Oaxacan Mezcal: The Tarnishing of Tradition

Regretfully, all too often it’s easy to become duped into trusting in the veracity of what we read and hear about brands of mezcal in Oaxaca. Be it in online or print publications, what we’re told in bars and mezcalerias, and even what’s on the labels of some familiar agave distillate brands, sometimes there’s a problem.

Contemporary brands of mezcal which have taken the spirits world by storm over the past couple of decades, dating to no earlier than 1995, are usually up front about what they state is in the bottle; but that’s not always the case. Certainly there’s some obligation on buyers to do their due diligence before forking over $100 USD on a product new to the market. But right now it’s still a challenge for consumers to be able to gauge, appraise and deconstruct all this bombardment. In 20 or 50 years imbibers will certainly be more educated about mezcal than is currently the case. However currently, to the extent that the information out jugo de maguey there is deceptive, ambiguous, misrepresentative and even outright untrue, mezcal aficionados, and more importantly would be aficionados, are at a disadvantage.

The obvious solution is to purchase what you for sure know, and like. The best mezcal is the one you like the most. But what about an agave distillate you’re heard about and are considering buying? If you’re outside of Mexico, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to taste before purchasing. The best option of course is to visit a smattering of palenques in the hinterland of Oaxaca for example, where most of the nation’s certified mezcal is distilled. In the course of so doing, and even visiting state capital mezcalerias, you can sample before buying. Making that pilgrimage is just not feasible for many.

There are in fact brands which are not thrilled to receive consumers to their facilities. Why? For example a mezcal aficionado might be interested in learning what precisely is meant by online promotion such as “produced by modern and traditional ways.” He might be disappointed to learn that “modern” means highly industrialized; and similarly that “traditional” means no more than harvesting, cooking, crushing, fermenting and distilling which employs means of production and tools of the trade as high tech as can be.

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