Mezcal is another name for maguey plant. Additionally, Mezcal is the generic name for all spirits distilled from the agave, as well as the name of a regional beverage, similar to tequila, but made mostly in the state Oaxaca. Note that Mezcal is not the same as Tequila — the two should never be confused. Technically, tequila is a form of Mezcal, more properly known as "Mezcal de Tequila”.
Unlike Tequila, Mezcal can be made from 11 types of agave endemic to Oaxaca, such as quishe, pasmo, tepestate, tobala, espadin, largo, pulque, azul, blanco, ciereago, and mexicano. This diversity produces a range of flavors similar to grape varieties in wine making. Around 90% of mezcal is made from the agave espadin. Mezcal is native to the states of San Luis Potosi, Michoacan, Jalisco, Durango, Morelos, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas.
The fermentation of agave juice dates to pre-Columbian times, when the alcoholic drink was declared to be "a gift from the gods" by the high priests and was to only be consumed during sacrificial offerings to the gods and for medicinal use.
When the Spanish conquerors arrived 400 years ago they taught distillation techniques to Mexico's native inhabitants and the first distilled spirit in the Americas was born: Mezcal.
The Mexican state of Oaxaca is the official home of Mezcal and a traditional center for Mezcal making in Mexico, producing 60 percent of the country’s Mezcal. Because Oaxaca is one of Mexico's poorest states, it has a huge stake in Mezcal's success abroad.
Mezcal producers in the villages of Oaxaca still use the same traditional method of roasting agave in underground wood-fired pits, and distilling in small-batch, copper pot stills. One of the important drinks of rustic, rural Oaxaca - Mezcal is the traditional toast of choice at ceremonial occasions such as baptisms, weddings and town fiestas. A vital aspect of native Zapotec and Mixtec culture, Mezcal is slowly becoming sought after and highly regarded by fine spirits connoisseurs around the world. Mezcal producers hope the demand for agave will rise as consumers around the world are captivated by the drink they loftily describe as "Oaxaca's cognac."
Mezcal, like a whisky or scotch, has many variations and characteristics. The priciest Mezcal, smooth, amber-colored and aged in oak barrels, can sell for more than $60 a bottle. At the lower end of the spectrum is the clear, throat-burning Mezcal that usually has a worm. That product is labeled "joven," or "young." Similar to special European products of origin such as wine and cheese, Mezcal is protected as an "Appellation of Origin". The Official Mexican Standard (Norma Oficial Mexicana) acts as a form of support in the process of certification, verification and monitoring of Mezcal.
Whatever the reason, Mezcal is still notorious for the worm in the bottle.