You’ve had your run-ins with tequila. But what about mezcal?
Tequila’s rustic cousin, with a distinctive smoky flavour and throat-clearing bite, takes the spotlight during Vancouver Agave Week, May 20-24. The celebration of all things derived from the wondrous agave plant culminates in the second annual Vancouver International Tequila Expo on May 24 (Expect more on that event from our blogger Taraneh).
The lead-up to the big Tequila Expo, however, will feature a series of smaller tastings and seminars designed to educate drinkers on the joys of mezcal and other agave-based delicacies. Ubiquitous on the dry Mexican landscape, agave is a type of succulent (a cactus, to be precise) that’s actually related to the lily.
While tequila is derived from a single species of the plant, blue agave, mezcal is derived from more than 4o species, known as maguey (as explained in detail in a great article by the Vancouver Sun’s Joanne Sasvari). For tequila, the heart of the agave plant is steam-cooked and fermented. Meanwhile for mezcal, the plant is roasted in wood-fired ovens, which imparts a distinct charred, smoky taste profile.
Finally, while good tequilas are often aged in oak barrels (either for a few months as “reposado” or a few years as “anejo”), mezcals are consumed in their raw and fiery original form.
Drinkers interested in deepening their mezcal appreciation will have their pick of seminars during Agave Week, all hosted inside Legacy Liquor Store in the former Olympic Village. Brush on up the basics in Mezcal 101 (May 20), a 90-minute lesson on the history, geography, culture, process and tasting of mezcal, with plenty of sipping along the way. More advanced tipplers can check out Agave Gone Wild (May 22), a deep dive into the world of wild-harvested agave mezcals, made from foraged plants. There are also plenty of primers on tequila, as well, from intros to master classes.
Travellers to Mexico will know that while tequila is indeed the national drink, mezcalerias – bars dedicated to serving mezcal – are also popular. The drink has developed a cult following among young urbanites who sip and savour endless varieties and it also enjoys a stronghold in traditional, rural areas.
For more updates on Vancouver and beyond, follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza.