Mezcal is a universe of spirits
Whiskey is made from 4 or 5 types of grain. Tequila from a single variety of agave. But mezcal? Some say there are 30 varieties of agave that will render it, others 40, some 50. Honestly, I don’t think anyone knows for sure, but the variety of flavors and characteristics mezcal offers is nothing short of extraordinary.
Over the past 9 years, I’ve introduced many people to mezcal, and the number of times they move from, “Oh, I don’t like mezcal,” to “Wait. This is mezcal? It’s amazing!” is way beyond my ability to count.
This is partly because mezcal is so diverse in flavor. Agave plant varieties like Tepextate yield a verdant herbal distillation. A Madrecuixe agave is normally earthy and complex. Then there’s the Sacatoro agave, which produces a tangy, mildly sweet final product. You have to stop thinking mezcal is a spirit. It’s not. It truly is a universe of spirits. Saying you don’t like mezcal is sort of like saying you don’t like food!
Mezcal may be the healthiest spirit
Let’s get real: it’s a stretch to call any alcohol “healthy.” That said, you’ll find no shortage of doctors and health gurus suggesting that agave spirits are among the cleanest and, thus, least problematic.
Terpenes are natural plant compounds believed to carry health benefits. There are at least six noteworthy terpenes in mezcal. Some can have mild anti-depressant effects, others may relax the muscles lining blood vessels, and some have anti-inflammatory properties. Of course, they exist in pretty small amounts, so it’s not definitive. But having spent plenty of time with mezcaleros in the campo, I can assure you they are confident in mezcal’s positive properties.
Further, agave sugar is agavin, a natural fructose with molecules linked by long chains. As such, they are a non-digestible dietary fiber that won’t raise blood sugar levels—but are still sweet in flavor and fermentable.
My question: while agave sugar has healthy characteristics, by the time the plant is distilled into a spirit, there should be no sugars left, right? Aren’t all pure spirits zero carbs? Therefore, I remain a bit skeptical that this necessarily makes it healthier.
I’ve reached out to quite a few doctors who’ve been quoted in various articles in this regard without receiving a reply. I suspect there’s something I’m missing on this. I’ll let you know when I find out.
Unique chemistry means fewer hangovers
Building on the healthy aspect, congeners are byproducts of fermentation, which provide countless flavors and aromas but also hangovers. Generally, the darker the spirit, the more congeners and, thus, the worse your hangover.
There’s one study in which participants drank either bourbon or a clear spirit, and the bourbon group reported much more severe hangovers. It’s no wonder: the study found barrel-aged bourbon has 37 times as many congeners as vodka. Thirty-seven times?!
It’s true that if I’m drinking mezcal with a lot of beer, this is less noticeable. But my friends and I swear that an evening of clean artisanal mezcal produces either no hangover or at least the mildest one of all.
The traditional manufacturing process
Not to insult whiskey or rum manufacturers, but when you visit an artisanal mezcal palenque, you can watch it being made in almost exactly the same way it was over 300 years ago. Harvesting huge agaves from the fields, roasting them in the ground for days, using a horse-pulled stone wheel to crush them, I just feel so privileged to look in on this process.
Yes, larger commercial producers have eliminated some of these charming aspects, but the more you come to appreciate the finer points of this remarkable spirit, the more it’s impossible not to conclude that the traditional way is best. No wonder they continue it!
It’s all a fascinating trip back in time. And when a mezcalero pours you something he made, explaining the intricacies of his process for that particular distillation, you can’t help but be enchanted by it all!
Mezcal provides an exuberant buzz
Maybe it’s all those possibly positive health aspects we already addressed or maybe it’s something naturally magical, but for my mezcal maniac friends and I? Nothing gives us a more buoyant buzz than this spirit! Sometimes, I swear my vision improves after a shot or two. I’m relaxed, I’m smiling, and just enthusiastic.
Maybe one day, some biochemist will finally land on why, but when that day comes, I may not be able to resist an “I told you so!”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: before becoming a true mezcal aficionado, you must know what to look for. Wait for my next article on how to order mezcal.
If you happen through San Miguel de Allende, make sure to shoot me a message. My wife and I would love to have you over for a mezcal tasting. ¡Salud!
Jonathan Lockwood is an American Voice Talent living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. He is also a Mezcal Lover, Explorer, and Collector and writes the Mezcal Maniac Substack. Read and subscribe here: https://mezcalmaniac.substack.com.