It isn’t exaggeration to say that mezcal has changed the lives of many people. Jon Darby is one of them.
Darby was working in the City of London when he went on a holiday to Mexico in 2016. He discovered Oaxaca, and he discovered mezcal. He was so taken with the drink that he quit his job in the city and determined to do something for the mezcal community in Mexico, by bringing their spirits to London.
Darby started Sin Gusano, the name in English meaning ‘without worm’, as the worm is emphatically not a mezcal tradition. It was introduced as a marketing gimmick. Sin Gusano operates pop-up mezcal bars, conducts tasting events, and imports several mezcals which it sells as tasting sets of three, with 5% of all profits going to charitable causes, sustainability projects and education programmes in Mexico.
As part of its own desire to educate the UK public in mezcal, one tasting set contains three mezcals all made from the espadin agave, but made in different villages. The other set contains three samples of mezcals made from different agave plants. Both come with tasting notes and three mezcal tasting glasses, allowing drinkers to compare regional varieties or agave varieties.
Sin Gusano Jabali Mezcal
I chose the set which has the three different agave types, and a fascinating experience it was. One was actually a blend of six agaves, Ensamble of 6, and I reviewed that on the BBC Good Food website. For this review I’m concentrating on what is the best mezcal I’ve tasted in a long time, from an agave that is notoriously difficult to work with: the jabalí.
The jabalí is a type of wild pig, and it’s used to describe the agave because of the shape of the agave’s leaves. The plant, too, is as wild and unpredictable as any wild animal. It’s quite a common plant throughout the mezcal-making area of Oaxaca, and it says something for its difficulty that not many Maestro Mezcaleros choose to work with it.
Meet the Maestro Mezcalero
One who does is Camilo Garcia Gutierrez from San Luis Amatlán, a town of a few thousand people, who produced just 60 litres of this mezcal for Sin Gusano. Instead of crushing the cooked agave with a traditional stone wheel, Gutierrez decided that the more modern mechanical chipper was a better way of taming the jabalí. Even so, it required three distillations rather than the usual two to achieve the desired result.
And the desired result is quite stunning, though perhaps not one for the mezcal virgin as some might find it an acquired taste. The nose really hits you, in all kinds of surprising ways. There’s a strong earthy/farmyard aroma, like a good pinot noir, but there’s also lemon and nutty almond notes as well. It also has an astringent smell, like fingernail polish remover. There’s even a pork-like aroma, which isn’t as remarkable as it sounds. Some mezcals (not this one) when made for special occasions are distilled with raw meat such as pork, chicken or rabbit.
If that’s what it smells like, what on earth is it going to taste like? On a first sip it seems quite innocuous, but the flavours then build as much as the aromas did. At 51.4% there is definitely alcohol in there, but there’s also some peppery hotness, some citrus, and that earthy/farmyard reminder of the agave that this comes from, dug from the earth and then distilled within a few days. It has a slight sourness, but also some sweetness, like a sweet and sour pork dish.
This Sin Gusano Jabalí is definitely a mezcal for sipping slowly, and sniffing again and again, as there’s so much going on in there that it is constantly changing. On second thoughts, perhaps it is one for the mezcal virgin, as it will introduce them to the complexities of this endlessly fascinating spirit.
Neat. No ice. No arguments.
You can also buy Sin Gusano mezcals at Master of Malt.