Move over tequila, there’s a different agave-based distillate gaining traction in the world of spirits. No, mezcal isn’t new. And whatever you do, do not make the formidable mistake of referring to this smoky and mysterious liquid as a tequila. If this anti-tequila isn’t new, why is mezcal having its moment now and will it last?
El Silencio Mezcal brand ambassadors Jen Collins and Torrence Swain are bartenders and mezcal aficionados, and they’ve seen the wild spread of mezcal over the last decade and they anticipate many more markets will be welcoming Mexico’s mythical spirit. “There’s a huge education piece that needs to happen. A very important part of that is getting people to understand the traditions of mezcal. Obviously it’s not tequila. They all come from Mexico, but it’s different,” explains Swain. Collins then continues to educate me, a mezcal novice, by describing how both spirits are made in Mexico and they are both made from agave. The difference is that tequila can only be made with the blue agave plant while mezcal distillers choose from over 40 varietals either alone or combined, to craft the mysterious elixir.
The cocktail concoctions after harvesting, roasting, fermenting and distilling are endless: Negroni, paloma, margarita, bloody mary, old fashioned, mule and collins has even been bold enough to taste a dirty martini made with mezcal, stamp of approval included. With a smoky heat that can complement most accompanied flavors, the diversity of the drink is what could have been sparked the surge in popularity in recent years. When asked why mezcal now, Swain described how today’s consumers, moreover millennials, are diving deep into the craft cocktail craze by way of artisanal ingredients. In correspondence with farm-to-table intrigue and the desire to be an expert in smoky Oaxacan knowledge, the wannabe-niche mezcal movement is under way.
And now it feels as though every signature cocktail found on the buzziest bar’s repertoire of drinks is involving one type of mezcal or another, because every other day there’s a new tastemaker entering the industry. In just five years, the United States has seen mezcal imports increase four times over. El Silencio is just one of the many brands infiltrating a traditional industry with millennial-enticing strategies, of which are making the mezcal moment less of a moment and more of a lasting movement.