Published on May 21st, 2015 | by Gavin


Mezcal Masterclass with Carlos Leal

Ever since visiting El Nivel Agaveria in Covent Garden last year and subsequently attending Tequila Fest in November, I’ve learnt quite a lot about Mezcal. Best described as Tequila’s down to earth older brother, this is the spirit of the people, and is finally getting the international recognition it deserves. As part of the UK’s Year of Mexico celebrations, we were invited to a mezcal tasting in Selfridges hosted by Sabios de Lua mezcal creator and general spokesperson for the spirit, Carlos Leal.

Carlos hails from Monterrey in the North East of Mexico, a city known for its mezcal production. Speaking to Carlos over a mezcal cocktail he has created especially for today, (a Pimm’s variation called To Pimm’s or Not to Pimm’s) it’s clear that this is the man to know about Mexican spirits.

When it comes to mezcal, the first question everyone asks is how is it different to Tequila?

On a very superficial level, tequila is mezcal made solely with the blue agave plant, whereas mezcal can be made with any of the 30 or so varieties of agave that grows in Mexico. But the answer is much deeper than that over simplified explanation and this masterclass is dedicated to answering a very complicated question; and I can’t think of a better way than by sampling seven of the rarest luxury tequila and mezcal brands around.

The seven glasses of neat 40% plus ABV spirits staring back at each of us in the small audience is unnerving for some, while others see it as a challenge. For me, it’s a guessing game; which will be the smoothest, will any set my tongue ablaze, and how many will I get through before keeling over…

Every masterclass I’ve ever attended always begins with an inspection of the liquid and a nose in the glass, but Carlos begins by showing me a new trick. He asks us to dip a finger in and rub the alcohol on the back of the hand until it dries. This process removes the pungent alcohol smell from the equation, so we are able to appreciate the full distinct aromas that make mezcal so special. It really is a dramatic change; the floral perfume like scent bears little resemblance to what’s in the glass.

It’s a common saying in Mexico that the first sip is always the harshest, so Carlos tries to ready our pallets with Casamigos Blanco (RRP £55 / 75cl), a tequila that is typically kinder than most on the palette. However this doesn’t quite translate judging by the number of shrivelled, beetroot coloured faces I see around the room. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown accustomed to Navy strength rum, but I find the unaged Casamigos to be extremely smooth, lining my tongue with an intensely creamy flavour.

We then move onto the first mezcal, Del Maguey Minero (RRP £70 / 70cl), and the difference is immediately obvious. A strong peppery start followed by a natural sweetness; Del Maguey has complexities that simply weren’t present in the Casamigos. The more mezcal we tried, the more intense the experience became; none more so than in Carlos’ own creation Sabios de Lua. When talking about it, Carlos’ pride is evident, and so he should be as this is a multi award winning mezcal that has received plaudits from industry insiders the world over. Very few bottles remain in the world so we are very fortunate to try it and all in attendance are in agreement that it’s the best unaged mezcal of the evening.

To further stake its claim as the superior product (in my mind anyway), we try Illegal Reposado mezcal (RRP £42 / 50cl) aged for four months and Tapatio Excelencia Extra Anejo tequila (RRP £155 / 70cl) aged for four years. Typically, a longer aged spirit should have much deeper and smokier characteristics from being in the barrel longer, however it is the mezcal which is much more flavoursome in my opinion and is my personal favourite of the evening.

Thanks to lime and salt, tequila has an unfair stigma attached to it. Like any spirit, there’s some god awful stuff available but as this evening has proved, there’s also a lot of good. So if you’re on the look out for a new sipping spirit, don’t head straight for the whisky aisle; give mezcal a chance, it may just surprise you.

For more information on The Year of Mexico and events taking place throughout 2015 visit http://mexicouk2015.mx/en/event

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About the Author

Born and raised in Croydon, South London, Gavin is a lover of cocktails, a passionate foodie, and a self-proclaimed ‘dancing god’. A (relatively) normal guy that decided to start blogging about his experiences around the city he loves.

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