In March, an eclectic crowd of local and global partygoers began arriving in Oaxaca for something called the Mezcal Amores Experience. The ultimate destination was a dusk-till-dawn mezcal, art and music party in an agave field an hour south of the city of Oaxaca. It had a kind of micro-Coachella vibe and was Instagram-ready by design. The David Lynch–remakes–Thorn Birds surrealism was light-hearted and mezcal-marinated, though for some the festivities began with an education.
The day before the party, at a rural mezcal distillery half an hour southwest of the city, true mezcal lovers learned the most important thing: what makes mezcal different from tequila. The differences were explained in evocative detail, echoing what I'd recently read in the new book The Mezcal Rush: Explorations in Agave Country by Granville Greene. The book details the author's personal visionquest in pursuit of the mysterious allure of mezcal, a journey that also began in Oaxaca, which is “home,” he writes, “to the largest variety of agaves and the mezcals that are made from them.”
Tequila uses only one type of plant, and its pinons are distilled with steam. It's a sweeter plant, grown in rich volcanic soil. The process is clean from start to finish to taste. But, as Greene explains, mezcals are made in regional batches from a variety of agave species, and wood fire–roasted rather than steamed. All that smoke and fire and earthiness is what gives mezcal the flavors that you love or hate or, in some cases, become obsessed with and literally travel to the other side of the world to experience.