your palate between sips.

If you’re looking for something even more refreshing, try mixing mezcal with grapefruit juice, lime, and soda water for a simple yet delicious cocktail. The smoky flavor of the mezcal pairs perfectly with the bright citrus notes in the grapefruit and lime.

For those who prefer a sweeter cocktail, try mixing mezcal with fresh pineapple juice and a splash of agave syrup. For those who want to experiment even further with mezcal cocktails, there are many modern recipes that incorporate this complex spirit as an ingredient.

Try mixing mezcal with other spirits like tequila or rum for a layered flavor experience or experiment with infusing different herbs or spices into your cocktail mixture. The possibilities are endless!

Traditional mixers like orange slices and sal de gusano (worm salt)

The tradition of pairing mezcal with orange slices and sal de gusano dates back hundreds of years in Oaxaca. The bright acidity of the oranges helps balance out the smoky flavors of the mezcal while also cleansing your palate between sips.

Meanwhile, sal de gusano adds an earthy umami flavor that complements the natural sweetness of agave. To make your own sal de gusano at home, all you need is dried worm salt (which can be found at most Latin American grocery stores) and some ground chili powder.

Mix the two together in a small bowl, then rim your mezcal glass with the mixture before pouring in your mezcal. The result is a well-balanced and flavorful cocktail that will transport you straight to the heart of Oaxaca.

Modern cocktail recipes that incorporate mezcal as an ingredient

While traditional mezcal cocktails are delicious, there’s also a whole world of modern cocktail recipes that incorporate this complex spirit as an ingredient. Try mixing mezcal with fresh citrus juices like grapefruit or lime for a bright and refreshing cocktail. For those who prefer sweeter flavors, try mixing it with pineapple juice or agave syrup for a more tropical twist.

If you’re looking for something even more unique, try experimenting with different infused spirits or liqueurs to create layered flavor experiences. For example, mix mezcal with tequila and triple sec for a smoky take on a classic margarita, or try combining it with rum and ginger beer for a spicy twist on the Dark & Stormy.

The key to creating delicious modern mezcal cocktails is experimentation. Don’t be afraid to play around with different ingredients until you find the perfect combination of flavors that works for you!


Recap of key points on how to drink mezcal like an Oaxacan bartender

Drinking mezcal like an Oaxacan bartender involves selecting the right type of mezcal, preparing your palate, serving and enjoying your drink properly, pairing it with the right food, and exploring mezcal cocktails. Remember to consider the type of agave used in the production of your mezcal and its region before making your purchase. Always read labels to know what you’re getting.

It’s important to prepare your palate before drinking by eating a light snack and avoiding strong flavors that might interfere with the unique taste of mezcal. Whether using a traditional copita or a snifter glass, smelling the aroma before tasting is crucial.

Take small sips and let it rest on your tongue before swallowing for optimal enjoyment. Pairing mezcal with food is an art form in itself; understanding which foods complement its unique flavor profile can enhance the drinking experience significantly.

Beyond traditional mixers like orange slices and sal de gusano (worm salt), modern cocktail recipes that incorporate mezcal as an ingredient offer endless possibilities for discovering new flavors. By following these tips on how to drink Mezcal according to an Oaxacan bartender, you’ll be able to appreciate this beloved Mexican spirit in all its glory.

So next time you sit down with a glass of Mezcal in hand, take a moment to savor its subtle complexities while enjoying the company of friends or family. Salud!

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