Who better than someone who knows almost nothing about mezcals to do a week of reviews of mezcals? No one, that’s who. I’ve only reviewed one mezcal previously and have not tasted so very many more than that. The one I previously reviewed was bottled by Del Maguey, the brand that has probably more than any other raised the profile of mezcal in the US in the last decade, especially among whisky drinkers. They bottle single village mezcals made in traditional ways and have a sterling reputation. Well, this one—made in the village of Santa Catarina Minas—is both traditional and not. Traditional in that it is generally in the pechuga style, which sees a final round of distillation with a chicken or turkey breast hanging over the clay still (plus various fruits etc.). Not traditional in that in this case the chicken/turkey breast was replaced by an Iberico ham. This was apparently suggested to the proprietors by a chef who also sent them the ham to use. Perhaps the fact that it was Iberico ham accounts for the nosebleed price of this mezcal. I’m not sure if it was a one-off or if it’s continued to be made in limited quantities but if you want to buy a bottle now you’ll have to be prepared to shell out $200 or more. I’m not going to be prepared to do this, no matter what, but I am curious to see what it’s like.
Del Maguey Iberico, Mezcal (49%; from a bottle split)
Nose: A chemical edge at first (some sort of solvent) but as it burns off a mix of floral, fruity (melon, lime, prickly pear) and spicy notes (black pepper, crushed chiles) emerge. Gets quite salty as it sits and also quite savoury/meaty. I don’t know if I’d call the ham if I didn’t know it were in there but it seems quite obviously present. With time the smoke shows up here as well and there’s some sweeter fruit. With a drop of water a creamy, custardy note develops.
Palate: Comes in with a big hit of aniseed and then most of the stuff from the nose follows. Saltier and smokier as I swallow. Very good drinking strength and oily texture. On the second sip there’s some bitterness but it works well with the rest. The savoury/meaty notes expand as it sits and there’s some pencil lead in there too now. Okay, let’s add a drop of water. It pushes the bitter notes and the pencil lead back and brings out more of the smoke and the the fruit (salted pineapple).
Finish: Long. The smoke and the pepper are on top here but there’s sweetness below. As on the palate with water.
Comments: I wasn’t sure what to expect but I really dug this! Very much a peated whisky drinker’s mezcal. If you like south coast Islay or Campbeltown-style peat, you’ll like this. Too bad about the price.
Rating: 88 points.