It’s National Mezcal Day! We’re taking this joyous occasion to look back on a year of fantastic mezcal and tequilas, and to introduce you to some of our favourite products and the people making them.
Not that long ago, tequila was viewed as a cheap shot that you’d slammed with salt and lime, and mezcal – if you’d even heard of it – was considered a “poor man’s” drink that would give you a hangover so strong you’d be considered a member of the living dead. This is because the general public previously only had access to low quality & Mixto tequilas (51% Blue Agave; 49% any other sugar). These available brands did little to demonstrate the true character and finesse of the category (to put it bluntly, they are the equivalent of comparing of a frozen Iceland burger to a Wagyu steak).
Thankfully, this is no longer the case, thanks to a number of individuals, brands and bars championing 100% fully matured, responsibility sourced agave and making the resulting spirit accessible to the UK.
But with so many new brands flooding the market, some with celebrity endorsement, others with deceptive marketing, how are we meant to know which ones are legit and which are a waste of our money and time?
We’ve created a list of the Five Best Tequilas & Mezcal of 2019. Whilst not exhaustive, it will give you a few solid brands with excellent products to explore!
A New Classic
Type of Drinker: For everyone
Fortaleza is a 13-year-old brand with over 140 years of history behind it and a loyal, almost cult-ish, following throughout the bar world. Made to the same high quality, traditional and “good things come to those who wait” standards of 100 years ago by the Guillermo Sauza of the world-famous Sauza family of distillers, it is simply one of the truest expression out there of what passionately made, premium tequila is.
Guillermo Sauza took us through the brand’s fascinating history and unbeatable range during a London Cocktail Week Masterclass. Read all about it here.
Recommended: Fortaleza Blanco (Still Strength)
This unaged Blanco tequila beautifully demonstrates the impeccable craft that goes into all Fortaleza’s products. Bottled at “still strength”, this means that the 46% ABV tequila is the exact liquid that comes out of the stills. Nothing is added and no dilution occurs. This is just 100% fully matured Blue Weber Agave, distilled to the optimum alcohol degree to allow the rich agave character to sing.
The Fortaleza Blanco (Still Strength) has a wonderfully aromatic nose full of tropical fruits, baked agave, green olive, bright vegetal notes and gentle black pepper. This follows into a savoury and robust taste with an underlying salinity, spice kick and buttery mouthfeel. It is gorgeous to sip on its own and also works wonders in a cocktail (just remember the strength and adjust your measures accordingly)!
£66.75. Buy it online at The Whisky Exchange here.
Corte Vetusto Mezcal
A Mezcal to Rival Scotch Whisky
Type of Drinker: For a lover of fine spirits
Corte Vetusto is one of the UK brands honouring mezcal’s history and people whilst bringing it into the present and to a whole new audience. It’s range of single-origin, unaged, artisanal mezcals have been handcrafted in small batches by fourth generation Maestro Mezcalero, Juan Carlos Gonzalez Diaz, and are distilled to proof strength using century-old techniques. Its intent is clear and its efforts have been rewarded with accolades such as Gold and Best in Category at the American Distilling Institute’s Judging of Craft Spirits (2019) as well as both Gold Outstanding and the Mezcal Trophy at IWSC (2017).
Read more about Corte Vetusto here.
Recommended: Corte Vetusto Ensamble II
Corte Vetusto’s second limited edition Joven (unaged) Ensamble bottling is made from a mixture of Espadin, Madrecuische and Tobalá agave that has been double-distilled in both copper and ancestral clay pot stills.
An incredibly complex nose of aromatic wood, pine resin, raw corn, malt, grass, cold caramel; and floral perfume, leads into seductive smoke preluding a palate blessed with rich caramelised agave, spice, pepper, thyme, oregano, toffee apple and a memory of candy floss. This tiny batch of 162 bottles stands testament to the Maestro Mezcalero’s skill and is an expression not to be missed!
