The different types of agave
Agaves are a genus of asparagus plants with numerous species that have not yet been fully scientifically recorded and taxonomized. The database Plants of the World Online lists 683 entries in the category Agave species in August 2019. Most of the terms are synonyms for the same species, but at least over 270 different species are assumed, all of which are also for the production of mezcal are permitted provided that they grow in the area of the protected designation of origin Mezcal (see: Production of Mezcal). However, commercial use is significantly less and we simply present the species that Lalo, the Mezcalero of Sacapalabras Ancestral Mezcal, uses. The Mezcal Reviews page also provides a brief overview of other species.
But first a few words about the growth and multiplication of agaves, since this has become a major topic in recent years with rapidly growing mezcal consumption and demand. Agaves take many years to ripen and only sprout a flower shoot once at the end of their life. Certain bat species then pollinate certain types of agave naturally and new seeds are formed from the seeds.
In order to be able to use agaves for the mezcal production, however, it is precisely this flower shoot that has to be cut off so that the power of the plant collects completely as a starch in the heart, the piña, and does not flower. No sugar without starch and no alcohol without sugar. The growing mezcal production thus withdraws from its own foundation if no precaution is taken.
Now there are some types of agave that can also be propagated via offshoots, and this is of course used very intensively by the spirits industry, since large plantations of these agaves can be grown in this way, which can later be used for mezcal production. But this approach is also not without problems from a sustainability perspective. The offshoots are genetically identical plants, which stops the natural development of the species and, by eliminating the genetic diversity, also makes the plants more susceptible to disease or, if infected, all specimens are equally affected.
It is therefore all the more important that some manufacturers - including Lalo, of course, since he started producing Sacapalabras Mezcal Ancestral - now have their own breeding programs in which the seeds are sown and the seedlings tended. In this way, they can use wild species that cannot be propagated via offshoots for mezcal production without endangering the existence of the whole species and advocating the preservation of the genetic diversity of all species. Unfortunately, however, this awareness is growing slowly and price pressure in production often gains the upper hand over sustainability considerations.
Espadin agave (Agave angustifolia)
The Espadin is one of the largest and most common species found at Mezcal. Of course, there are mainly economic reasons for this: It ripens comparatively quickly, so that it can often be harvested after less than 10 years, forming a piña of often over 75kg, which is also very starchy. This is the quickest way to get the most alcohol out of it. In addition, it can also be grown in farms with little effort and propagated via offshoots, so that the manufacturers can breed large plantations (genetically identical) and use them for their own production.
In terms of taste, Espadin-Mezcal is often described as rather boring, but this may be doing the agave a little wrong. Of course, almost all industrially manufactured mezcals are made of Espadin, and the criticism is understandable - because depending on the manufacturing process, after the diffuser, autoclave and highly efficient column distillation, nothing remains of the actual characteristics of the agave and the aroma and taste of the spirit are achieved through additives.
Artisan Espadin Mezcals, such as the Sacapalabras Mezcal Ancestral Espadin, which place particular value on converting the peculiarities of the respective agaves into the distillate, can still inspire. In addition, Lalo also pays attention to sustainability at Espadin and does not engage in intensive plantation cultivation of offshoots of the identical plant, but can also be propagated naturally and then supports the cultivation of seeds and fresh seedlings.
Tobasiche agave (Agave karwinskii)
The Tobalá is now a very popular agave in the artisanal mezcal segment because it produces many different flavors in the mezcal. Their maturity, usually between 12 and 15 years, is significantly longer than that of an Espadin agave and less than a basketball-sized heart