The Absolute Best Way to Drink Mezcal, According to an Expert
In case you missed it, mezcal has been having a moment in the U.S. The complex, rich Mexican liquor has skyrocketed in popularity, with sales increasing by 40% just in the last year. And while mezcal's strong, smoky flavor shines in cocktails, the best way to get to know the agave-based spirit is to serve it neat.
Sipping mezcal straight is the traditional way Mexicans enjoy the beverage and allows you to experience its nuances in aroma and flavor. More than 30 varieties of agave are used to make mezcal, each with a distinct character and taste. And since the spirit is produced all over Mexico, the terroir and distilling process varies greatly from region to region.
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"In a world where speed is so highly regarded, mezcal is a spirit that stands out because it takes so much time to make," agave expert and Montelobos mezcal founder Iván Saldaña told Food & Wine. "We must wait at least seven to eight years for our espadin agave to reach maturity to be able to harvest it, then pass through a slow production process for all of the complex flavors that we are looking for to shine through. Traditionally, after all this work and time, the mezcal is slowly savored, enjoyed, and appreciated with loved ones."
And just like other spirits, wine, and beer, the right tools, glassware, and accoutrements can make a major difference in mezcal's taste. To learn the must-have drinkware for serving, sipping, and storing the bold spirit, we asked Saldaña to suggest his favorites. Here's what he had to share.
How to serve mezcal
"Mezcal is an agricultural and also cultural product. Centuries of tradition and local crafts are tied into the culture of drinking this beverage. If there is the opportunity, I enjoy celebrating the craftsmanship of that culture when possible. I love this serving vessel made from Oaxacan black clay."
To buy: Black Clay Mezcal Vessel, $48; etsy.com
"In Mexico, we have a long tradition of pairing small bites with sips of mezcal and other local spirits. [With our Espadin mezcal] light foods such as green and red tomatoes and chile salt, as well as pineapple and dark chocolate allow the drinker to explore different facets of the Espadin's profile, as well as cleanse the palate between sips."
How to drink mezcal
"Mezcal can be sipped from a jicara, veladora, or even a stem glass with a narrow nose to intensify and trap the many layers of flavor in the particular mezcal being sipped. Montelobos Tobala, for example, has a very intense vegetal and long-lasting mineral profile. I recommend a bold variety like this be slowly sipped in a stem glass to appreciate the mosaic of the terroir and complexity this mezcal offers. This will provide a new sensory experience with every sip."
To buy: Schott Zwiesel Fortissimo Champagne Flute, $78; amazon.com
"Both [the jicara and veladora] are traditional vessels; however, the jicara is made of an organic material called a gourd, or fruit from the calabash tree, and will naturally absorb some of the mezcal. The same effect will not occur in a veladora. However, the wide-open mouth of the jicara allows varying flavor notes to surround the senses."
How to store mezcal
"I recommend storing mezcal in a glass jug such as this one, ceramic, or clay vessel, and at room temperature away from direct sunlight if the mezcal will not be consumed immediately."
To buy: Gallon Glass Jug, $13 (originally $16); amazon.com