How to Sip Mezcal, According to the Sisters Behind La Fiera Mezcal
Learn how to properly sip, taste, and enjoy mezcal with these expert tips.
Andrea and Mariana Villela were teens when they had their first sip of mezcal at a family gathering in Guerrero, Mexico. Allowing kids to try a variety of spirits is a very common tradition within Mexican families, as a way to instill a part of their culture in them at an early age. At that moment, both sisters understood that this mezcal, from that particular region, held a very special significance in their lives.
That feeling was only strengthened when they realized how their mother’s friends in Mexico City would react when she brought them local mezcal from Guerrero during her visits. They would rave about its uniquely delicious taste. That lit a spark in the sisters, who found that not only was there something great about being able to share a piece of their roots with others, but that there was an opportunity to do just that through mezcal, by connecting with mezcaleros in Guerrero and creating a distinct brand. That’s how La Fiera Mezcal was born.
In addition to launching La Fiera, the sisters also offer private tasting classes in their home in Mexico City for those looking to learn more about the Mexican spirit. To get a little taste (pun very much intended) of what they offer, we spoke with them about the unique qualities of their mezcal from Guerrero, expert tasting techniques, and which cups we should all be sipping our mezcal from.
Thrillist: Do you guys remember the first time you tried mezcal?
Andrea: Both my parents are anthropologists, so we kind of grew up traveling with them a lot to the indigenous communities around my mom's town Chilapa, Guerrero. [When we were] adolescents, we were in this very famous town of Zitlala, near Chilapa, for a celebration of the Santo Patrono, which is for the saint of the town. And we arrived at the house of someone he knew. It's a tradition [in that town] that to start drinking, women and men drink separately first, and then they join at some point of the high of mezcal. [The host] poured all the men mezcal. And then he went to the kitchen and one of the youngest daughters of the family came out from the kitchen and she asked our dad and ourselves if the women could go and take mezcal with my sister and myself. We were pretty young, 13 or something like that. But we said yes and they poured us mezcal and the four of us drank together. My sister and myself, we both remember this time pretty much because it was the first time that we drank with strangers in this very ritual aspect of a tradition of how you drink mezcal.
How did you start La Fiera Mezcal?
Mariana: Well, Andrea started 10 years ago with the brand. She started bringing mezcal from Guerrero for [a book presentation]. Everybody was like, "Wow, what is this mezcal? Where does it come from? It's super good, it's delicious." Everybody was really excited about what Andrea brought. So she started seeing this as a good opportunity to start a business. She started bringing small batches of different producers from Guerrero. My mom [knew] a lot of people in small towns in Guerrero that can produce a very rustic mezcal. So she started bringing small batches of mezcal.
Andrea: [Mezcal is] sold in very interesting contexts sometimes. You can go to a restaurant that it's not officially a mezcal area and they might sell you some of their own batch, because they have their own local supplier. Or sometimes you will go to just random houses there without knowing that the maestro mezcalero lives there and they have everything in the house collected. Or sometimes you can even go to stores like a fabric store, or tool store and maybe they sell mezcal as well there, because maybe the father of the owner of the store is the producer. So you go to this tool place and say, "I heard you sell mezcal here," and they sell you their mezcal.
My mom, she was the one that started meeting [the producers] first, and then I would go and meet them later. So we work currently with five different producers.
Think of mezcal as a friend of yours. How would you introduce it to someone and how would you tell their story?
Andrea: If mezcal was my friend, I would first say, "Oh, I'm pretty sure you have met him before." And then I would say, "You have to treat him or her respectfully. It's very friendly, as long as you treat him right." He will open up or share very interesting things with you and reveal things from you that you don't know, too. It's going to be a long enjoyable afternoon spending it with him or her.
Mariana: I will definitely add that you need to know him well. Also, you need to try to know more about him, about his history, about how he grows. It's a very interesting character. I think most of the people who drink mezcal don't know him well. So I think it's something that is part of the magic of this character.
What is La Fiera Mezcal? Tell us about where the name came from and what the brand is today.
Andrea: When I started, I was selling a little bit of mezcal but with no big enterprise purposes. Then I made a trip to my mom's town and I met Aracely, who is the first woman that we started working with. She’s the artist and the painter of the handcrafted bottles. When I first saw her work, and I saw this specific character of the face, it's a fierce face. But it's a friendly character at the same time. I felt that the mezcal had to be something related to that as well, but I didn't want to give it a male character, because most of the alcohol world has male names, because it's associated with masculinity, it’s always been like that. To me, it was also the spirit of the jaguar that it's related to Guerrero. The face of the jaguars, painted by Aracely, to me speaks about that fierce essence like in songs and literature that speak about this wild animal. They call it La Fiera. They don't say what specific animal it is, but you know it's a wild presence. It's connected to nature, connected to the land, things like that. That's how I started advertising the project as La Fiera, and it stayed like that.
