Made in Mexico


May 8, 2024

Words by: Marcia J. Hamm

Top shelf sippable spirits

While the Cuervo family retains the distinction of establishing the first commercial tequila distillery in 1758, the production of agave-based spirits predates that by about 1500 years when Aztecs fermented the sap of agave plants to make a drink called pulque. There is archaeological evidence though, that pulque production goes back even further, to Olmec civilization around 200 A.D. For many of us, a margarita cocktail or a shot of tequila with lime and salt was our introduction to agave-based spirits, but there is so much more to Mexican distillates than tequila, and so much more to tequila than a few popular brands. Make way for the artisans and make space on your shelf; tequila may be the best-known of the group, but mezcal and its compatriots are gaining ground. 

Before you go shopping, keep in mind that while entry-level spirits are typically used in cocktails, the top-shelf elixirs are most often enjoyed on their own. Below are three unique Mexican spirits and where to find them in Edmonton. 

The unique flavour of tequila comes from blue Weber agave, a member of the maguey family. Look for a label that states “100 percent agave” to indicate that no cane or corn sugars were added during the cooking and distilling process. In addition,  an unfiltered and undiluted tequila, like Cascahuin Plata 48, means you’re getting something super special. This high-proof plata (white) tequila has a strong fragrance of cooked agave, pepper, honey and butter. On the palate, an initial salinity gives way to subtle sweetness with a lingering presence on the tongue from residual agave oils. Flavours are complex with hints of yeast, peppercorns and green bananas. This is tequila at its purest and finest and a favourite of aficionados. In Edmonton, find it at Color de Vino, 9606 – 82 Avenue.

Because of its smoky fragrance and flavour profile, mezcal is often likened to Scotch. While tequila is made with only blue Weber agave, mezcal can be made from a variety of agave (the most common of which is maguey espadin) with most production in the Oaxaca Valley. Roasting the agave before macerating the pulp gives mezcal its signature smoky flavour. After the maceration, the syrupy mass is naturally fermented and then distilled. To enjoy this spirit to its fullest, sip it slowly in small doses to coat the tongue, and experience the flavours that unfold on the taste buds. This is known as el beso, the kiss (of mezcal). 

When choosing a mezcal, go with an artisanal or family-run business that offers small-scale production. Los Danzantes Still Proof is made from different agave species depending on the year, so terroir is very much present in every bottle. This distillery is as traditional as it gets with underground, earthen fire pits used to roast the agave before it’s crushed by a mule-drawn tahona (heavy stone wheel). The pulp is fermented with wild yeast in open wooden vats and distilled in small, wood-fired clay pots. Not so traditional, the head mezcal-maker, or mezcalera in this case, is a trained chemist and a woman. Karina Abad’s guidance in making this mezcal, results in an intricate and complex spirit with a floral fragrance and a balanced flavour of earthy, vegetal characteristics with hints of smoke, cocoa and fruit. A suggestion of cracked black pepper lends a bit of zest. Pick this up at Vine Arts, 10961 – 124 Street.

Sotol is made from a shrub-like succulent called sereque, commonly known as desert spoon, grown in Chihuahua, a state in northern Mexico. The heart of the plant is cooked in a shallow pit over a wood fire, lending the bottled result a bit of smoke but less than what a mezcal might exhibit. Variety and terroir are crucial in the production of this interesting spirit. Flor del Desierto sotol is made from 100% Daylirion leiophyllum, wild-harvested at 18 to 22 years in the Coyame Desert. This particular sotol has an aroma of lemon, lemongrass and underlying earthiness. On the palate, you’ll experience ripe fruit, cacao, minerality, smoke, and a hint of sweetness.  If you’re a fan of both tequila and mezcal, a bottle of Flor del Desierto should be in your cabinet. Look for it at both Sherbrooke Liquor locations at 11819 St. Albert Trail, and 9271 – 50 Street.

Share this article:

Places To Be

See this month's local flavours, products, and services.