Celebrity-backed tequilas may have put craft agave-based spirits on the map, but here’s how you can sip more like a connoisseur.

Brands like George Clooney-backed Casamigos Tequila and Dos Hombres Mezcal, started by Breaking Bad co-stars Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston, have become household names when it comes to agave spirits. But when it comes to selecting premium tequilas and mezcals, several factors play a role in determining the quality, purity and flavor – and ultimately its price and availability. If you’re thinking to dive deeper into the world of artisanal agave spirits, here’s are a few tips that can guide you.


The Heart of the Matter

Tequila and mezcal are both made from the heart of the agave plant, known as the piña, so the agave variety used can strongly affect the spirit’s unique flavor profile and characteristics. Some agave plants can be cultivated while others need to be harvested in the wild. The scarcer they are, the rarer and more sought-after the spirit.

For example, tequila is only made with blue weber agave, which generally imparts a sweet, earthy taste. On the other hand, mezcal can be made from one of more than 40 agave varieties, with the most common being espadín, which lends mezcal’s characteristic sweet and mild smoky flavor. There’s also the herbaceous and chalky madre cuishe, more acidic and spicy tepeztate, and countless others including tobalá, with its earthy, fruity notes – it’s also known as the “explorer agave” as it cannot be cultivated and instead relies on wildlife like birds and bats to grow – meaning it’s much rarer to find in the wild.

Try sipping: Dobel’s Grandes Maestros, an exclusive tequila aged in mezcal barrels for hints of mezcal-like smokiness without overwhelming the palate. The ultra-limited edition features fine art by Mexican artist Francisco Toledo on the bottle design, with only 18 bottles in the world.


Pride of Place

As with terroir in wines, geographical provenance in agave spirits also affects flavor. From soil type to altitude, not to mention the ambient yeasts used for fermenting the piñas during production, these factors can all have a significant impact on the spirit’s final taste. It’s generally found that agave plants which grow more slowly at higher altitudes – like for tequila made in the Highlands of Jalisco – typically produce a more complex flavor profile, while those at lower altitudes produce more herbaceous and earthy notes. Additionally, mezcal can be produced in nine states throughout Mexico (compared to tequila in just five), and hence displays greater diversity of flavor.

Try sipping: The Grand Mayan Single Barrel Ultra Aged tequila is a 10-year journey, starting from 100% blue weber agave grown in the agave fields of Jalisco, Mexico for five to seven years before harvest. This tequila is then rested in American oak barrels for four to five years.


Work Hard, Play Hard

Tequila and mezcal’s differing production methods result in vastly different flavors. With tequila, aging is an important factor – the older the tequila, the higher its quality typically is. Look for tequila “añejo”, which has been aged in oak barrels up to three years, for the best sipping experience.

With mezcal, aging isn’t too important, but it’s the carefully preserved, labor-intensive traditional methods that help impart unique flavor. For example, under the regulated category of “Mezcal Ancestral”, producers can only use traditional vessels like wooden tanks, hollowed-out stone, or clay pots on a wooden fire.

Try sipping: Casa Noble’s Tequila Marques, which combines 12 Extra Añejos and nine Añejos and is aged one to five years in custom French oak barrels to result in an incredibly rich flavor.

As a result of unique production methods, terroir and rarity of agave used, it’s no wonder certain tequilas and mezcals have commanded higher prices and a more premium status. But at the end of the day, trust your own palate. Take your time, do your research, and sip and explore at every opportunity.

Discover your next new prized bottle of agave spirit with us at DFS.


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