Smoke, Pineapple, and Bubblegum: Exploring the Many Flavors of Mezcal with Jeremy Simpson
Get an introduction to the smoky Mexican spirit with Jeremy Simpson, GM and beverage director of Bar Caló, Los Angeles's acclaimed mezcaleria, cocktail bar, and restaurant. You'll discover how and where mezcal is produced, learn the differences in flavor profiles from region to region, and enjoy Simpson's personal recommendations.
There's so much to learn about the world of mezcal, the agave-derived Mexican spirit, and there's no better guide to introduce you than Jeremy Simpson. As the GM and beverage director at Bar Caló, an acclaimed mezcaleria, cocktail bar, and restaurant in Los Angeles's Echo Park neighborhood, Simpson is an expert mixologist and mezcalier. He has extensive relationships with top distributors and producers, also known as mezcaleros, giving him knowledge of the best bottles on the market and access to industry secrets.
To help curious connoisseurs at home who are starting on the road to mezcal mastery, Simpson has created a virtual lesson and tasting to teach the basics. He walks through the liquor's production process, including how agaves are roasted underground with native wood to impart a unique, smoky flavor. He also compares two different bottles to showcase the spectrum of flavor notes that distinguish Mexico's different mezcal regions and producers.
According to Simpson, the climate affects the flavor of the agave plant and the final product. The flavor profile of mezcal from Michoacan or Oaxaca, for example, tends to be "fruity and inviting," while other varieties are "bursting with notes of grilled pineapple and bubblegum." This diversity is thanks to agave's ability to grow wild "on the sides of mountains, in forests with indigenous pine trees, and in sweltering jungles."
Simpson is truly passionate about the history and origins of mezcal. Besides the agave and its terroir, he'll also explain how each bottle's individuality distills down to "the farming practices of each mezcalero, giving the spirit a level of character that reflects a time when agriculture and quality are what mattered most."
Wondering where to get started on this mouth-watering journey? Simpson advises aspiring aficionados to approach mezcal like wine: with curiosity and appetite. "Avoid being fooled by fake, dusty bottles," he advises, and do some research instead of just buying what looks good. He reminds mezcaliers-in-training that there are more than 50 cultivated varieties of agave, "some of which have grown wild for generations and differ just as much as [the grapes in] a Sonoma Pinot Noir and a Bordeaux blend."
When it comes to buying mezcal, Simpson's philosophy is simple: support local vendors. "If you have a local liquor store or can locate a liquor store in your area that specializes in the smaller, more craft-centric spirits, do your best to drum up a relationship with them," he recommends. Search for "state" or "agave" varieties on the website mezcalreviews.com, and pick a few you'd like to try. "Then, relay to your new friends at the liquor store and see what they have to offer."
The mezcal industry is full of smaller farmers and producers that need buyers' help to sustain themselves during this time of instability, Simpson notes. Seeking out lesser-known mezcales helps you taste the quality of small growers that don't benefit from "industrial equipment and massive public relations and marketing budgets," as Simpson puts it.
After taking this boozy virtual deep dive, you'll be mindful of mezcal's cultural history and its importance to the artisanal producers trying to keep their ancestral heritage alive through traditional production methods. Plus, you'll hear some of Simpson's expert advice, like where to seek out new mezcal producers beyond the popular region of Oaxaca, along with some of his favorite agave recommendations, such as "Cupreata, usually grown in and around Guerrero and Michoacán, and Salmiana, a wild species found in the northern regions, near San Luis Potosí—two wildly different tasting experiences that you can find at an agreeable price point." All we can say to that is salud, or, as the ancient Zapotecs used to say when toasting mezcal, stigibeu!