Distilled: Viva Mezcal!

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From the August 22, 2013 edition

First off, there’s mezcal and then there’s good mezcal. You know that whole tequila worm thing? It’s a misconception. The spirit with the worm is actually really crappy kind. Eating the worm — or drinking the swill it comes in — is moronic. Got it? Good. Good mezcal has no worm and is one of the most complex and enjoyablespirits on the market.

An excellent mezcal available in Columbus is Del Maguey Mezcal Vida. Like all proper mezcal, it’s produced in the southern Mexico region of Oaxaca (pronounced wa-HA-ka) Maguey Single Village es a very particular and old-world process of distilling fermented maguey (a type of agave), and is very proud its method dedicated to both organic sustainability and a sense of spirituality.

In the simplest terms, Del Maguey distillery harvests its plants from local farms and roasts the maguey hearts over hot stones covered with maguey fibers and dirt for a number of days. Then grinds the hearts to be fermented in open-air wood tanks and distilled in clay or copper stills.

It’s a completely natural, unindustrialized process by native farmers and producers. No electricity is used. The grinder is horse-powered and the stills are wood-fired. The covered roast is even blessed because the maguey plant is regarded as a spiritual entity.

The result is a product of utmost quality. Vida is a smoky, earthy liquor — that’s much smoother than any high-end tequila — with a touch of honey and ever-so-subtle hints of fruit in the aftertaste.

While I quite enjoy Vida, it may not be for everyone especially those expecting something akin to tequila. The roasted agave flavors are strong, similar in potency to peaty scotches like Laphroig or Lagvulin.

The Vida does make great cocktails (available at establishments like Curio and Giuseppe Ritrovo, or in recipe-form on the website). While it’s perfectly sippable neat or rocks, a cocktail may be the best way for someone green to experience the product. Regardless anyone looking to spice up their imbibing should give it a shot. I mean sip; no shots.

Photo by Tim Johnson