Review – Sombra Mezcal
San Juan is the place to head if you want to see where Sombra Mezcal is produced. Located in the Mezcal-producing region of Oaxaca along the pan-American highway, this tiny village sits in a valley (albeit one at 8,000 feet) packed full of Espadin agave which are harvested at approximately 6-12yrs of age. The agave start off live being grown in the gardens of villagers, who uproot them after 2yrs, binding the leaves and chopping off the roots before leaving in the shade to ‘heal’ for approximately 2 weeks. They are then transplanted in the valley and left along for another 4-10yrs. The harvested pinas are placed in a rock-lined conical pit over hot rocks. Banana leaf mats are used to cover them, then earth is laid on top. After two days baking they are removed and crushed by a horse-drawn mill. The crushed pina are then placed in wooden vats with a little water and fermentation is driven by wild yeasts. A double distillation then follows in a copper pot still.
Nose: Bold and fresh-smelling vegetal aromas rise from the glass, spiked with citrus oil and a slightly sharp smoke edge. Mildly musky, spicy and with more than a hint of plasticine, this Mezcal is full of interest for the olfactory receptors.
Neat: The sharp citrus notes are prominent on the palate, as is the smoke which is bold, but not too bold. The combination makes for an interesting contrast, particularly as this is also a relatively spicy Mezcal that leaves the tongue tingling for a while on the finish. Moderately salty agave and white fruit notes add further complexity to this delicious spirit and offer up plenty of potential for flavour pairings when mixing.
Mixing: Many Mezcal cocktails utilize the smoky properties of this spirit, and this Mezcal very much lends itself to such uses. Whether this be as an alternative to Absinthe in drinks such as the Sazerac, or combined with Tequila in the Oaxaca Old Fashioned. The latter works particularly well as the sweetness benefits this Mezcal’s citrusy profile. This makes drinks such as Jacko’s End with its spiced honey contribution from Benedictine a good selection, whilst twists on the Margarita such as the signature Margarita 2.0 (recipe below) and other sour drinks such as the La Paloma work incredibly well as they temper the spice and loosen up the flavour profile. Citrus need not be the only route to producing a great drink however, and those with an appreciation of the Martini might care to try this Mezcal in a La Plaza, it’s certainly worth getting hold of some celery bitters for. All things considered, this is a Mezcal that takes a little consideration to deliver balanced cocktails, but the complexity and well-judged smoke elements mean that it can be a very successful ingredient indeed.
Signature Cocktail – Margarita 2.0
2oz Sombra Mezcal, 0.5oz Lime Juice, 0.5oz Grapefruit Juice, 0.5oz St Germain, 5ml Agave Nectar, 3 Cucumber Slices
Muddle cucumber with lime and agave nectar, add rest of ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a grapefruit twist.
Sombra Mezcal is a tongue-tingling spirit packed with citrus, agave and smoky flavours. Enjoyable sipped neat, it is particularly suited to mixing where it delivers a complex and punchy flavour.
Sombra Mezcal is available to buy from Master of Malt.
★: Terrible, only drink for a dare.
★★: Meh, not undrinkable but best left alone.
★★★: Reasonable, middle of the road.
★★★★: Tasty stuff, well worth seeking out.
★★★★★: Incredible, booze doesn’t get better than this. You need a bottle in your life.