45 Alcohol by Volume—The Myth

Many myths about Mezcal affect the knowledge and the development of this particular spirit in Mexico and around the world. I understand that all these stories were created in the past with the intention to help the category, but today these stories are affecting the natural progress and the historic truth of Mezcal. So, my decision to discuss the myths in this article are not to judge the purpose of the myths, but to try to open horizons that were intentionally closed by them.

One of the strongest Mezcal myths is about the worm inside of the bottle. The original objective was to demonstrate the difference among the Industrial Mezcales who have been in the market for a long time and the new high quality products that have just arrived. The myth considers bad all the Mezcales that have the worm. In the past only the industrial Mezcales had the worm as a decoration. However, these little insects that lives inside of the Agave plant, which also is a source of protein and delicacy of the greatest Mexican restaurants of “haute cuisine”. Certainly they are not the cause for some Mezcales to be so, so industrial.

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Today you can find worms inside of the bottles of both Industrial and Artisanal Mezcales.

Another myth is about the water that we add to the Mezcal after distilling. Whoever tells you that the Artisanal Mezcal at any AbV doesn’t have water added, doesn’t know how Mezcal is made, prepared and bottled for sale to the public. It’s impossible to finish all your Mezcal batches at the same level of AbV without using water in order to keep the product homogenized. (Note: Some traditional Mezcales that are made without the intention to be bottled do not have water added. À voir: Mezcales Ancestrales.)

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Other misinformation flying in the air is about the pearls. The consistent pearls are the only evidence that our distilled Agave is completed between 45 and 49 AbV, and it’s not at all a proof of quality. You can’t imagine all the undrinkable Mezcales, with beautiful pearls, that I have tasted in my life.

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Restricting the high-quality Mezcal to 45 AbV and above is one of the most perverse myths and is an obstacle for a very creative and vastly diverse industry. This myth doesn’t have any sustenance, nor does it make sense, but it does have two explanations:

  • Reason 1: Taxes

By keeping your distilled product lower than 41 AbV you can drop your taxes on the product. I heard recently from some people that the reason Tequila’s AbV is below 41 AbV is because of tax concerns. Although for business reasons this speculation makes sense, I don’t know if is true or not. By the way, I have never heard any of these people complain about the quality of Tequila Ocho (40 AbV) or Siembra Azul (40 AbV) or Siete Leguas (40 AbV), just to name three of my favorite Tequila brands in the US market. I have a hard time believing that the greatest brands of Tequila or Mezcal lowered the alcohol for financial gain. And, I believe that they have their products at 40, 42, 38 or any other AbV for matters of flavor and tradition, and not for any monetary reasons.

By the way, in Mexico the tax line starts up at 20 AbV, so keeping the Mezcal or Tequila below 41 AbV for a tax advantage does not make any sense south of the Rio Grande.

  • Reason 2: Historic flavor or family recipe

Mezcal is one of the oldest spirits. What we know about the historic flavor is what the Master Distillers tell us and what they learned from their ancestors. In the past, the way to know the content of Alcohol by Volume was only by the consistency and size of the pearls in the distilled Mezcal. So the Mezcal distilling process was often halted around 45 AbV, when the pearls started missing consistency.

Mezcal existed before alcohol content taxes, before alcoholmeter, and even before the NOM. Mezcales below 45 AbV were made in the past by very talented Master Distillers, who were able to know without the pearls (and alcoholmeter) when the “juice” reached the desired alcohol content.

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That said, I want to invite you to try all kinds of Mezcales; Industrials, Añejos or Repos, with worms or with a snake, with low or with very high alcohol content, with mole or dear or rabbit. Each one has a different story to tell, and a different heritage to transmit. Open your minds and your horizons and think differently than the others. Mezcal is here and it came to stay. “Vive la difference!”

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In the photo: Don Bernardo Morales, pioneer of the Mezcal below 45 AbV

Notes:

*Myth

Noun. 1. 
a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.

*The NOM-070-SCFI-1994:

  • Mezcal content 36 AbV minimum and 55 maximum.
  • Must be at least 80% Agave to be called Mezcal (unlike Tequila for which only 51% must be agave tequilero)

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