£98.18 – a complete bargain given the craft and complexity of this independent spirit! There are precious few of these bottlings left! Buy yours now at Master of Malt here
The Cool New Kid
Type of Drinker: For anyone who “doesn’t like tequila”
Vivir is a tequila proudly contemporary tequila that is trying to change perceptions about the category. Developed with as much passion and care as ancestral agave spirits, Vivir aims to provide drinkers with a high quality yet affordable alternative to the big brand names out there. Using 100% Highland Blue Weber Agave with a high Brix content (for a sweetness that fits the general UK palate), traditional hornos (heated masonry ovens) and local reservoir water, it is the owners’ shared dream to bring “real tequila” to the masses without sacrificing on sustainability or quality. And they’re succeeding!
Read our interview with Co-Founder, Paul Hayes, to learn more about this skyrocketing brand & other bizarre bottlings.
Recommended: Vivir Tequila Añejo
An aged tequila that doesn’t break the bank and works wonders in cocktails?! Sign us up! Made using 100% Weber Blue Agave, harvested at around 12-yers old, the liquid has been aged for 18-months in ex-Jack Daneils oak casks. This gives it a rich, full, caramel nose with vanilla, spice and a creamy mouthfeel. The similarities between it and a sipping rum are palpable and it is a joy to drink neat. However, Paul also encourages you to try it in an Espresso Martini, Negroni, Old Fashioned or other robust cocktail.
£42.25. Incredulously well-priced for a quality aged tequila and cheaper than the Big Boys like Patron and Don Julio. Buy it from The Whisky Exchange here.
Science Meets Art
Type of Drinker: For an admirer of precision in art
Biochemist by training, Founder Iván Saldaña’s approach to the creation of Montelobos is different from most. His research into agave and the flavours created in plants growing in stressful climates has influenced his understanding and love of the raw material, enhancing his respect for the craft of the mezcalore. Since 2011 when the brand formed, he has been working hand-in-hand with a family who has been making mezcal for generations, have been fully certified as organic and who make mezcal in the traditional manner.
Iván balances his unique scientific insights into mezcal with his respect for the people he works with, such as Mo, who’s religious convictions mean Iván must ensure Rabbi is on site during the production of the Pechuga. Read all about this and Montelobos’ products here.
Recommended: Montelobos Tobalá
Made from 100% cultivated Tobalá, this unaged mezcal is produced in Puebla. The tobalá agave used has been much more environmentally stressed than most others of its species due to its site of growth, giving the mezcal a unique flavour. Basil, mint, lemon and green pepper come through on the nose. The taste however is starkly different with Macadamia nut, fig, minerality, smoke and green notes coming to the front, followed by earthy truffle and a touch of liquorice. The higher ABV is coating as opposed to harsh and is kept in check by an undercurrent caramel.
£76.95. Buy it online at Master of Malt here.
Cocktails & Beyond
Type of Drinker: For the gently unassuming palate
If you’re new to mezcal or all the previous expressions sound too heavy in flavour, look no further. Ilegal Mezcal is a well-devised spirit whose product are all much lighter in terms of smoke and do without the punchier agave flavours. Ilegal Mezcal got its start in life in the early 2000s when its would-be founder, John Rexer, visited Mexico and fell head over heels in love with mezcal. Fast-forward a few years, add in some “creative” transporting and John had opened the first mezcal bar outside of Mexico. Today, Ilegal is one of the leading CRM Certified Artisanal Mezcals in the US market.
Read about the brand’s chequered past, hatred of Donald Trump and products here.
Recommended: Ilegal Joven
An unaged mezcal made using 100% Espadin agave, this is a lot of people’s first introduction to mezcal. A pleasant, easy-drinker with gentle smoke, a light body and background notes of roasted agave and eucalyptus, it is a classic beginner’s mezcal to get you into the category through cocktails.
£49.75. Buy it online from The Whisky Exchange and get a free gift here!