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Why Is Mezcal Smoky?

At this point, you probably already know Mezcal as tequila’s smokin’ hot cousin. Regardless of whether you’re a smokiness extraordinaire or a skeptic still waiting to be convinced, you’ve probably (at least once) wondered: how does Mezcal get so damn smoky? You’ve come to the right place. Mezcal experts in our own right (if we do say so ourselves), we’ll talk about this stuff all day long. So push that tequila aside and read on for a very smoky 411.

Ok, So What Is Mezcal?

Mezcal is a distilled spirit made from the agave plant. It comes straight from the heart of the plant, also known as the piña. We’ve heard folks refer to  Mezcal as “magical” or “heaven-sent,” and no, we’re not biased. In the last year alone, Mezcal skyrocketed 40% in its market category of upcoming spirits. We can’t make this stuff up—Mezcal is the liquor of our time. And if you’ve had a chance to try it yourself, it’s easy to see why.

The name “Mezcal” comes right from the liquor’s Mexican roots. Derived from the Nahuatl word mexcalli, meaning  “oven-cooked agave,” Mezcal is pronounced m-e-s-c-a-l (in Spanish, z’s are pronounced as s’s). If you ever see “Mescal'' on the menu at a restaurant, worry not—it’s the same Mezcal you know and love, slightly altered to accommodate the English language. Great little opportunity to show off your Mezcal knowledge at the dinner table. Best followed up with a casual, “Oh, cool! Shall we all try a glass?”

Mezcal is rooted in a centuries-old tradition that follows the lead of Mother Nature herself. Mezcal reminds us to slow down, soften, and surrender to the moment. Mezcal feels like home.

Rosaluna was born out of the simple thought that Mezcal is, and should be, for everyone. Mezcal feels like home because Rosaluna is handmade by a sister and brother duo whose family has been lovingly creating the spirit for six generations. It is carefully crafted with love. So to answer your question: Mezcal is magical, heaven-sent, homey, and everything else you need and want it to be.

How Is It Made?

Again, Mezcal is never simply “made,” it’s crafted.

It all starts with farming. Baby agaves are planted and nurtured with water and sun for up to eight years. The plants are continually cleaned and cared for as they grow in fresh Matatlán soil; this gives the Mezcal its hearty and earthy essence later in the process. When they’re ready, the heart of the agave is harvested, and the leaves are removed to get only the pineapple (the “piña”), which contains the most sweetness.

Then, it’s onto the roasting. A fire with pinewood logs in the ground is covered in stones, and the agaves are carefully piled on top. This is where Mezcal coined its name from Nahuatl mexcalli; the oven-cooked agave. This roasting process can take up to five days and adds the sharp note of cooked agave to the final product, an essence well worth any wait.

Milling is the next step, in which the juices and fiber are mashed or milled out of the cooled agave plant. Then, it’s on to fermenting. Pinewood barrels are used during Mezcal’s fermentation process, where water is added to the juice and agave fiber to kick things off. This is when alcohol starts being created. The magic—oops, fermentation— can take up to eight days.

The final step is a double distillation. It begins by mixing the fermented agave juice with the fiber. Then, in the second distillation, the head and heart of the first distillation are taken and distilled one more time. This process separates the water from the alcohol and captures the purest version of alcohol in the final spirit.

But Like...Is It The Same As Tequila?

Technically, any spirit made from agave is classified as a type of Mezcal (the OG), making tequila a type of Mezcal. So, all tequilas are Mezcals, but not all Mezcals are tequilas. Here are the three differences.

They’re produced in different regions.

In the same way that real champagne comes from France and true scotch is made in Scotland, tequila and Mezcal have different “homes,” if you will. What sets a great Mezcal apart has a lot to do with the specific region it comes from.

The true birthplace of Mezcal is Santiago, Matalán, Oaxaca. Oaxaca is where almost 90% of all Mezcal is made, and for a good reason. Matalán soil is what gives Mezcal its distinct earthy notes.

Jalisco, a state northwest of Oaxaca, is where tequila comes from. While there is some overlap for regions producing these two liquors, true connoisseurs know that the devil is in the details (or in this case, in the regions).

They’re made from different types of agave.

