What it is –– and what it's not!
Mezcal (also: Mescal or Meskal) is a spirit distilled from mash made out of the steamed hearts of various species of agaves. The word mezcal comes from the Aztec language, the Nahuatl, and means "cooked agave": mezcalli from metl = agave, ixcalli = cooked. Historically, mezcal is the general term for all kinds of agave spirits made in Mexico. These are produced from locally available agave species using varying 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). However, Mezcal continues to be used as a generic term in the vernacular outside of 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 (then called mezcal), with the name shortened and known internationally simply as tequila. The regulations that accompany 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 the latter is not made from agave but from the closely related Dasylirion). Fires without DO are called, for example, Tuxca (around Tuxcacuesco, Jalisco) or Comiteco (around Comitán, Chiapas), to name just 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 labeled 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 government controls but have labeled their products as mezcal for generations.
Mezcal is therefore not tequila with worm. Oh yes, the worm: This is actually a butterfly caterpillar of Hypopta agavis and belongs to the traditional, indigenous cuisine in 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 precisely just that.
And because ultimately 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 colorants, flavorings or other additives, and from independent small manufacturers and family farms. To make this comprehensible is the goal of the following texts and mainly of the extensive information about each product in the SHOP. But first briefly to the HISTORY.