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THE 5 KEY ELEMENTS TO IDENTIFY AN «HONEST» MEZCAL.

Have you tried to buy a bottle of Mezcal and there are so many options that you do not know which one to choose? It is even more complicated if you had not tasted them before. So, probably, your purchase decision would be based on the information that appears on the label. But, how would you find the keywords that indicate which is the “good” one?

There is basic information that should be found on the label:

  1. The legend «100% Agave». All mezcales must be produced with sugars obtained 100% from the agave.
  2. The information about the production process, “Artesanal or ancestral» for mezcal. If this information is not in the label, then it was produced in an industrial way and its organoleptic properties won’t be authentic or of good quality.
  3. The classification, which it could be White or Young, Aged, Extra-aged, Infussed with, Destilled with or Matured in glass.

Besides these pieces of information, other key elements may appear on the label of artisanal and ancestral mezcales that provide a better understanding of the characteristics to expect.

In @Agavache we believe that only by providing the consumer with complete and accurate information will they be able to recognise and better appreciate the value and diversity of the agave plants and their places of origin, as well as the intensive labour and skill that goes into making this spirits by their maestros mezcaleros. This in turn allows the consumer to make better decisions about what products and from which producers, co-ops, or brands, to support as well as their social or environmentally friendly programs to represent.

The keywords to identify in the label of a “good mezcal”.

In 2016 the Mexican Law NOM 070 was modified and the content that must appear on the labels was revised. This was supposedly with the aim to provide the consumer with truthful and comparable information and to avoid descriptions that could lead to deceit.

In the image you can find the information required by the NOM, and we’ve compared it to the voluntary information that you should look for in the labels. Just a few elements that truly distinguish and differentiate mezcales with a «production history»:

  • Name of the producer
  • Date of Production and Batch number.
  • Age of the harvested agave.
  • Exact location of production (name of the community, DO NOT be satisfied with name of the State).
  • Characteristics of the production process, detailing the tools used, and the type of water at least.

Jorge Larson, Ana Valenzuela y Catarina Illsley in their article: “Del whisky escocés al mezcal: diferenciación y etiquetado, desarrollo y conservación” («From scotch whisky to mezcal: differentiation and labelling, development and conservation»), call for a differentiation of mezcales through an informative labelling practise which would contribute to differentiating the brands who have responsible mezcal production and maguey harvesting practices, as well as environmental friendly practices. They propose the term of «single or unique» mezcal, a common glossary of terms, and more Geographic Indicators which better describe the biological, ecological, geographic and cultural elements for the differentiation of mezcales in the common market.

With the update to the NOM some of the elements regarding labelling have been formalized and a common «coding» for commercialization of mezcal was devised. However, the elements that really mark differentiation and better practices remain optional and it is up to the producers to place them on the label and encourage their use. Regardless of what the authorities claim is the minimum, a Mezcalero committed to their product will put as much information as possible because, in the words of Emma Janzen, «good brands are transparent about these matters, which is usually related to a honest and delicious mezcal» (“Mezcal: The history, craft & cocktails of the world’s ultimate artisanal spirit”).

So, next time that you are going to buy a mezcal bottle, and you have not tasted before, read carefully the labels and choose the one that provides the most “honest” information instead of the most beautiful packagin design.

References:

JANZEN, Emma (2017), Mezcal: The history, craft & cocktails of the world’s ultimate artisanal spirit, Quarto Publishing Group, Minneapolis, USA, 2017.

LARSON, Jorge, Ana Valenzuela y Catarina Illsley (2004), Del whisky escocés al mezcal: diferenciación y etiquetado, desarrollo y conservación, En lo Ancestral hay futuro, CONABIO, Mexico, 2004.

NORMA Oficial Mexicana NOM-070-SCFI-2016, Bebidas alcohólicas-Mezcal-Especificaciones: http://www.crm.org.mx/PDF/NOM070/NOM-070-SCFI-2016.pdf

Aprobación de Criterio general en materia de certificación: http://www.crm.org.mx/PDF/NOM070/DE-41%20DGN.312.01.2017.3089%20APROBACION%20DE%20CRITERIO%20GENERAL%20EN%20MATERIA%20DE%20CERTIFICACION.pdf

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