Tequila & Mezcal: The Spirit of Now

Nikhil Agarwal | August 3, 2022 | Life

We should have seen this coming, this sheer demand for agave based spirits. After all, every cool Hollywood TV series and A-lister was getting in on it. Just ask The Rock and George Clooney and the folks at Entourage.

But before I get into serious agave writing mode, I want to put things in perspective. This article is not about the stuff you were drinking when you reached puberty. That excuse for tequila, that industrial nonsense, the one that caused shame the next day and the equivalent of an atom bomb explosion in your head. Don’t look surprised, we all did it.

Here, I’m referring to delicious drops of spirit made from agave – top drop tequila and mezcal. Delicious, smooth and aromatic that can be sipped or used to make a new era of mind-bending delicious cocktails.

Folks, if you’re in the drinks or bar business you know what I’m talking about. High quality tequila and mezcal are buzzwords that bartenders want to prove their mettle on now. People in the know are already on to the agave spirit bandwagon, greedily looking for more options. All the juniper in the world is not exciting to this lot. This is a revolution that has only just begun in India but is gaining at a pace that I’ve never witnessed before. I want a t- shirt with an agave printed on it! I digress, I apologise.

You could say agave is the new Juniper, with special cocktail menus being devoted to it. You could do a shot too (agave IPO anyone) but cocktails probably are the way to go and of course for the artisanal stuff neat, with a cube of ice.

But what is this spirit? Tequila is a region-specific name for a distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant, planted on rich volcanic soils. It is made in five specific regions, the most noteworthy of which would be the region of Jalisco (Mexican state), which also contains the town of Tequila.  It is important to note that all tequila is mezcal but not the other way around.

Why, you ask? Mezcal can be produced by any kind of agave whereas tequila must be made from blue agave. Mezcal tends to be smokier because of the manner in which it is made.

Tequila/mezcal is delicious. I know it’s difficult for some of you to imagine but experiment with the top-shelf stuff and you will see what I am talking about. Complex, yet actually it’s just so simple to produce. You need patience and agave, water and yeast. That’s it.

The trick to a really good agave spirit is harvesting the agave at the right time. To allow the agave to mature for at least seven to eight years or more.  The finest tequila and mezcal producers are in no rush to harvest, instead they understand that the longer they wait, the better the spirit will be. That’s why these days you have to sell your house in Malabar Hill for the truly top stuff, because it’s getting harder to find. There’s just not enough aged agave around.

The quality of a great tequila can be judged not by its aged expressions – reposado, anejo, extra anejo etc. which can be mind numbingly beautiful – but its humble blanco.

A blanco has little to hide behind and so our friends in tequila country tell me that the best way to judge the quality of any tequila house is to sample its blanco. For tequila purists, blanco is the true way to go. Good tequila will make you want to sip it rather than have it as a shot. Savour, not swallow.

Mezcal, the smokier one of the two, is one of those spirits that I think you either immediately love if you like that style of spirit or you could live without. Where mezcal shines is in its ability to make great cocktails. Mind you there are great sipping mezcals as well.

If you are reading this and have never tried the good expressions of agave spirit, you must. This isn’t just a trend that will fade, agave is here to stay.

Words by Nikhil Agarwal.
Cover image via Pinterest.
Additional images via Unsplash.

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