How is your mezcal different from others?
Andrea: It's very representative of the flavor of the mezcal from Guerrero. I mean, mezcal can change from one year to another. Also, the climatic conditions can modify a little bit of the life of the bacteria. It can have slight changes in flavor. But over the years, we have stayed with [producers] that have developed a very constant quality in terms of the flavor. It's like a signature. We work with producers that produce artisanal mezcal, which is mezcal that can be produced with half rustic and half modern techniques. They have a system that allows them to have efficiency of the change of production, without sacrificing a lot of manual labor. They have good tools and things to allow them to kind of work a little less, but still maintain a traditional technique, which is an interesting debate in the mezcal world.
We work with both old and young producers, which is interesting [when it comes to] how they see their production. But first, we have to personally like their mezcal. After that, we see the quality that they develop and the consistency in the production.
Can you walk us through the experiences that you guys offer?
Mariana: The experience lasts three hours, that’s the time that we stay together here talking about mezcal. We would do this at my house here in Coyoacán. We give out a little tasting plate where you are going to have different ingredients that we are going to be pairing the mezcal with. [That way] you can find the different flavors of each mezcal.
Andrea: We show pictures, we show videos, not only about the mezcal process of production, but also about the folklore in Guerrero. We try to speak a little bit about where these mezcals are coming from. The other part is the sensorial part, where you learn from your own experience of drinking it and using the tools that we teach them: how to sip it, how to smell it, how to observe its characteristics. The third very interesting part is also through the meals that Mariana prepares, because she's part of the team that it's in charge of feeding the guests, so nobody gets too drunk. What Mariana has done a lot is that she has brought the recipes from our home, down from our family, to have them in the tasting, which is something that you are not always going to try in a restaurant. It also makes it totally different because it gives you the sense of being in a friend's house. Mariana learned the recipes from my grandmother, since she was very little she would be in the kitchen with her.
Shop All You Need For Mezcal Tasting
Shop All You Need For Mezcal Tasting
What are the perfect snacks to pair with mezcal?
Mariana: Cheese is very good to pair with mezcal. Also any fruit that is citric. The other one has to be instant coffee. I think it's a very strange thing but it goes amazing with every single mezcal. So you have a little instant coffee in your tongue, and then you have a small sip of mezcal, and it's going to be a completely different and interesting [experience]. The cheese is like a very traditional snack in the mezcal areas in Guerrero. When you go to mezcalerías, in most of them, they have these aged cheeses.
Andrea: Try it with berries, because berries have a little bit of acidity but [also] freshness. In some mezcals you can find red notes also from red fruit. Also chocolate, dark chocolate or very good quality chocolate—high in cacao percentage. It goes really well with mezcal!
What types of cups or glasses do you recommend to sip mezcal from? Do you have any favorites that you keep in your kitchen?
Mariana: In different towns, they use the cups that are made with squash, but we think that's not the best way to drink it, because with this type of cups, they're going to absorb the mezcal.
Andrea: Sometimes they pour in the traditional three-ounce veladora glass. The good thing about that one is it has a wide mouth, a wide rim. So it leaves enough space for the breathing of the spirit. It opens it up. The problem with that one is because it has the lines outside the design, it's not very simple to observe the body, the legs, or the tears that speak about the viscosity of the mezcal.
Mariana: Also, if there’s color in the glass, you're not going to be able to look at it. You can’t see the physical qualities that the mezcal has.
Andrea: The spirit tasting glass is high enough so the alcohol doesn't evaporate faster. I think it has a little bit the same height as a tequilero, but the tequilero doesn't have an open mouth, so you don't allow the spirit to evolve in terms of how he breathes after. And this one has the rounded part that you will have maybe in whiskey.
Can you describe one of the tasting methods that you use?
Andrea: The idea is that you use saliva in your mouth when you have the first appreciation of the mezcal. You take a small sip and you mix it with the saliva in your mouth, then you swirl it around for a little bit. This way, you are going to cover all your mouth with the spirit. Before you swallow, you breathe in through your nose, you swallow and then you breathe out through your mouth. This is the kissing technique. It goes up to your nose, but it also makes your gums, your inner cheeks, everything burns at the first attempt. The next sips you take, you just pass it in small sips and it starts reacting really well across your palate where you start perceiving the different aspects of the mezcal.
This piece has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity