Updated, April 9, 2014. This year’s Vancouver International Tequila Expo runs May 26-31. Full details here:
Much more to come soon…
When we first met Eric Lorenz a few of years ago, Tequila was something you made margaritas with and, well, who had even heard of Mezcal?
Lorenz is busy putting the final touches on Vancouver’s third annual International Tequila Expo (May31, Hyatt Regency, 6-9 pm). He co-founded the event with long time promoter of all things tastefully Mexican, Manuel Otero. And these days, Tequila is very much on the local radar. This year the expo marks the conclusion of Agave Week (May 26-31), with a program of Tequila and Mezcal tastings and seminars.
Mezcal: the perfect sipper
During that first Tequila tasting, thanks to Lorenz, I made my acquaintance with Mezcal. I’m not sure what’s worse: to be called a heretic or a sassenach. But I’ll likely be called both for comparing some aged Mezcals to Single Malt.
When it comes to truly serious sipping spirits, in my mind you can count them on one hand. Tequila and Mezcal are right in there. Lorenz in particular has worked hard to eradicate Tequila’s reputation as a “shooter” drink. And he’s also emerged as a formidable champion of Mezcal. His car even sports vanity plates that say AGAVE.
We met up recently to preview the festival—and dutifully taste a few Mezcals.
Mezcal and Tequila: the basic differences
I asked Eric to explain the differences between Tequila and Mezcal?
“There are three main distinctions, that relate to cooking methods, regions of origin, and species of Agave,” says Lorenz.
Both are made from the Agave plant (which contrary to popular belief is not a cactus). However, Tequila is made from one species, the Blue Agave. Mezcal is made from some 40 different species—although they are rarely blended. If two or three are combined, the Mezcalero usually has a good reason for it, says Lorenz, such as imparting a specific taste or character.
Blue Agave for Tequila is usually harvested at around eight years (but increasingly as young as six). Species used for Mezcal often grow wild and may take as long as 24 years, though 12 to 14 is the norm. Often they’re harvested by indigenous people, who take care in selecting mature plants, leaving others until it’s time.
For Tequila, the centre of the plant is steamed. Mezcal Agave is pit-oven roasted over several days, which imparts a distinct, smoky character.
All spirits need to be diluted. Tequila is diluted with water while the mezcalero uses lower proof alcohol in the late stages of distilling, “to whatever taste suits.”
Tequila comes mainly from Jalisco with some from four other states. Mezcal is made mainly in Oaxaca, plus seven other southern states on the south facing Pacific coastline. Both have designated denominations of origin, says Lorenz. “Think Cognac to Armagnac.” he says.
Here’s how Eric himself explains it:
A few Mezcal faves
Picking faves from our Mezcal preview was tough (there were so many I could have chosen). But here’s a cross section to check out…
• Sombra Mezcal. Made from 100 percent Espadin Agave, this is a great “starter” Mezcal. It’s beautifully clear in the glass and sports an intriguing spicy/fruity profile with roasted tropical and citrus notes. $89.95 / Legacy
It also serves very well as the base for a refreshing “Mission Bell” cocktail, which balances beautifully those smokey / fruity flavours, as follows:
1 oz. Sombra Mezcal;
3/4 oz. Apérol (bitter orange Italian aperitif);
1/2 oz. Marashino Liqueur,
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice.
Shake with ice, strain and garnish with a spiral cut grapefruit twist. Make a batch while you’re at it.
• Pierde Almas Dobadaán. Completely unaged, hand crafted and organic practice farmed (Joven) Mezcal made from rare Agave rhodacantha. Surprisingly fruity on the nose and even more so on the broad but clean palate with some hints of spice and clove in the aftertaste. $119.05 / Legacy
• Agave de Cortes Añejo. Superbly crafted Mezcal. If you’re a single malt lover you’ll find it very tempting. Made traditionally, from estate Espadin Agave, milled with mule drawn crushers and pit roasted before 18 months in American white oak barrels. Seductive smoky, hints of mocha and caramel on the nose, with intriguing smoky and orange on the palate before a lengthy and warming finish.
Agave Week offers a great chance to sample a wide range of Tequila, as well as Tequila and Mezcal, during a series of seminars that includes an appearance by days.
For more details and to buy tickets for events and the May 31st. Tequila Expo at Vancouver’s Hyatt Regency: http://www.vancouvertequilaexpo.com