Mezcal Madness

By Alpana Singh |

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Check, Please! travels to Logan Square to visit Quiote, and our discussion soon turned to Mezcal, a distilled spirit from Mexico.

Perhaps you’ve seen Mezcal recently on a cocktail menu and were curious to try it. Or perhaps you’re already a seasoned enthusiast and have been extolling its virtues for years. But one thing is for sure: Mezcal has definitely exploded in popularity in recent years, and is finally stepping out of the shadows of its smokier sibling, Tequila.

Mezcal and Tequila have a lot in common, but differ in some significant ways as well. For instance, all Tequilas are Mezcals, but not all Mezcals are Tequilas – in the same way that all Bourbons are Whiskeys but not all Whiskeys are Bourbons.

Both Tequila and Mezcal are distilled from the agave plant, also called Maguey in Spanish. These plants have a lifespan of 30-35 years, but are usually harvested at around 7 or 8 years. There are more than 200 different varieties of agave, but for a spirit to be labeled Tequila, it can only be produced from a single one: Blue Weber Agave.

Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made from more than 30 different varieties of agave, each contributing its own unique quality and flavor. The most common agave varieties for Mezcal production include Espadin (accounting for almost 90%), Tobala, Tobaziche, Tepeztate, and Arroqueno. These varieties are often listed on Mezcal labels. While Tequila and Mezcal are both distilled from the juice extracted from the core of the agave known as the pina, in Tequila production, the pina is steamed in above-ground ovens, crushed, and then distilled. For Mezcal, the pinas are charred and roasted for several days in pits called “palenques.” This roasting process is what gives Mezcal its characteristic smoky flavor, reminiscent of a peated Scotch.

If you’re looking to add Mezcal to your cocktail repertoire, here is a fun and delicious twist on a margarita. I would recommend sourcing a Mezcal made from the Espadin agave, as it is the most readily available and accessible style, and is ideal for mixing in cocktails.

Hibiscus Margarita with Mezcal at Quiote

Smoke and Mirrors Margarita

  • 2 oz Mezcal
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • ½ oz agave nectar
  • ½ oz Cointreau or Triple Sec

Directions: add all ingredients to a shaker and add ice. Shake until chilled and strain into an ice-filled glass. Enjoy!