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Looking to keep your liquor cabinet well stocked? It’s not tequila that you need on hand. It’s mezcal.

I tried mezcal for my first time a few years ago, thanks to a mezcal aficionado that not only had a love for the strong, smoky Mexican liquor, but also knew how to serve it correctly. He pulled out the clay copitas (which he had brought back from Mexico, of course) and I had my official introduction to mezcal. Since then I’ve started to notice it popping up in cocktails all over the place. Maybe it’s because we needed a new liquor to get excited about, or maybe its because at its core, mezcal represents a true artisan spirit.

Tequila – which we can consider mezcal’s out of control cousin – is always made from blue agave, but mezcal is lucky enough that it can be made from 28 varieties of the plant. The drink is made in small batches, sometimes even in clay pots.

The central element of mezcal is its smokiness, which comes from the piña, the heart of the agave plant, which is roasted for three to five days in fire pit, which is covered with earth. The result is that smoky flavor that mezcal is known for, similar to what you find in a Lapsang Souchong tea.

From here it goes into a fermentation process (yes, go ahead and add this to your fermented foods list), drawing on the powers of wild yeast and bacteria. You can see why the artisan crowd gets excited and wants their liquor cabinet well-stocked. This of course also gives mezcal distinct flavors, changing depending on where it’s made and who makes it. “We’re talking about terroir, about mouth feel,” Ron Cooper of Del Maguey told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re talking about aroma, nose.”

While that kind of vocabulary is common in the wine world, it’s not often we hear it used for spirits, but as mezcal becomes more and more available, maybe we’ll all start talking a little bit more about the Mexican terroir. Our liquor cabinets are sure to benefit.

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Image: grahamc99