What it is –– and what it's not!
Mezcal is an agave spirit obtained by distilling mash from the steamed hearts of various types of agave. The word Mezcal has its origin in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and means "cooked agave": mezcalli from metl = agave and ixcalli = cooked. Historically, Mezcal is the collective term for all agave spirits produced in Mexico. These are produced from the respective locally available agave species and with different techniques and are named differently from region to region.
Generic and formal designations
Since 1994, there has been a Protected Designation of Origin (Denominación de Orígen = DO) for Mezcal. The Norma Official Mexicana NOM-070-SCFI-2016 stipulates that all products with the trade name Mezcal must be produced in defined regions using specific techniques and defined raw materials. This is mainly controlled by the Consejo Regulador del Mezcal (CRM). Mezcal, however, continues to be used as a generic term in colloquial language outside the DOs - especially by traditional producers who reject the policy's moderation.
Since 1974, there has already been a DO for Tequila, which was originally marketed as Vino Mezcal de Tequila. It was singled out by NOM-006-SCFI-2012 as a product with specific regional characteristics from the family of agave spirits (at that time still called Mezcal), whereby the name was shortened and became known internationally simply as Tequila. The regulations accompanying the DO are controlled by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT).
Other DOs for Mexican agave distillates are Bacanora (since 2004), Raicilla (since 2019) and Sotol (since 2004, although strictly speaking this is not made from agave but from the closely related Dasylirion). Agave spirits without DO are called Tuxca (around Tuxcacuesco, Jalisco) or Comiteco (around Comitán, Chiapas), to name but a few. However, according to the traditional understanding, they all belong to the family of Mezcals!
Officially, Mezcals produced outside the DO regions must be labelled as Aguardiente or Destilado de Agave. This also applies to producers within the DOs who do not have their products certified. This includes many traditional distillers who refuse the state controls but have labelled their products as Mezcal for generations.
So Mezcal is not Tequila with a worm. Oh yes, the worm: this is actually a butterfly caterpillar of Hypopta agavis and is part of the traditional indigenous cuisine of southwestern Mexico. However, it has no place in a decent Mezcal. This insect also has no psychoactive effect, just like the Mezcal itself, and the linguistic proximity to mescaline is just that.
And since, in the end, quality, product safety and transparency are the focus instead of formal restrictions, we import products from all categories, with and without DO, as long as they meet our standards: Produced without colourings, flavourings or other additives and from independent small producers and family businesses. Making this comprehensible is the aim of the next texts and mainly of the extensive information on each product in the SHOP. But first briefly to the HISTORY.