The time, effort, and passion necessary to produce artisanal mezcal means it should be consumed thoughtfully. Producers and enthusiasts agree that mezcal should be sipped neat or in a cocktail, never as a shot, but it’s less clear what glassware or vessel to use. Through our travels and tasting experience, we’ve discovered three main trends.
At many palenques (mezcal distilleries), jicaras are used by meaestros mezcaleros (master distillers), palenque employees, and their guests. The jicara, or xicalli in Nahuatl, is a container derived from the bark of the fruit with the same name. The use of jicaras dates back thousands of years and has had many uses including the production and serving of chocolate, transport and display of goods, and consumption of different beverages.
When checking the degrees, or alcohol percentage, of a newly distilled batch of mezcal, the maestro may use a long piece of bamboo called a carizo to suck up the mezcal and then release it back into a larger jicara producing las perlas, or pearls (bubbles). The size of these pearls indicates the proof.
For tasting, a smaller jicara is used because of the relatively small pour size, between ¾ oz and 1 oz. The uneven rounded bottom of the jicara requires that it be held by hand or placed atop a woven base to reduce the risk of spillage. The uses of jicaras are part of tradition rather than any form of modern tasting science, but the wide mouth allows the alcohol to evaporate, leaving room for the full expression of the mezcal.
Any many mezcalerias (mezcal bars) throughout Mexico, you’ll be served mezcal in a glass that resembles a short candle holder. Originating in Oaxaca, where they were manufactured by the Catholic church, these glasses are sometimes referred to as veladoras, or candle holder glass, but we propose mezcaleria glasses. The mezcaleria glass has a ribbed outer surface and is sometimes engraved with a cross.
Although mezcaleria glasses have only been used for a relatively short amount of time compared to jicaras, they are becoming increasingly popular - recent mezcal and agave spirit festivals have included these glasses in their participant swag. These glasses are very sturdy, which is good for enthusiastic saludes and long nights of enjoyment.
The last trend for mezcal vessels is very recent, and is not yet found at many restaurants and bars serving mezcal - a snifter glass. Riedel, in partnership with Zignum, has annouced the relase of a snifter specifically for drinking mezcal. The snifter is the traditional brandy/cognac glass that is bowl shaped with a wide body and narrow rim. The large amount of surface area created by the body allows for evaporation of the spirit while the narrow rim traps the vapors collecting the alcoholic fumes.
Snifters can be seen as an appropriate way to drink mezcal because they're commonly used for top-shelf spirits, but some argue that the snifter collects too much of the alcohol fumes and does not allow the full complexity of the mezcal to be expressed. Another design feature of the snifter is that you can warm up the spirit by holding the bowl, but warming mezcal is not a common recommendation. Interestingly, the tasting panel that selected the Riedel mezcal glass only tasted Zignum, which is 40% ABV, whereas many mezcals have a significantly higher alcohol percentage.
Not all restaurants and bars with mezcal on their menus treat it differently than their other spirits, and many still serve mezcal in either rocks or shot glasses. We've also seen some mezcal bottles come with shallow sipping bowls made from ceramics or coated metal.
At the end of the day choosing the right vessel to sip artisanal mezcal may seem challenging. The truth is if you are fortunate enough to be enjoying mezcal, you have already won, and you should probably not worry too much about “proper” glassware. We recommend that you try as many options as you can and stick with your own personal preference.
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