Mezcal is a category that gets an intense amount of attention by a relatively small group of people, many of whom are craft bartenders who have fallen in love with mezcal’s smoky, sweet, and complex character. To the uninitiated, mezcal can be a challenging spirit, as the flavors are deep, often intense, and not as familiar as the flavors in other spirits. Much like peaty whiskies, mezcal’s intense aromas and flavors transition from the world of unfamiliar and strange to crave worthy. It’s unfair to say mezcal is an acquired taste, because when mixed well it’s a spirit that can have a fairly wide appeal. One of the major issues in the category has been price, and many of the mezcal releases on the market have been priced so high that they’re nearly impossible to justify mixing in a cocktail. William Grant & Sons think they have the solution to mezcal’s issues with Montelobos Mezcal Joven, a new $50 mezcal. Montelobos Mezcal is made in Oaxaca, the heart of mezcal production, from 100% Highland ‘Espadin‘ Agave. Espadin is a different variety in the agave family than is used to make tequila, which uses the Blue Webber variety. This agave is prepared in the traditional way include fire pit roasting, crushing by mule drawn stone wheel, and then distilled in small wood fire copper pots.
Montelobos Mezcal Joven (43.2% ABV / 86.4 Proof, $49.99, NOM-0156X) – the nose is smoky with burnt rubber tire, roasted agave, roasted jalapeño, and oyster shells. While the smoke is strong, it’s not overwhelming, and the burnt rubber note isn’t unpleasant, as strange as a pleasant burning tire can sound. The nose has a strong character to it, but it stops short of being assaultive, and it’s not harsh or vapory at all. The entry has a nice sweet roasted agave note which is quickly joined by the smoke from the nose. The smoke here is quite pleasant, in very much the same way that the peat smoke on an Islay Scotch Whisky is enjoyable. Also there on the entry is a nice spicy white pepper note which is accompanied by a noticeable amount of salinity. All this serves to create a balance which is maintained throughout the flavor experience.
In the midpalate the flavors from the entry are joined by a nice vegetal roasted jalapeño note, and the burnt tire from the nose. As with the smoke note, the smoky, rubbery note in the midpalate isn’t unpleasant in the slightest, which may be an odd and slightly disorienting experience for those who are unfamiliar with the category. Although the flavors of the Montelobos are strong, they come together quite well in a unified fashion, with all the pieces fitting together well, even though you wouldn’t expect them to. The finish is very long and slightly dry with a core of white pepper lingering on the palate along with nice exhale of smoke and rubber. William Grant & Sons has done a really good job with the proofing of Montelobos; it manages to have enough structure for mixing in cocktails without being too fiery to sip it neat.
Aside from smart proofing, William Grant & Sons has done the category a massive favor with their pricing of Montelobos Mezcal. So many entries in the mezcal category start at the $75 mark and go up from there. While we understand the artisanal nature of the product, a $50 bottle of well-produced mezcal is a lot easier to swallow than an $80 one. At this price it also makes mixing with it a lot more realistic, and Montelobos provides a very wide palate of flavors to draw from. In general, the mezcal market is a mess, with some producers trying to treat it more like tequila using autoclaves and large stills, and others treating it like it’s the rarest, most expensive spirit in the world. Montelobos manages to find a path through all this with an artisanal spirit produced in a traditional way that’s affordable enough to mix with but still excellent on its own.