Mezcal has been growing in popularity in recent years. It is made from the agave plant like tequila. However, while tequila is made with only one type of agave, mezcal can be made with many different varieties of agave. Since 2005, mezcal has been under the regulation of Mexican law that determines that agave spirit may only be labeled mezcal if it is 100% agave and made within a certain region of Mexico that comprises 7 different states.
The agave is usually harvested when it is seven or eight years old. After the agave is harvested, the spines of the plant are cut off and the remaining heart, called the piña(which means pineapple, because of its resemblance to the fruit), can weigh up to 100 kg
First a fire is started in the base of a large fire pit, with river stones placed on top. When the rocks are red-hot, the piñas, which have been cut in half or in quarters, are placed in the pit. The whole thing is then covered with agave leaves and fiber and straw mats, piled up with earth and left to roast for four days.
When sufficient time has passed, the roasted piñas are removed from the pit. Roasting brings out the natural sugars of the agave and it gives the Mezcal is famous smokey taste. The roasted agave is crushed at a special grinding mill with a stone wheel pulled by a horse or mule.
After the agave is crushed, it is placed in wooden barrels to ferment. After the fermentation, the mash is distilled twice.
After the second distillation, the mezcal is blended to obtain a consistent grade of alcohol. Then, the mezcal is either bottled right away, for an unaged mezcal called joven or blanco, or it is left to age in oak barrels.
La Penca Mezcal comes with the worm!