First a bit of an introduction to Mezcal
As I was nearing the end of my latest tequila brand – elJimador Reposado – I began contemplating its replacement. I felt I’d almost exhausted the decent affordable brands, and the last time I spent a significant amount on tequila (Siete Leguas) , I hadn’t felt it represented good value for money so… what to do? How about spend even more money on something a bit different? Yes, I came to the conclusion that it was about time I tried Mezcal.
So what is it?
Well, without wanting to get too factual and precise, I’ll tell you what I’ve been telling my friends. And that is, Mezcal is like tequila, but it is more of an artisan spirit. While tequila tends to be produced on an industrial scale, Mezcal is handcrafted in villages, following traditional methods that have been passed down the generations. That does mean it is likely that the distributer buys it for peanuts and sells it at an immense profit, which doesn’t make you feel particularly good, but that’s economics and I don’t have any Mexican road trips planned for a while.
Both spirits are made from forms of agave. The pina or heart of the plants are removed and, in tequila production, cooked in ovens. In mezcal production, they are roasted for several days in pit ovens – this can give mezcal a naturally smokey flavour.
Tequila comes from the Jalisco region of Mexico, while most mezcal comes from Oaxaca.
So, I’m sure you’ll agree: mezcal sounds pretty special – and potentially expensive, but we’ll come to that shortly.
So, a leisurely but intense internet search led me here, to the del Maguey brand and specifically the Chichicapa expression. Del Maguey is a brand founded by a certain Ronald Cooper to export ‘previously unavailable certified organic, artisanal, single village mezcal.’ This one is named after the village of Chichicapa, where it is made. The location of the village is described as follows:
“two hours south of Oaxaca, and 2 hours to the west on a dirt road… Chichicapa is separated from the valley of Oaxaca by a mountain range. The valley is broad, about thirty miles deep and ten miles wide”.
Thirty miles deep? Really? I’m not sure I’m understanding all this information; if there’s a mountain range between the village and the valley… why are they telling us about the valley? Presumably something is lost in translation.
All the mezcals offered by del Maguey differ depending on the various topographies of the growing zones, and are presented in cheeky green bottles with ‘beautifully rendered labels’. I read this bit about ‘beautifully rendered labels’, and went, so? But when my bottle arrived I took a look and went, you know? That is quite beautifully rendered… Similarly, nearly everyone I’ve shown it to has commented on it.
Let’s have a look at some of the things I read online that led to me parting ways with something around 70 quid.
What the Internet Says
Well, generally the internet loves the Chichicapa. Proof 66 says it is aged for 14 years prior to bottling – which is certainly not true, though there may be a 14 year old version. It goes on to say:
"Where good tequila is like a museum tour of tradition and excellence [is it?], the Chichicapa hits you like a trip on Space Mountain in Disneyland, shoving all decorum aside in a mad, screaming rush of flavor. A little water in the glass opens up a truly magical trip that we can only describe as a 'symphony of flowers.'” – which is nice.
While researching I came across tequilatuesday.co.uk that appears to specialise in selling tequilas and suchlike, but their prices are ridiculous! The Chichicapa was like £20 more expensive than anywhere else. And they sell single limes for 65p. Who is this aimed at? Someone who can’t buy limes with their normal shopping? You’d have to be nuts to buy from there.
So anyway, I got my mezcal from The Whisky Exchange and I was disappointed to find it arrived without the special case I’d read so much about, and it was only 70cl instead of the advertised 75. Still, credit to The Whisky Exchange who called me up to tell me they’d refund the postage (which worked out to slightly more than the missing 5cl was worth) and have a poke around “downstairs” to see if they had any of the cases lying around. It seems they did because they sent me two. Good lads.
I saved opening for a night with Pablo and Veronica, and here’s what we found.
Smokey with tones of lemon and vinegar on the palate. Sometimes it reminds me of vodka when you’ve added too much lemon, but that’s a good thing because I can enjoy the citrus notes without actually adding any. If I add any to vodka, it just makes me feel guilty – like it’s cheating.
All that extra alcohol provides a really pleasant numbness.
The del Maguey has proved very popular with the various guests we’ve had round at the new gaff. Pablo overindulged royally, Gav and David were impressed, and then Pits enjoyed a few generous measures mightily. All this means I’ve only opened the bottle on 5 occasions, and there’s barely a dribble left. Not great value in terms of longevity for the £70 outlay, but it’s nice to share with friends, and I haven’t been sorry one bit.
Would I buy this again, or even spend this much on mezcal again? Should you? It’s certainly an easy way to impress your friends. Everyone wants to know what it is and give it a try, and if you can remember how to describe how it differs from tequila, you can look all cultured and interesting. Claims that it is as complex as good scotch though, are in my opinion unfounded. Perhaps if I had ever added water I would have understood that assertion, but it’s only 46%... adding water just never seemed appropriate.
|it should say this on all spirits. Even the bad ones.|
It isn’t really £70 worth of spirit in my opinion, but you live and learn, and I’ll be going back to trying tequilas for a bit. This is the kind of purchase you need to build up to if you’re ever going to repeat it. So yes, I enjoyed it and I enjoyed sharing it and appearing generous and cultured, and I suppose all that is included in the price.