If the roots and origin of mezcal could be summed up, the Spanish catchphrase for this genre of spirit couldn’t stand truer: “for all bad things, mezcal… and for all good things also.” Mezcal, the fastest-growing spirit in the agave category, has a history that stretches from small village micro-distilleries to becoming a globally recognised beverage.
Before its revival around 2010, mezcal was a simple liquid crafted in small village micro-distilleries, bottled in whatever was available, and shared among families and villages to celebrate life’s moments, both joyful and challenging. This tradition dates back to the spirit’s origins in the 1500s, and it continued until mezcal regained popularity in Mexico and internationally.
In approximately 2015, the USA caught on to the intricate flavour profiles of this small-batch agave spirit, marketing it with beautiful labels in fancy bottles and selling it at a premium. Starting in cutting-edge cocktail bars in cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and spreading globally to top European cities, Sydney and Cape Town, mezcal gained popularity rapidly. Today, the USA consumes more mezcal than any other country, making it a ubiquitous spirit with lasting appeal.
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Unlike other trends, mezcal distinguishes itself by its deep and intricate flavour profiles, making it more than a passing fad. In a world increasingly embracing conscious consumers, mezcal predominantly comes from ultra-small batch farms or ‘palenques,’ following production techniques that have remained unchanged for over 500 years.
The health-conscious consumer will appreciate that mezcal is crafted with no additives, and its production methods have remained consistent for centuries. Agaves, the main ingredient, are harvested after five to eight years, roasted in an underground pit with heated volcanic stones, and crushed by hand or a mule-drawn stone wheel. The fermentation process is entirely natural, taking about two weeks, followed by double distillation in copper or clay pots over a wood fire.
Mezcal stands out for its rich aroma, complex flavour profile, and long aftertaste, offering a unique taste of Mexican history with each sip. Its ancient production process ensures a spirit that sips well at room temperature, over ice for a more refreshing version, or as a key ingredient in cocktails like negronis, mezcalitas, palomas, or espresso martinis. Unlike its industrialised relative, tequila, mezcal is never aged in bourbon barrels, preserving its connection to history and quality.
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In a world where fast, easy, and quick have become the ethos, mezcal remains true to a time long past, appealing to consumers of all ages who appreciate quality and history in a product. In many ways, mezcal is the farm-to-table of the spirits world.
Una Más – Mezcaleria in Sea Point, Cape Town
Hacienda in Cape Town CBD
Baha Taco in Norwood, Johannesburg
El Burro in Tamboerskloof and Green Point, Cape Town
Tommy’s Chop Shop in East City Precinct, Cape Town
Ryland Apsey is a Cape Town-born entrepreneur and owner of Mezcal Origen who discovered the magic of Mexico on his search for the perfect wave in 2004, and never left.