There are few spirits as misunderstood as Mezcal. Lets set some things straight…
Contrary to popular belief, the worm/s that you may find at the bottom of a Mezcal bottle does not provide it with a stamp of authenticity – in fact it is quite the opposite. Despite some debate, it is believed this was a tactic introduced as a marketing ploy to get people (mainly tourists) to buy the bottle as a novelty which tends to contain very cheap alcohol.
But whats the story behind the worms in the first place?
The “worm” is actually a larva from one of two types of moths, known as maguey worms (“gusano de maguey“), that live on the agave plant – the most important component of Mezcal (and Tequila) not the worm itself.
If they weren’t being drowned in alcohol, these worms would eventually turn into a night butterfly called the Mariposa. And believe it or not, gusano de maguey, are commonly consumed in Mexico- but not in Mezcal!
What is agave? Mezcal vs Tequila
Mezcal, like its cousin tequila is made from agave, which, contrary to popular belief, is not a cactus but is actually part of the asparagales botanical order, making it a relative of the yucca plant and Joshua tree.
While tequila can only be made in the Tequila region and from just blue Weber agave, mezcal is usually produced in Oaxaca (it can legally come from anywhere in Mexico) and can be made from many types of agave, some of which only grow wild. Historically, producers used whatever agave they found locally.
It is therefore interesting that although Tequila is one specific type of Mezcal, it is much more acknowledged and consumed beyond Mexico’s borders.
Mezcal has a much ‘smokier’ taste than Tequila and this can be attributed to its artisanal production process, where the agave is slow roasted by burying in wood fire heart pits lined with volcanic rock – while Tequila’s agave is often baked in stone ovens or autoclaves.
By law Mescal must be made from 80-100% agave with similar raging designations to tequila (blanco, reposed, añejo).
Mezcal is traditionally consumed by sipping on it neat at room temperature. Or if you are thirsty and impatient or you are looking for an alternative to Tequila, shots also work well. However, Mezcal is truly diverse and it can also be used to make a wide range of complex and delicious cocktails.
We hope you enjoyed this post and can hopefully enjoy your first or next drink of Mezcal, responsibly of course! Whether that is with or without a worm!