Make mine a mezcal: The rise and rise of Mexico’s greatest export

Take a shot in style (just don’t mention the T-word)

If the legend is to be believed, mezcal first came about when a bolt of lightning struck an agave plant in the Mexican desert, burning the piña and producing a dark, rich elixir — a drink designed and distilled by the earth itself. It’s a story appropriately romantic for a spirit that has toasted the births, deaths, loves and lives across generations of natives in the desert regions of Mexico. Residents of the city of Oaxaca even believe that the drink possesses healing powers, devising the winning proverb: “For everything bad, mezcal — and for everything good, too.”

It’s a sentiment we are more than happy to raise a copita (or three) to — particularly as this smoky spirit is now experiencing a surge in popularity. Once considered the poor man’s tequila, mezcal is now being recognised for both its versatility as a base spirit and its standalone complexity.

Our five chosen bottles showcase the best that mezcal’s rich and mysterious homeland has to offer. Those new to the spirit might do well to begin with the Ilegal Joven, which is deliciously light and can be enjoyed with tonic water and ice. Mezcal Amores Espadín Joven has a similarly open, pleasant and clean finish, with subtle notes of pink pepper.

For the hardier, more seasoned mezcal drinker, the Pensador Mezcal at 48% ABV might be more appropriately labelled El Fin De La Noche (or, The Night-Ender), but still packs a surprising sweetness. For a buttery finish, Bruxo No.3 Mezcal Barril delivers a gorgeous, caramel smoothness, while for an authentic taste of the Mexican outback, Del Maguey’s Wild Papalome Mezcal is the earthiest bottle on our shortlist.

Seasoned mezcal enthusiasts will instruct that your first sip shouldn’t be a sip at all, but rather a kiss — from which any great love story unfolds. ¡Salud!

A quick word on the Mezcal worm...

Despite being popularly known as the ‘tequila worm’, a worm, or “el gusano”, can be found in the bottom of mezcal bottles. To further complicate matters, the worm isn’t actually a worm at all, but rather larva which lives and feeds on the agave plant from which mezcal is made.

The legend of the worm is still debated, but one thing we do know is that it didn’t start appearing in commercial bottles until the 40s (sceptics might point out that this was right around the time north American tourists developed a taste for the spirit).

A number of powers have been ascribed to this humble pickled creature over the years — some will claim it is an aphrodisiac, others that it can make you more drunk. All we know is that, after a few too many cups of this spirit, you won’t be able to chalk up all your ‘hallucinations’ to a dead maggot.

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