Mezcal is the fastest growing spirit in the United States - and yet the average consumer knows so little about it. This is likely because each bottle of mezcal is its own story - tracing centuries of familial tradition.
Unlike the highly industrialized production of other spirits, each bottle of mezcal is a collection of individual decisions that flavor the mezcal. In many cases, these decisions have been passed down for generations from one mezcalero to another.
The possibilities are endless. Two mezcals from the same species of agave can result into two totally different flavors. It’s the benefit of having a process driven by tradition, not by technology.
But for y’all, this can get overwhelming. But fear nothing, amigos, all the information you need is on the SUSTO bottle. That’s right. Want to be better about knowing the source of your food and drinks? Drink more SUSTO.
Let’s review the bottle.
Front of the bottle:
- 100% Agave: All mezcal should be 100% agave. If it’s not, find another bottle.
- Mezcal Artesanal: There are three categories created to educate consumers about the bottle they’re buying. The most common is, Mezcal Artesanal, which denotes that SUSTO uses the traditional mezcal production processes: earthen pits, wooden vats, copper or clay pots. (If you see a generic “Mezcal” or “Mezcal Industrial” title, it means the producer uses hyper-industrialized processes like steel vats and autoclaves. Don’t drink them. Fear them!)
- Joven: This is one of the six classifications of mezcal. Joven (translated: “young”) means it’s unaged mezcal. Once the mezcal has been distilled, it’s more or less transferred to the bottle.
On the back:
- Type of Maguey: Espadin Maguey is another word for the agave plant. There are 50+ varieties that can be used to produce mezcal (for comparison, tequila can only be made from one type of agave). SUSTO comes from the espadín varietal. Espadins are the most common type used for mezcal, but their flavors are far from common. The production process, the land, and the mezcalero can make two espadins taste totally different.
- Town of Origin: San Dionoisio de Ocotepec A small town southeast of Oaxaca where the Crispin Perez, SUSTO’s master mezcalero, and his family have produced mezcal over generations. Did you know that every bottle of Oaxaca funds scholarships for local middle and high school students in town?
- Producing State: Oaxaca Ya lo sabes! Mezcal has to be produced in 1 of 9 states of Mexico to earn the privilege of the mezcal title (similar to champagne only coming from the Champagne region of France). The state of Oaxaca is considered the capital of mezcal production.
- Type of Oven: Earthen Pit Ovens Unlike tequila, which uses industrial above-ground ovens to cook agaves, mezcaleros dig large pits into the ground to roast the freshly harvested agaves. How the pit is designed is up to the mezcalero, but most have wood and volcanic rocks on the bottom to generate heat as the agave hearts are loaded on top to cook. That smoky flavor you taste? This is where it comes from. On top of the agaves, mezcaleros will pile leftover fibers followed by a soil cover to ensure the agaves cook for at least a few days.
- Type of Milling: Stone Mill (Tahona) After the agave is cooked, it needs to be milled down to small fibers before fermentation. The traditional stone mill (la tahona) is a large stone wheel pulled in a circle to crush the agave hearts. This process is not as arbitrary as it sounds - just like a chef dices onions a specific way to extract certain flavors, so too will the mezcalero pay attention to the size and texture of the fibers.
- Fermenting Vessel: Wood Mezcals can be fermented in vats made from wood, stone, cement, plastic, and even animal hide. Each style imparts its own flavor into the mezcal. Throughout the fermentation, lasting up to a week, the mezcalero checks the heat and smell of the vat.
- Type of Water: Springwater Mezcaleros, generally working in rural regions, can use anything from well water to river water to spring water. Like every step in the process, it impacts flavor.
- Distillation Vessel: Copper Alembic Authentic mezcals are distilled in either clay or copper pots. Neither method is considered better or worse, it’s simply a matter of taste. Generally speaking, clay infuses more of an earthy taste while copper pots can result in a crisper flavor.
- Number of Distillations: Two Mezcals must be distilled at least twice to earn the mezcal title.
- NOM: O526X The NOM is an identification number letting the consumer know this has been certified by the government as authentic mezcal. The O and X in the NOM signify that this mezcal from Oaxaca. Other states will have different letters.