An array of mezcals for our tasting session at Wahaca in Charlotte Street, London (Photo: Lianna Brinded)
An array of mezcals for our tasting session at Wahaca in Charlotte Street, London (Photo: Lianna Brinded)

Geek Speak has gone to some pretty special parties this year; from zombies to pandas, we think we've seen it all.

In-house we have our drink geeks, including our very own 'Beer Beauty', the award-winning Marverine Cole who is now a qualified beer sommelier.

But because we do love to do things a little bit "offbeat" at Geek Speak, we went to the UK's only mezcal bar for a unique tasting session, just in time for the Christmas festivities.

So, what's mezcal? I hear you ask.

Well, apart from 'awesome,' it is actually a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant, a form of agave, native to Mexico. In taste terms, it is a smoky and mature-tasting version of tequila that is meant to be sipped, not knocked back.

"We are trying to change the image of mezcal and it's cousin tequila and what a better place to do it than in London? It's a cosmopolitan centre that embraces unique experiences and this mezcal bar does just that," says Richard Lopes, a bartender at Wahaca's Charlotte Street branch.

"Tequila, and if you know mezcal, have a bad reputation of being a drink that you knock back as quickly as possible, which leaves a burning sensation in your throat and the terrible taste of salt and lemon afterwards. And because of this, people don't appreciate the great and unique tastes of every different flavour," adds Aliona Andrejeva, another mezcal and tequila expert working at Wahaca.

The Mexican market food chain Wahaca launched the UK's first "Mezcal Bar" in Charlotte Street at the beginning of Septemeber, but what makes it extra special is the passion and uniqueness that goes into making every bottle, as well as the staff who possess a knowledge and enthusiasm for the spirit that is usually only displayed by whisky connoisseurs or wine sommeliers.

Lopes has been a bartender for eight years but his geeky enthusiasm for spirits is extremely evident, as he guides us through the some of the finest samples Wahaca has to offer us. In fact; his "real love and passion" for mezcal has led him to plan a trip to Oaxaxa, pronounced Wahaca, in Mexico, to see the distilling process in action.

"Everything about the process is so absorbing and because the producers are usually small, family owned businesses, every flavour is unique and even the families get a decent slice of the profits back to them. That's why we want the popularity to rise, but not too much, so the whole business chain still stays favourable to private and local businesses in Mexico, rather than becoming mass produced," says Lopes.

Mezcal is usually distilled in pot stills to 110 proof (55% ABV), resulting in a clear liquid, but is steeped with flavour elements that can be enhanced by barrel aging. Under Mexican law, all mezcal must be bottled at the point of origin and cannot be shipped out of the country in bulk, unlike mixto tequila.

Mezcal Mano Negra, this one is 71 out of 100 bottles produced (Photo: Lianna Brinded)
Mezcal Mano Negra, this one is 71 out of 100 bottles produced (Photo: Lianna Brinded)

We start off with a Mano Negra (50.9%), which has a wet wood and spicy taste. As mezcal is still not a "mainstream" or a mass produced drink, the bottle we are drinking from is actually the 71st out of only 120 in circulation.

The sensation is intriguing. After breathing in the aroma, sipping and swilling the spirit in your mouth in order to gauge the different flavours, you can taste a variety of different elements that you only thought possible in a fine wine.

Mezcal time (Photo: Lianna Brinded)
Mezcal time (Photo: Lianna Brinded)

After taking a quick draw of an orange wedge to cleanse the palate, we move onto the Del Maguey Tobala, which has an exceptionally heavy smoky aroma and taste. After tasting it, you are hit with a strong, earthy flavour that is counteracted with a fresh, floral burst.

Interestingly, the earthy tone is down to the 100% wild tobala agave that is grown 4000 feet above sea level and is one of the hardest to find. Altitude, as well as the soil, wood, water and the hand of the maker all affect the quality and flavour of the mezcal.

Moving onto the third shot, and getting a little fuzzy around the edges, we taste Del Maguey Minero (49.1%) which is cooked between three to five days, distilled in clay pots with bamboo tubing and fermented in open and natural oak vats.

The taste has a smooth quality due to the vanilla and is laced with the essence of figs.

Particularly meaty. Del Maguey Pechuga (Photo: Lianna Brinded)
Particularly meaty. Del Maguey Pechuga (Photo: Lianna Brinded)

We quickly move onto, perhaps, the most intriguing out of the list of mezcals; the Del Maguey Pechuga (49%).

What catches the eye is the little asterisk, lingering over the word. No, it is not a translation, it actually says 'Not Suitable for Vegetarians.'

Perhaps bizarrely for drink, you get the scent of basil and thyme with a meaty kick. Taste wise, it is pretty similar. While the liquid is cool and light, the flavour is fruity with a meaty kick.

Last but not least, we finish on a sweet note.

The Del Maguey Crema (40%) is plumped with pear and vanilla flavours and tastes exceptionally sugary and creamy, despite being a clear, thin spirit.

"If people are scared of trying to sip mezcal neat, I do recommend to women who like sugary cocktails to try this one," says Andrejeva. 

(Photo: Lianna Brinded)
(Photo: Lianna Brinded)

So what's in store for mezcal in the future? 

We certainly don't think it will be as blurry as the effect the drink is having on our vision, but it certainly is an experience that would be perfect for the party season. 

If you are fed up of trawling the millionth pretentious wine bar or the latest 2-for-1 cocktail pop up shop and want something a little cooler, refined but with a pinch of cosmopolitan cool, this is for you.