The smoky flavor of mezcal
Mezcal is a distillate that, unlike tequila, which also comes from agave, is characterized by having a smoky aroma and flavor. But where does this slight touch come from?
Let’s start by talking about the importance of mezcal in Mexican tradition, which is found in nine states of the country (according to the denomination of origin). By tracing the etymological root of the word mezcal, we find its origin in the Nahuatl word; «Mexcalli», which means “cooked maguey”. This phrase refers to an essential part of the mezcal production process, which gives it its peculiar smoke flavor: the cooking of the heart of the maguey.
During this process, the heart of the agave is cooked in ground-builded ovens that use firewood, which is generally pine wood, although the type depends on the flavor we want the distillate to have. It also uses river stones or mountain rocks that withstand the required high temperatures required; maguey bagasse so that the heat is distributed evenly; and earth, to cover the oven and let the temperature rise. This process can last from three to five days depending on the climate of the place.
Knowing that smoking is a natural result of the mezcal cooking process, all mezcals will have this particular flavor to a greater or lesser extent. However, a highly smoky flavor is not normal and is due to different reasons. The first one is that the pineapples were burned during the process, losing their natural aroma; and the second is that the smokey flavor was added in a different way, by storing the smoke in pots or jars and then pouring in mezcal, resulting in a very intense smokey taste.
As a curious fact, unlike mezcal, in the production of tequila pineapples are steamed, giving it a fruit flavor.
The next time you have a mezcal, think about the time this drink spent underground while enjoying all its qualities.