SPIRIT TASTING: Mezcal Amarás Logia Displays the Styles of Mezcal
by Andrew Chalk
Tequila is a mezcal, but mezcal is not necessarily a tequila. Tequila comes from a subset of the agave plant species from which both are made (Blue Weber Agave).
Mezcal can come from eight designated areas (the Consejo Regulador del Mezcal regulates mezcal), tequila from five. Three of the areas are common to both (Guanajuato, Michoacan, and Tamaulipas). Nobody can tell me whether, if I make a tequila compliant agave spirit in one of those three common areas, I can call it mezcal.
Both distill the liquids that exist in the piña (core) of the mature agave plant but tequila does so in conditions that are isolated from imparters of organoleptic qualities, while mezcal makes them central to its character. To be more specific, in order to extract the sweet liquid from the piña, tequila traditionally heated the piña in an oven for around three days. More modern methods use an autoclave or, in the largest scale operations, a diffuser (spraying of water at high pressure on the piña). All eschew flavoring or bouquet modifying additives.
Mezcal piña extraction, by contrast, involves a pit in the ground lined with stone and wood. The slow-burning wood is lit and the piñas piled on top. Then the pit is covered. Over a period of three days the piñas soften up and absorb flavors from the burning wood. This is what gives mezcal its characteristic smokiness in the nose.
The two drinks reflect a difference of philosophy that, for example, wine drinkers will feel an affiliation with: The tequila maker wants to preserve the essence of the plant in the mouth and the nose. The mezcal maker wants a synthesis with the wood.
A second philosophical difference centers around ageing. Tequila reveres and promotes its product with different age statements. Blanco (aka silver or plato) is aged 0-59 days in stainless steel or oak. Reposado is aged 60+ days in oak. Some distillers use massive barrels that impart little character. Others use small barrels, usually from the USA bourbon industry, that impart distinctive color and flavor. Añejo is aged over one year in sealed oak casks of a maximum 600L capacity. Extra añejo is aged for at least three years in identical conditions to regular añejo.
Mezcal, by contrast, is sold as blanco, usually with no ageing. The focus is entirely what comes from the slow heating process.
Mezcal is currently undergoing a sales boom in the USA, which echoes a decade-long sales boom for tequila. Mezcal brands are newer, and less established, than their tequila counterparts (name three tequila brands? Easy. Now name three mezcal brands? Oops.). Their message is also less clear than that of tequila. While tequila producers want to move buyers up through progressively older and better tiers, and promote añejo as a drink at the same table as whiskey and Scotch, mezcal promotions look like mimicry. The age progression is so important with tequila that the extra añejo category was only approved as an official designation in 2006. It is clearly a response to the quest for longer aged examples in the whiskey and Scotch markets.
The former is important because Mezcal Amarás appears to be crafting an independent marketing strategy as clarified as that of tequila producers, but totally novel.
In the tasting at José, Kevin Nichols Anaya, CMO and Trent Roberts, Regional Manager served three expressions of their mezcal each made from different varieties of the agave species. Amarás Logia Cenizo is made from the Cenizo, Amarás Logia Sierra Negra from Sierra Negra, and Amarás Logia Tobalá from Tobalá. This is tactically brilliant marketing as tequila is limited to one variety (Blue Weber) but mezcal is not. Varietal marketing exploits an inherent advantage present in the definition of the two drinks. Different varieties also grow in different terroirs from Durango to Oaxaca. The terroirs exhibit different altitudes, temperatures, and soils. The tasting reflected this. The expert tasting notes said:
Amarás Logia Cenizo ($85)
Nose: A refined hint of citrus fruits combined with earthy and smoky notes;
Palate: A bold and intense roasted coffee bean flavor;
Finish: A touch of wooden zest with atrace of sweet raisins;
Amarás Logia Sierra Negra ($125)
Nose: Profound hints of tangerine with herbaceous aromas of agave;
Palate: Slight meaty flavors before transforming into smooth rosemary, lavender, and cinnamon notes;
Finish: A trace of almond combined with roasted corn;
Amarás Logia Tobalá ($150)
Nose: Gentle notes of leather and roasted peanut;
Palate: Smooth notes of figs combined with a touch of ripe mango and avocado leaf;
Finish: A sweet hint of caramel;
To my palate, the Tobolà was softer on the palate and exhibited tropical flavor notes that the experts describe as mango. Cenizo was the most powerful and would cut through other flavors in your mouth. That said, these are for sipping. Agave drinks lose, not gain, paired with food.
Availability in the USA market may need a search of the web site. Also, this is one of the premium mezcals that is sold in Mexico and prices there seem to be about 40% lower.