The Tasting Panel magazine

June 2016

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Page 52 of 132

52  /  the tasting panel  / june 2016 MEZCAL REPORT Xicaru Mezcal Silver Espadín ($40) Crystal clear with aromas of subtle smoke and citrus highlights, balanced with a green, vegetal agave nose and clean mouthfeel that lingers long on the palate. Also tasted as an element in a Margarita replacing tequila: 1½ oz. Xicaru, 1 oz. Cointreau, ½ oz. fresh squeezed lime juice. A wonderful departure in taste. 40.5% ABV. DC CRAFT SPIRITS Yuu Baal Mezcal Joven Madrecuixe ($140) Aromas of loquat, dark cherry, pear and toasted corn, with the smoki- ness of a good Cuban cigar. The production of this rare mezcal is a very time-consuming process requiring hand- harvesting the wild, un-tamed agave and hand-crushing the roasted piña, both of which require a vast amount of labor. 48.6% ABV. PACIFIC EDGE Ilegal Mezcal Reposado Espadín ($60) Light, refined, smoky nose. Flavors of caramel and pear with a subtle, slightly warm vanilla finish make this one a standout. 40% ABV. COOPER SPIRITS El Rey Zapoteco Mezcal Añejo ($75) A floral nose of black pepper, coriander and smoked meat; undertones of brown sugar and toasted agave with an incredibly long smooth finish. 45% ABV. BOCK WINES AND SPIRITS Del Maguey Mezcal Pechuga ($200) A unique and rare triple-distilled mezcal. In the third distillation, a skinned, defatted chicken breast frame is suspended with apples, plums, plantains, pineapples, almonds and white rice over the distillation basket. The resulting product exhibits complexities of mint, basil, citrus, salty ocean breezes with a taste of smoky Scotch whisky. 49% ABV. GEMINI SPIRITS & WINE "It's got a worm in it!" A few brands still do contain a gusano (actually an insect larva), but the world of mezcal is a far cry from the stuff of dares and drunken blindness. Today's mezcals are steeped in generations of tradition, and producers are working very hard to maintain that history while moving into the future. Tequila has long been the darling of Mexico, but mezcal is making its way out of the shadows. The colonial city of Oaxaca in southern Mexico is the result of pre-Hispanic and Aztec cultures coming together in the 1500s. Mezcal, the agave-based spirit, has been the soul of Oaxaca and the thread of the history of the region. It is distilled from wild and cultivated agave, and only mezcal that meets established criteria can be labeled as such. The roots of this revered drink go back to the con- sumption of pulque, the fermented juice of the agave plant, a tradition dating back to the Aztecs. After the Spanish conquest, the distillation process was intro- duced, using pulque as the base for a much stronger, more concentrated alcohol. (The Spaniards had learned the process during the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula beginning early in 700 ad.) Visiting the palenques (places of production) is a step back in time. Tequila must be made by law using blue Weber agave and is usually cooked in steam ovens and mechanically processed. For mezcal, the piña—the heart of the agave plant—is roasted over hot stones in conical pits heated by wood fire (this is where mezcal gets its smoky character) and the product is handcrafted throughout the process by the mezcaleros. Using a tahona, a stone wheel powered by a horse, the fibers are shredded and the mash is fermented. After fermentation, the distillation takes place in small copper stills. A second distillation further refines the juice. Mezcal can be bottled as an añejo (old), a reposado (rested) or a joven (young), the latter being the most common one. And it can be made with as many as 30 varieties of agave, the most commonly used being Espadín, which is the only agave that is cultivated. Other wild varieties such as Pulquero, Tepeztate, Tobalá and Madrecuixe are just a few that create very interesting and complex mezcals. For an unusual experience, mezcal pechuga is worth the search—unless you're a vegetarian. A fresh chicken or turkey breast is suspended in the atmosphere of the copper still with fruits, nuts and other secret aromatics and the spirit is distilled for a third time, adding nuances to the mezcal. Other creatures such as rabbit, venison, iguana and even imported jamón ibérico create a unique profile in the taste of the finished product, adding more character to this already mysterious artisanal product. In Oaxaca, mezcal is traditionally consumed neat with a slice of orange and sal de gusano, a traditional Oaxacan spice made from sea salt, toasted and ground agave worms and chilies. Today's younger market is influenced by mixologists looking for creative cocktail combinations, making mezcal more relevant than ever. Tasting Notes on Some Favorites DC CRAFT SPIRITS

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