For those who already love tequila and mezcal (and even for those who don’t), there’s a lot to discover in the world of agave. Bartenders and other experts spotlight four spirits that have long been part of Mexico’s rich beverage culture and can offer spirits lovers new experiences.

Committee

This spirit originated in the city of Comitan, in the state of Chiapas, in the south of the country. The production is a mixture of pulp and mezcal traditions.

Compared to most other agave distillates, Comiteco is not produced by vegetable distillation. It all starts with agamile, or honey water, a sweet juice obtained from incisions made in the piñas (hearts) and stems of the agave plant.

Agamiel is then prepared and fermented. This is the same process used to make pulp, a carbonated drink similar to kombucha.

In the case of Comiteco, it will never be a bullet, says Raza Zaidi, managing partner of San Francisco-based Back Alley Imports, which imports 9 Guardianes, the only commercial Comiteco currently available in the U.S., along with Wahaka Mezcal.

Instead, raw sugar is added during the fermentation process. It is transformed into a Comiteco with a chamber that can be made of clay, copper or stainless steel and which rests in glass. Note that 9 Guardianes makes an Añejo Comiteco that is aged in a glass jar that also contains oak branches.

 

If you’ve never heard of the committee, there’s a reason for that. In the 1960s, this agave variety led to the virtual extinction of the Comiteco. This led the government to ban the production of Comiteco, Zaidi said.

After decades of transplantation, the ban was lifted in the 1990s.

By then, most of the companies that had founded Comiteco had gone bankrupt, he says.

Overall, Comiteco has a funkier and trendier character than tequila or mezcal, Zaidi says.

It tastes more like rum than agave.

Although Comiteco is usually drunk straight like mezcal, if you’re making cocktails with it, you’ll want to substitute the rum in a mojito or daiquiri, Zaidi says.

Experience

9 Guard Blanco Comitenco

9 Guard Añejo Comitéco

D’Antaño Comitenco.

Raisilla

Spanish for small root, Razilla is considered a type of mezcal, a large umbrella that includes tequila. This is what happened in Jalisco, a state on the Pacific coast of Mexico better known for the latter.

Racilla is not made from Weber’s blue agave, so it can’t be called tequila.

Rather, the name refers to the small varieties of agave used to make it.

Because it can be made from different varieties, it can have a wide variety of flavors, according to Alex Valencia, co-owner of New York restaurant La Contenta.

But he still has a strong sense of terroir, he says. The piña is still made in Jalisco, both in the mountain area (Sierra), where the piñas are baked on the surface in clay ovens, and on the coast (Costa), where surface wells are used.

He is a humble spirit, says Valencia.

In the 1700s, when Mexico was under Spanish rule, clever distillers named their spirits Racilla to evade taxes on traditional mescal.

In those days, it was often distilled in a hurry, usually only once, Valencia says, and it was more of an afterthought. Nowadays it is produced at a more moderate rate and often distilled several times. In June 2019, after years of discussion, Racille was given the official title of Original (DO).

The degree of fermentation can vary greatly depending on the agave used and the manufacturer.

Some are smoked, others are shiny and crispy. Valencia describes Racilla’s aroma as rich, often with a hint of spice. It’s hard to classify, he says.

Rycilla is more and more present on cocktail menus. Valencia mixes it up with a Negroni riff and a Raicilla Siesta made with Campari, grapefruit juice, simple syrup and lime.

Experience

House Yapo Raisilla

Estancia Racilla

Las Perlas de Jalisco Racilla

Every bottling of La Venosa

: Paola Murray

Bacanora

Technically, bacanora is also a type of mezcal. Think of it as if whiskey and rye were types of whiskey.

But Bacanora has a unique history. It began thousands of years ago as a fermented agave-based drink made by the indigenous people of the Sonoran Desert in northern Mexico.

When the Spanish colonizers arrived in 1500, they brought European cadres with them. The process of making bacanora has gradually evolved into a general style of mezcal production where the piña agave is roasted in clay pits, pounded with axes or huge wooden mallets, fermented with wild yeast and then distilled.

But bacanora production was banned in the early 20th century, along with the restrictions of the American Prohibition era. It was not legalized until 1992. Eight years later, Bacanora received its own OD designation.

Because the craft was illegal for a long time, it was quietly passed on from generation to generation. Many of the pictures still in use are lined with materials ranging from steel oil drums to recycled car parts.

Bacanora is made from an agave variety, the native Yaquina Sonora or Agave Angustifolia. It gives it a special character, says Valencia. Their La Contente has been serving bacanora in copitas and cocktails since it opened in 2015.

Some describe the taste as peppery, earthy or spicy. But what really sets Bacanora apart is its texture, says Valencia.

It’s like cognac compared to other brandies, he says. It is silkier or creamier than regular mezcal.

Among connoisseurs, it has also become a popular ingredient for cocktails.

At Raised by Wolves in La Jolla, California, one of the best-selling drinks on the menu is Bacanora mixed with pineapple cider.

Experience

Rancho Tepua Blanco Bacanora

Sotol

Technically, it is not an agave spirit, but a desert spoonbill, also called dasylirion or sotol, which is closer to the evergreen shrub than to the agave. Until recently, sotol in Mexico was considered part of the large family of agave distillates, and many still consider it to be agave-centric, placing it in the category of agave distillates.

Visually, the two growths are very similar, says Ivy Meeks, author of Spirits of Latin America (Ten Speed Press, 2020) and owner of Leyenda in Brooklyn, New York, which honors spirits from the Caribbean and Latin America.

Sotol was even erroneously classified as an agave, until DNA tests showed they were in fact very similar, she says.

Alcohol is produced in the same way as mezcal and other agave liquors. It is roasted in an underground pit, then crushed, fermented and distilled. However, from a sustainability point of view, Sotol has an advantage, he said.

Unlike agave, whose roots have to be dug out and the field replanted, [the desert spatula] just grows back, she says.

In Mexico, Sotol is produced in Durango, Chihuahua and Coahuilla. Production was widespread among Spanish colonists in the mid-16th century. It was widespread in the early 20th century, according to Meeks. It has been used for centuries by indigenous peoples in religious ceremonies and as a medicine.

The taste of Sotol is generally lively and spicy, although it can also have musky, earthy or herbaceous qualities.

Evergreen spirit roots can give a crisp, clean pine quality, Mix said.

The desert spoonbill is a hardy plant that grows in both the desert and the forest. It can grow as far away as Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. A handful of Texas sotols have emerged in recent years.

In her As She So Told cocktail, Meeks plays up what she describes as a frothy, metallic taste of Cland Sotol. She mixes it with tequila, chamomile syrup and Clear Creek Douglas Fir Brandy.

Experience

Sotol Cland

Every bottle at the Chihuahua estate…

Sotol Por Simpre.

frequently asked questions

What is the difference between agave and mezcal?

Both spirits are made from agave, but tequila must be made from a specific type of Weber blue agave and may only be produced in the state of Yalisco and parts of Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarita and Tamaulipas. … Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made from more than 30 varieties of agave.

Which alcoholic beverage is made from agave?

Agamile (meaning honey water), also known as agave nectar, is the sweet juice of the agave plant that, when boiled and crushed, becomes tequila and mezcal.

What do you drink with mezcal?

Although it is best not to use salt or lime, mezcal is best served with food. Smoked and salted Mexican liquor is traditionally accompanied by slices of orange, grapefruit or guava, and by Sal de Gusano, a salt mixture made from ground chili peppers and dried and ground maggots that live in agave plants.

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