AGAVE VARIETAL: A. TEQUILANA
What, No Worm?
I know you’ve been thinking about it. You’ve been thinking, “When is he going to address the elephant in the room, or rather the worm in the bottle?” So there’s plenty on the subject of the worm. I’ve spoken to some Oaxaqueños who swear that you can’t get the full taste of the mezcal without eating the worm while most others claim that the worm was a marketing ploy devised in the 1950s to take advantage of young Americans’ one-upmanship. The problem is that the mezcal with a worm in it is usually of a terribly low quality. So the brave American tourist would endure the shot of bad mezcal, eat the worm, squirm and gag, and everyone would have a good laugh. And, in a sense, it worked as a marketing gimmick; to this day people still associate mezcal with the creepy little gusano floating around in a bottle.
But since 2005, when the Mexican government began certifying mezcal for sale and export, the premium artisanal mezcals that have been making their way around the world have no worm in them. And I for one think it won’t be long until the old worm in the bottle trick is relegated strictly to tourist tchotchke status.
One final note on the worm; the gusano is commonly eaten in Mexico in various forms. You can have them fried, toasted, raw, or pickled on just about any street corner in Mexico. That is real and NOT a gimmick. The other thing that is not a gimmick and an excellent accompaniment to a good mezcal is sal de gusano or worm salt. In Oaxaca it is normal to be served a glass of mezcal accompanied by orange wedges covered in worm salt. How the salt is made varies from brand to brand but generally speaking it is composed of chilies, worms, and sea salt; unlike the lime and salt chaser used to mask the bite of tequila, the flavors of the orange and worm salt are meant to complement the mezcal’s fresh, smoky sweet flavors.
The Luminar Mezcal Añejo presents itself with a translucent straw color in the bottle. There is little in the way of information coming from the label except the age, ABV, place of origin, and agave varietal. You may think, “What more do you want?” I like to know a little more about the processes employed in producing it as well as the maestro mezcalero who made it happen. On the nose this mezcal delivers notes of caramel and light spice. The palate has caramel, honey, and only a touch of heat but zero smokiness. The flavor is more reminiscent of an aged tequila than a mezcal.
Cigar Pairing – Espinosa Habano
This pairing brought out the best in both products. The mezcal’s caramel and vanilla were ramped up to dessert-like levels, which were balanced by the cigar’s earth and pepper core. The Espinosa Habano’s pepper zing coming from the filler was significantly toned down by the spirit allowing the wrapper’s creamy, leather character to show through.