Thursday, November 5, 2009


Mezcal, or mescal, is a Mexican distilled spirit protected by International Denomination of Origin, made from agave (maguey) plants. Its production and consumption is popularly associated with the Mexican state of Oaxaca. However, commercial and private production of mezcal is known over a wide area of Mexico outside of tequila-producing areas (primarily the states of Jalisco and Guanajuato). There are many different species of agave plant, and each produces a different flavor of mezcal. The term mezcal generally refers to all agave-based distilled liquors that are not tequila (a mezcal variant allowed to be made only from the blue agave plant, usually in the town of Tequila and the surrounding region of Jalisco).

Mezcal ages quite rapidly in comparison to other spirits. It is aged in large wooden barrels for two months to seven years. During this time the mezcal acquires more and more of a golden color, and its flavor is influenced by the wooden barrels. The longer it is aged, the darker the color and the more noticeable the flavoring effect.

Age classifications:

  • Añejo ("aged") – aged for at least a year in barrels no larger than 350 litres.
  • Reposado ("rested") – aged two months to a year.
  • Joven or blanco ("young" or "white", often marketed as "silver" in English) – colorless mezcal, aged less than two months.

The "worm" (sometimes more than one) commonly seen in bottles of mezcal is actually the larva of one of two kinds of insects. The most common type is that of the agave snout weevil. The "red worm" or gusano rojo is the caterpillar of the Hypopta agavis moth, one of the several kinds of "maguey worm", found on the agave plant. (Agave worms are sometimes found in the piña after harvesting). Many brands contain such worms. Some are named after the worm itself, as in Gusano Rojo and some are even named for the number of worms, e.g. Dos Gusanos, "Two Worms". Inside the mezcal, however, the worm is more a marketing substance, as it has lost its nutrients inside the bottle. Nacional Vinicola (NAVISA) was the first company to add a worm to its Gusano Rojo mezcal. Andres Paniagua and Jacobo Lozano, creators of Gusano Rojo and Dos Gusanos, first introduced the practice of adding larva to mezcal. Today there are several brands doing this.

Although the custom is relatively recent, larvae are used frequently by several brands of mezcal to give flavor to the drink. A whole larva is deposited in the bottle, normally after having previously been cured in pure alcohol.

There is nothing to support the widespread myth that the worm contains hallucinogens or aphrodisiac properties.

When a worm is included, the mezcal is known as con gusano ("with worm"). Aside from its consumption with mezcal, the maguey worm is considered a delicacy in Mexico and can be found on restaurant menus throughout the nation.

The use of the worm is exclusive to mezcal, since the Mexican standards authority, Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM), prohibits adding insects or larvae to tequila.

The word mezcal comes from the Nahuatl mexcalli.

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