There are almost 200 types of agave plants. Mezcal can be made from over 30 of them, all of which are native to Oaxaca. With 30 plants to choose from, Mezcal boasts unparalleled versatility; the blending of different agaves results in various, distinct final products. On the flip side, tequila is made from only one type of agave: weber blue agave.

They’re made differently.

Mezcal gets its signature smoky flavor from the process of cooking the agave in underground pits. These pits are lined with hot rocks that burn for 24 hours before the agave is even added. By roasting the agave plants, it gives them a rich, savory, and smoky taste. We can almost smell it from here...

True artisanal Mezcals ditch modern techniques in favor of this more traditional method. While it requires more attention to detail and takes longer, this extra love and care are what give Mezcal its unique smokiness and multi-dimensional taste. Remember: this baby is crafted, not created.

Tequila is made by steaming the heart (the piña) of the agave plant in above-ground ovens and distilling the liquid in copper pots. Both liquors are harvested from the core of the agave plant, but it’s in this production process that the two start to really differ.

If this were a school bake sale, tequila would be the store-bought cookies, and Mezcal would be the fresh, homemade, and carefully decorated cupcakes. More time, more effort, more love.

What’s Up With All The Smokiness?

People always describe Mezcal as smoky, with a slightly charred taste. Mezcal smells and tastes this way because of how it’s produced; it’s been cooked and roasted—what do you expect?!

But Mezcal is far from one-dimensional and can boast many other profiles, including floral, fruity, or earthy, too. It usually comes back to location; the taste of Mezcal will vary depending on where the agave was grown, and which production process was used. That said, these three tasting notes are pretty universal:

Earthy Agave.

Roasted agave hearts and their delicious caramel notes lead the way, while spices like ginger and cinnamon are woven throughout.

Complex Aroma.

With notes of citrus, tropical fruits, pineapple, and pear, it’s an experience of bright notes that can be enjoyed by everyone.

Smooth Finish.

Leading with a hint of agave smoke, it finishes with subtle layers of sweet fruit and baking spice.

And if you were wondering, flavored Mezcal doesn’t exist. Mezcal isn’t like other spirits, such as vodka, which can be created with different flavors. Mezcal is a stand-alone spirit that doesn’t need any artificial flavoring. There are still plenty of ways to play around with the taste of Mezcal—the cocktail options are endless.

How Do You Drink Mezcal?

Mezcal brings a full experience of complex flavors that’s more than capable of being enjoyed on its own. When drinking Mezcal straight, hold off on the ice and sip it at room temperature to fully appreciate its deep flavors. Traditionally, a glass of Mezcal is served with a pinch of salt and a zesty orange slice.

All of that said, the beautiful thing about Mezcal is that there are no rules. Yes, Rosaluna’s smooth and sweet flavor makes it perfect for drinking neat. But its unique balance of flavor allows it to be the ideal companion to your favorite cocktail, too. For one, it’s the perfect accompaniment to citrus flavors. Try pairing your Mezcal grapefruit, either with a simple seltzer or in a grapefruit cocktail.

The undertones of different Mezcals can be played up to enhance their fruity, spicy, or nutty taste. It’s commonly served in a Margarita or an Old-Fashioned Cocktail. We also love mixing Mezcal with fruity flavors like mango, guava, or pineapple. A splash of lime or honey is another instant classic that can do no wrong.

If you want to do things really right, reach for some “sal de gusano” (worm salt). A salt mixed with fried ground larvae (a bug) and chili peppers, it’s the perfect accompaniment to a neat glass of Mezcal. Cheaper Mezcals will sometimes have little worms floating at the bottom of the bottle. While it’s definitely a good marketing tactic, it’s also a genuine part of Mezcal culture and tradition.

The versatility of Mezcal is part of what makes it so lovable. Neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail, it’s up to you. But fear not: we’ve yet to find a Mezcal recipe we don’t like.

And That’s The Magic Of Mezcal

We like to say that Mezcal is magic because it is.

Mezcal is smoky because it’s roasted, cooked, and completely crafted with love. Remember: Mezcal is the fresh, homemade, and decorated cupcakes at the bake sale. Mezcal is the smarter, cooler, and hotter cousin to your boring tequila. Mezcal is nothing but the good stuff.

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