Mezcal: The pitfalls of infusions

15 April, 2020

Mezcal is still in its infancy with consumers, so is it a good time to move to flavoured version, asks Shay Waterworth.

In March Bombay Sapphire became the latest major gin brand to release a flavoured variety. Members of the trade were surprised by the launch because it was so far behind its rivals and entering a saturated flavoured gin market in the UK. However, one of Bombay Bramble’s biggest selling points is the use of natural flavourings, setting it apart in a market full of cowboy brands using artificial sweeteners and colours.

The mezcal industry needs to heed the warnings from the flavoured gin market in order to avoid the risk of alienating its current consumer base as well as maintaining its premium reputation. “I think there’s going to be a move towards infused mezcals,” says Deano Moncrieffe, owner of London’s Hacha bar.

“There are a few people trying to do these styles of mezcal from the producers I’ve spoken to. Things like local herbs and flowers, which add a subtle layer of flavour and don’t take anything away. Purists will say don’t change what mezcal is, but I think it’s great, why not try it? We wouldn’t turn our back on anything.” The purists he refers to are those producers of artesanal mezcals which have been made in the same way for generations, and sold without any infusions or additional flavouring.

David Shepherd, founder of super premium artisanal brand Corte Vetusto, says: “Mezcal is made from a plant that takes a minimum of seven years to reach maturity, upward of 20/25 in some cases. Then, if you respect artisanal or ancestral production methods, it takes between four to five weeks to produce a batch, the output of which is dwarfed by any gin or whisky distillery on a daily basis. At the end, you have the most complex spirit in the world.

“We've won the highest honours at the ISC for our mezcals and it is our mission to prove to buyers and consumers that mezcal can go toe-to-toe with the finest spirits in the world and therefore deserves to be treated with the utmost respect.”

But while artisanal mezcal continues to grow its reputation in Europe, there are now destilado mezcals and infused varieties coming to market. An abocado mezcal is flavoured or infused, with the use of maguey worms being most common, whereas destilado, “distilled with”, mezcal involves a second or third distillation with other ingredients inside the still.

Shepherd adds: “Maestro mezcaleros have been making infusions or Mezcals de Pechuga for decades, if not longer. We have no issue with the general idea, but we don't look favourably on novelty ideas or gimmicks. Destilados are uncertified mezcals. These are mezcals produced by maestros in the manner they have done for centuries. They tend to be made in very small batches and given the cost of certification, many decide it is simply not economically viable to pursue certification.

Keywords: mezcal

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