Skip to main content

Mezcal is Rising in Popularity and Here’s Why

Mezcal is firing on all cylinders these days, and it’s not just riding the rise of tequila’s coattails. The distinctive spirit, to agave a bit like Scotch is to whiskey, is more popular than ever and shows no signs of slowing down.

Reports suggest that mezcal production jumped ten percent from 2019 to 2020. Nielsen numbers indicate that the number of exports to the U.S. between 2015 and 2019 jumped fivefold. Producers took a hit during the pandemic, as so many industries did, but they are looking to bounce back. Smaller outfits tend to rely on local tourism to sell their wares but hopefully, with the added awareness here in the U.S., more importers will bring on some quality labels and expose more of us to this one-of-a-kind drink.

“Related

man in the agave field carrying a pina.
Mezcal Union

It’s Its Own Thing

To understand mezcal better, one needs to dissect a few myths hovering around the spirit. Naysayers write the stuff off as smoky tequila and a little more. And while many mezcals are smoky, the smoke spectrum is pretty broad and dependent on the amount of resin in the wood during production. Another myth has to do with aging, but it’s a fair one given that most of what ends up in the states is the clear, un-aged, or barely aged stuff. There can be Reposado and Añejo mezcals too, aged in wood or even in glass containers.

Some even think mezcal should only be consumed neat and while that’s a fine way, most of us have evolved past that. Many other spirits started the same way, ultimately finding a great home in a number of standup cocktails. Because mezcal is made from some 46 different species of agave (not to mention in nine different Mexican states), what you end up with as a spirit is quite diverse, flavor-wise. Granted, most of what ends up here is made in Oaxaca (as estimated 90% right now), but each producer has their own way of creating the stuff and the resulting spectrum is fun to explore.

The Popularity

There is no question that tequila has helped elevate mezcal’s role in the drinks world. Shining a spotlight on Mexico has made us all thirsty for the many other things produced there, very much including mezcal. It’s presently one of the fastest-growing drink categories in the U.S., with the spirit showing up on cocktail menus from sea to shining sea. Mezcal has officially gone from something bartenders occasionally chatted about and poured samples of after-hours to a bona fide contender not just among agave spirits, but spirits at large.

Part of the popularity is owed to its versatility. Mezcal can fill in just about anywhere tequila can but can also plug into drinks that involve Scotch or other types of whiskey.

Mezcal distillation stills

The Future

Now that mezcal has made waves here in the states, we get to enjoy the best part of that arrival. In the next year or two, we’ll be treated to more options, allowing us to really gain an appreciation for the nuance and terroir involved. Bartenders will continue to fine-tune their recipes and we may even see more Mezcal-centric eateries and bars pop up, especially under an administration that doesn’t think poorly of our neighbors to the south.

If mezcal follows in tequila’s footsteps, we will almost surely see a growing number of luxury brands. Watch for celebrities to lean into the trend, investing in or starting up their own mezcal-focused labels. The popularity is something to be cautious of and consumers would be wise to invest in brands that truly care about sustainability, from an environmental and social standpoint. This is especially important with mezcal, which is a highly traditional export waiting to be gobbled up by big brands that care more about bottom lines than anything else. If things get out of hand, the quality will diminish and there may even be a shortage of agave, as it tends to regenerate slowly and not respond well to large, industrialized operations.

Editors' Recommendations

Topics
Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
The FDA is changing its stance on salt substitutes — here’s what a dietitian says you should know
How to reduce your salt intake
Salt with a wooden spoon

If there's one "secret" ingredient that makes anything taste more delicious, it's salt, of course. Well, salt or butter. Usually both. No dish is complete without this miraculous little mineral. After all, where would our French fries, our crispy bacon, our nuts, or deli meats be without salt? And those are just the obvious foods we know and love for their salty goodness.

When you take into account the flavor miracle that salt works on all food, bringing out all of an ingredient's other features like sweetness and tartness, there really isn't anything this little chemical can't do. At least when it comes to flavor. Unfortunately, when it comes to health, salt's positive attributes fall a bit short.

Read more
Why nutrition experts say you (probably) don’t need that gluten-free diet
Do you believe these gluten-free diet myths?
baked bread sliced on a white table

Just when you thought the experts had spoken and the people agreed that the Mediterranean diet was best, social media whet people’s appetites for more. This year alone, there’s been the “all-carnivore diet” and “All-McDonald’s diet,” which are precisely what they sound like and have received two thumbs down from the nutrition community.  

However, another diet trend won’t go away: Gluten free.

Read more
It’s time to stop being intimidated by beef tripe — here’s how to clean and cook it
Tips from Chef Michael Simmons outline how to do it at home
Braised tripe

If you consider yourself somewhat of a culinarian, a foodie, or an at-home master chef, then learning how to clean beef tripe and then cook it to perfection should be your next culinary challenge. Sure, organ meats can be intimidating at first, especially if you’re not used to the sight or texture of these delicacies. But if you ask us, one of the most overlooked offal cuts is tripe, which is typically made from the first three chambers of a cow’s stomach (though tripe can also be made from other animals). What a piece of tripe is named depends on the chamber it comes from.
Types of tripe
"Honeycomb tripe [which comes from the second chamber] is named for its honeycomb appearance and bible tripe [which comes from the third chamber] looks like the many folded-over pages of a book," said Mike Simmons, the chef and partner of Cafe Marie-Jeanne in Chicago. The third cut is called blanket tripe, which is smooth in appearance and comes from the first chamber of the cow’s stomach.

Most quality butcher shops and counters will carry tripe. And if you have a good relationship with your butcher, you can likely call ahead and ask if they'll order some and set it aside for you. "Usually it’s already cleaned but if it’s not, no worries -- it’s easy," Simmons says. All it takes is four simple steps to thoroughly clean tripe, which Simmons laid out for us here.
How to clean tripe

Read more