First things first: Mezcal is not tequila, so don’t shoot it, don’t add lime and salt. It’s a complex and lovely spirit that’s best enjoyed neat. Mezcal has come a long way from the days when each bottle of golden liquid contained a solitary moth larvae ready to be consumed on a drinking dare. Today, in a full PR 180, mezcal is coveted by our country’s top bartenders and is found on every (good) cocktail menu in the country. Austin is no exception. Here’s what you need to know about mezcal and where you need to drink it.
So, what exactly is mezcal?
Mezcal is a distilled spirit made from the agave plant, a succulent which is typically large and spiky. The agave’s piñas are trimmed, roasted, and ground before being placed into wooden fermentation tanks and later distilled at least twice through copper stills or clay pots.
Traditionally, the spirit hails from Oaxaca, although there are other regions it is found. There are copious amounts of agave varietals with different flavors that can be used to make mezcal. The combination of the terroir (soil, topography, and climate), type of still used, and producer results in near-infinite combinations. “Most people expect smokiness and dark, earthy notes,” says Billy Hankey, owner of King Bee Lounge and former lead barman of Second Bar + Kitchen, “but that there are so many varietals of mezcal that flavors can range from bright and herbaceous to funky... like blue cheese funky.”