If you’ve visited Oaxaca and still think that mezcal is the smoky cousin of tequila, it’s time to dig deeper. While mezcal and other spirits made from agave are produced throughout Mexico, the sheer biodiversity of agave grown in Oaxaca — unrivaled in the world — makes the state a particularly great place to consume mezcal. As opposed to tequila, which is made exclusively from agave azul grown in any of the states included within the Denomination of Origin — Jalisco, Nayarit, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Tamaulipas — mezcal refers to pretty much every other spirit distilled from 100 percent agave made anywhere in Mexico. In addition to the tremendous diversity in plant genetics, traditional mezcal is produced with the aid of native yeasts and distilled and composed to the maker’s taste, which is often a reflection of the culture of their respective community and gusto histórico (historic flavor).
Luckily for all of us, Oaxaca City is home to bars, tasting rooms, and restaurants where it is possible to partake in the stunning botanical cornucopia of the state, one copita at a time. Whether you are a first-time sipper or an established mezcal fan, the best way to learn is to set aside your preconceptions and put yourself fully in the hands of those who live and breathe mezcal. You’ll be rewarded with a broader understanding of the landscapes and cultures of Oaxaca and a more profound reverence for the natural world and the delicious things that can come from it.
Make an appointment at a tasting room or, if you have the time and access, visit a palenque (traditional distillery). There are a number of reliable guides who can take you even deeper — Mezcouting and Oaxacking are just a couple of established ethical operators to consider. What follows is a roundup of some of the best places to learn about mezcal the fun way — by drinking it.
Niki Nakazawa is the Oaxaca-based co-owner of the agave spirits brand Neta and host of The Nectar Corridor, a bilingual Whetstone Radio Collective podcast that features interviews with mezcal producers, activists, and farmers in Mexico.Read More