Monday, 26 April 2010


La Perla
28 Maiden Lane

My FIRST EVER TASTE of mezcal. Okay, so maybe the event doesn't warrant block caps, but having been a firm fan of distilled agave plants in their tequila form for several years it strikes me as odd that I'd managed to avoid this one for so long. I ordered a glass on a return trip to La Perla, Covent Garden, whose drinks list I previously gave a proverbial pat on the back, if not a high five. The mezcal impulse was triggered by my drinking companion asking about the infamous "worm in the tequila bottle". It doesn't exist, I said, at least not in any tequila bottle you'd be happy to get your lips around. But they are dropped in bottles of mezcal, I added, don't ask me why. That's when the idea hit me. "Barman?!" There were two available and I went for the cheaper one - £3.50 a pour, and out came a bottle of Lajita. Check out the worm (below right).

Mezcal can be made from any of a range of plants from the agave family, and on the evidence of this particular dram, it's very much a poorer, rougher relation to tequila, its blue agave-based cousin. On the nose it was rough, and shockingly smoky. I don't mean peaty in a Scotch whisky way - I mean burnt. This, I later learned, is down to the production process, which involves cooking the hearts of the plants for three days in pit ovens fired with wood charcoal before turning them into a mash for fermentation. On sipping, the taste was equally unrefined, with strong smoke followed by a petrol-flavoured finish and a hint of soap. Reader, I couldn't finish my glass.

And what about the dead worm that Lajita saw fit to throw into the bottle? Technically, it's not a worm, but a larval form of moth - a caterpillar - that lives on the agave plant. It's also nothing more than a marketing gimmick, as our barman was gracious enough to confirm. Despite it all, I'll probably give mezcal another go - not Lajita, mind, but maybe the slightly dearer one (Mezcal La Penca, at £4.95 a pour), should I ever find myself in La Perla again with a sense of recklessness about me.

UPDATE: Thanks to Frederic (see comments below) for highlighting my category error. It would seem tequila is itself a form of mezcal. Which means I have already drunk the stuff on many, many occasions (looks like the block caps were definitely an over-reaction). That said, this remains the first time I've tasted non-tequila mezcal. And my verdict stands.


  1. Tequila isn't a cousin of Mezcal for it is Mezcal. Just not all Mezcals are Tequila.

    And the only rationale I've heard for the worm was that it was a form of proof -- like the spirit was strong enough to prevent the worm from rotting. Although that would happen at a much lower ABV, unlike the naval gunpowder in rum to gauge proof.

  2. Cheers for that, Frederic, I've added an update. I have to ask - do you actually like this stuff? If so, can you recommend any brands?

  3. Anonymous08 May, 2010

    If you can get your hands on some Ilegal Mezcal you can see what artisinal and great mezcal truly tastes like. It is comparable to a fine whisky, cognac or rum.