Which Mezcal to buy? The most truthful guideline
Usually, people ask me for a guideline to purchase a “good” mezcal or agave spirit. But, what is a good mezcal?
I think that a good mezcal is which has a high quality liquid because of its sensory characteristics and it has accomplished good practices in its production process, reducing its ecological impact and developing social programs to attend the community necessities. And, it should have commercial strategies to become “real players” in the spirits business.
In Accordance with CRT and CRM statistics, in 2020 Tequila production reached 374 million of litres, the major production registered ever. In the other hand, mezcal production has increased by 40% since 2011 to 2019 and it reached 7.4 million of litres during 2019 (for more info, check “How to buy a good Mezcal or Tequila? Easy, just look for these 3 things on the label”). Due to this increasing demand, big brands from far outside Mexico have lined up for a “lucrative slice of the pie” and now, more than ever, mezcal must take steps to preserve its future, as Brad Japhe mentioned it in his article for Liquor.com
These are the aspects that you may consider as guideline to buy a “good” Mezcal:
- The spirit’s quality.
Its sensory characteristics. To know what to expect as high quality agave spirit, check out our previous articles about appearance, smell, palate and quality.
- Production process and good practices.
Agave spirits made with traditional process, usually they have more complex and expressive aromatic profile than the industrial ones, and they preserve the culture.
- Waste products treatment.
Producing mezcal has a negative environmental impact. Overall, to produce 1 litre of mezcal it is needed 6 kilograms of agave, 24 to 30 litres of water, 7 to13 kilograms of wood and, in the end of the process, it is discarded 24 litres of vinazas* and 15 to 20 kilograms of fibers. It’s imperative that brands and producers look for appropriate recycling or reutilization of their by-products.
- Social responsibility.
The majority of the mezcal factories are located in distant towns with high level of marginality and low level of education and public services. More jobs, schools, basic services and medical services are required. Brands which have integrated local people into their operating activities and have social programs for the community well-being, have more points.
- Ecological awareness.
The growth of agaves is influenced by the different climates, soils, altitudes, as well as the flora and fauna around them. Each of these variables has an impact on the development and, eventually, the flavour and character of the spirit. Every agave spirit brand should take conscious of that, the importance to preserve the natural environment around its business.
As mentioned before, water and wood are compromised in the production process. What is more, soil erosion and loss of diversity are compromised with modern agricultural practices, such as: planting acres of fields with agave and cutting down the local tress and native plants; monocultural production; and the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizer. These are commonly practices in Tequila industry because of its demand and, sadly, it is happening to Mezcal too.
As Alejandro Aispuro mentioned in his article “Mezcal Aromas & Flavors: looking beyond smoky”, “Agave spirits are not sustainable. How could they be? The raw material takes almost a decade to grow under natural circumstances”. And over harvesting is another consequence.
Farmers are cutting immature agave or they are not leaving mature plants to reproduce. Sustainable harvesting is crucial for preserving agave’s diversity and keeping the ecosystem healthy. Bats rely on agave nectar, and the agave depend on the bats (and some other pollinators) to cross-pollinate their flowers do they can produce seeds.
So, look for brands with agroecology** practices and friendly environmental programs.
- Social & ecological commercial strategy.
Due to its popularity, now you will find many mezcal brands, but few of them will survive. Because it is not just buy some liters of mezcal to someone, they should have good product, proper practices and a commercial program in balance with their own capacity, supplying the demand without compromised the time of the agave, the ecosystem and the necessities of their producers and their families.
- Fair trade.
“Because the overwhelming majority of mezcal brands today are fueled by outside investment, exploitation of the native workforce is an unfortunate byproduct” pointed Bran Japhe.
Brands should reinvest in their workers and in the communities where they are located. Fair trade is not just about pay a fair price. It is about increasing the quality of life of producers, having a correct cultural approach and impacting positively on mezcal communities.
Thankfully, some brands concern for the future of their products, the agave and the planet, are taking action. So, look for them. Not believe just in the stickers on the label, being a responsible consumer is seeking further information about the brand’s history and practices; and demanding better social and ecological planes which don’t have it. You have the most important say in all of this with every purchase and every sip.
*Vinazas: acidic oxygen-starved liquid waste, which contaminates soil and water.
**Agroecology is farming in the traditional way, as our ancestors did it. Planting agaves in available spaces between trees and vegetation, along with beans or pumpkins to return nutrients to the soil. And allowing bats, bees and hummingbirds pollinate the mature agaves to obtain seeds and reproduce more agaves.
Check out this video with Aventureros del Mezcal, in which we joined with other mezcal activists and talked about this topic: https://fb.watch/7ViaKsCd63/
AIPURO Alejandro, Mezcal Aromas & flavors: looking beyond smoky, Proof Magazine, Fall 2021, https://issuu.com/foodandbeveragemagazine/docs/proof-the-magazine_issue5_fall2021_1_?fr=sYjZlMTQyNzIyNTM
BOWEN, Sarah, Divided spirits: tequila, mezcal and politics production, University of California Press, October 2015.
JAPHE Brad, Is the Mezcal Industry Doing doomed Mezcal? Maybe. Maybe Not, Liquor, 5th May 2017, https://www.liquor.com/articles/mezcal-sustainability/
MAYAGOITIA Diego, ¿Qué es y no es un buen mezcal?, published on Aventureros Noticias, 02 September 2021, https://www.aventurerosmezcal.mx/que-es-y-no-es-un-buen-mezcal/
MINARDI, Di, Mezcal is more popular than ever – why that’s bad new for bats, 14 October 2020,
PINZON, Diana and Cynthia Villalobos, Impacto Ambiental en la producción de Destilados, 11 May 2021, https://fb.watch/8WreFrbAP8/
PINZON, Diana and Cynthia Villalobos, Comercialización y cultural, , Sorbos de conocimiento video by Aventureros del Mezcal, published on youtube.com/watch?v=s0PRcox_KvQ
PINZON Diana, video de Zinacatan Mezcal, 23 Oct 2021, https://fb.watch/8WrozPnZuF/
VASQUEZ Margarita, Los 4 Criterios clave para evaluar la cliadad de un mezcal, 27 October 2020
VASQUEZ Margarita, Aromas y sabores del mezcal: compuestos químicos y su producción (cómo los identificamos con el olfato), 14 October 2020, http://themezcalcultureinsider.blogspot.com/2020/10/los-compuestos-aromaticos-del-mezcal-y.html
VASQUEZ Margarita, Los aromas, sabores y Texturas del MEzcal: características que se evalúan y cómo se identifican, 28 Sep 2020, http://themezcalcultureinsider.blogspot.com/2020/09/los-aromas-sabores-y-texturas-del.html
VASQUEZ Margarita, La apariencia del Mezcal: las lágrimas, las perlas y otras característica visibles, 15 Septiembre 2020, http://themezcalcultureinsider.blogspot.com/2020/09/la-apariencia-del-mezcal-las-lagrimas.html