This is a subject close to my heart because I've always loved mezcal. It is one of those drinks with magic myths attached to it. But even without the myths, Mezcal is a tasty drink. I always buy a bottle during summer. -SJ Otto
Contributed by Kelly Magyarics
There’s much to learn about mezcal—so much that even certified master mezcalier Josh Phillips admits he’s not even remotely close to knowing everything. One notion he likes to squash as quickly as possible, though, is the misconception that mezcal is tequila’s smoky cousin. “We don’t carry many overtly smoky mezcals,” he says. “Instead, we try to emphasize everything else that is going on in the category.” Smoke, it turns out, is not its most interesting characteristic by a long shot.
“Mezcal is a product that is thousands of years old and made across an entire country. Every year, we learn new things, and that is what makes it exciting,” he says. To that end, the partner and general manager of Espita Mezcaleria in Washington, D.C., replicates for his staff his master mezcalier training. While the official program, overseen by the Mexican government, teaches denomination of origin, Phillips doesn’t believe that paints the whole picture. His proprietary version certifies “Espita mezcaliers” in three levels. To date, five staff members have completed the entire program, while several others have finished the first or second level.
Level one of the program focuses on the D.O. and legal definition of mezcal. (The short version is that it’s an agave distillate from regions in nine states in Mexico made from an approved list of agaves grown in those states, bottled between 35 and 55 percent ABV in an approved pH range and produced in a number of different approved styles.) It also covers how other regional styles differ from it and ends with a written test. “Most of our pre-shift meetings touch on topics this test covers, and we also have a written primer that all staff members get upon hire so they can begin studying from day one.”
The second level focuses on mezcal’s applications in the culinary and cocktail world. During a blind tasting of varietally typical ones, staff must identify five varietals or styles. “We’re not interested in identifying a brand as those change constantly, but if someone can’t identify a Tepextate versus a Mexicano versus a Tobala, they won’t move on in the program,” says Phillips.
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Pix from Serious Eats: Drinks.