La Fiera Mezcal Sisters Share Tips On How to Taste Mezcal

From left to right, Mariana and Andrea Villela from La Fiera Mezcal | DESIGN BY CHINEME ELOBUIKE FOR THRILLIST

From left to right, Mariana and Andrea Villela from La Fiera Mezcal | DESIGN BY CHINEME ELOBUIKE FOR THRILLIST

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Mariana Villela and Andrea were teenagers when they tried mezcal for the first time at a Guerrero family gathering. Mexican families have a long tradition of allowing their children to try different spirits. It is a way to instill part of their culture early on. Both sisters realized that mezcal from this particular region held a special place in their lives at that moment.

That feeling was only strengthened when they realized how their mother’s friends in Mexico City would react when she brought them local mezcal from Guerrero during her visits. It was a unique and delicious tasting mezcal that they loved. This ignited a passion in the sisters. They realized that sharing a piece of their roots was great, and that mezcal was a way to do that. That’s how La Fiera Mezcal was born.

La Fiera Mezcal was launched by the sisters. They also offer private tasting classes at their Mexico City home for anyone interested in learning more about the Mexican spirit. We spoke to them about the unique qualities of their Guerrero mezcal, expert tasting techniques, as well as which cups they recommend we all drink our mezcal in.

Thrillist: Do any of you remember the first time that you tried mezcal.
Andrea: Both my parents are anthropologists, so we kind of grew up traveling with them a lot to the indigenous communities around my mom’s town Chilapa, Guerrero. [When we were] As teenagers, we were in Zitlala (near Chilapa) for the Santo Patrono celebration, which is for Saint of the Town. We reached the house of someone we knew. It’s a tradition [in that town] that to start drinking, women and men drink separately first, and then they join at some point of the high of mezcal. [The host] He poured all the men mezcal. Then he went into the kitchen. One of the youngest daughters of our family came out of the kitchen. She inquired about our dad and asked if the women were allowed to go and have mezcal with my sister. We were only 13 years old. We said yes, and they poured mezcal on us. The four of us then drank together. We both remember this moment, my sister and I, because it was the first time we had ever drank mezcal with strangers.

How did you get started with La Fiera Mezcal
Mariana: Well, Andrea started 10 years ago with the brand. She started bringing mezcal from Guerrero for [a book presentation]. Everybody was like, “Wow, what is this mezcal? Where does it come from? It’s super good, it’s delicious.” Everybody was really excited about what Andrea brought. She saw this as an opportunity to start a company. She started importing small batches of different producers from Guerrero. My mom [knew] a lot of people in small towns in Guerrero that can produce a very rustic mezcal. So she started bringing small quantities of mezcal.

Andrea: [Mezcal is] sold in very interesting contexts sometimes. Even though it is not a mezcal region, you can still go to a restaurant and buy some of their own batch. Sometimes you might just go to random houses without knowing that the maestro is there and has everything in the house. Sometimes, you can even go into stores like a fabric or tool store to see if they sell mezcal. So you go to this tool place and say, “I heard you sell mezcal here,” and they sell you their mezcal.

My mom, she was the one that started meeting [the producers] first, and then I would go and meet them later. We currently work with five different producers.

DESIGN BY CHINEME ELOBUIKE FOR THRILLIST

Think of mezcal as a friend of yours. How would you introduce mezcal?
Andrea: If mezcal was my friend, I would first say, “Oh, I’m pretty sure you have met him before.” And then I would say, “You have to treat him or her respectfully. It’s very friendly, as long as you treat him right.” He will open up or share very interesting things with you and reveal things from you that you don’t know, too. It’s going be a great afternoon spent together.

Mariana: I will definitely add that you need to know him well. You should also try to learn more about him, his past, and how he has grown. It’s a fascinating character. I believe most people who drink mezcal do not know him. This is why I think it’s part and parcel of the magic that this character has.

What is La Fiera Mezcal? Tell us where the name came about and what the brand stands for today.
Andrea: When I started, I was selling a little bit of mezcal but with no big enterprise purposes. I went to my mom’s place and met Aracely. She is the first woman we began working with. She’s the artist and the painter of the handcrafted bottles. When I first saw her work, I noticed the fierceness of her face. It’s also friendly. I felt that the mezcal had to be something related to that as well, but I didn’t want to give it a male character, because most of the alcohol world has male names, because it’s associated with masculinity, it’s always been like that. It was also the spirit that Guerrero had. Aracely painted the jaguars’ faces. This speaks to me of that fierce essence that is expressed in literature and songs about this wild animal. It is called La Fiera. Although they don’t give any specific information about the animal, you can be sure it’s wild. It is connected to nature, connected with the land, and other such things. This is how I began advertising La Fiera and it has remained that way ever since.

What makes your mezcal unique from other mezcals?
Andrea: It’s very representative of the flavor of the mezcal from Guerrero. Mezcal can change from an year to the next. Also, the climatic environment can affect the length of the bacteria’s life. There can be slight changes in the flavor. But over the years, we have stayed with [producers] that have developed a very constant quality in terms of the flavor. It’s like a trademark. We work with producers that make artisanal mezcal. It is mezcal made with a mix of traditional and modern techniques. They have a system that allows them efficiency in the change of production without having to sacrifice a lot of manual labor. They have the right tools and equipment to be able to work less but maintain a traditional method. This is an interesting debate in mezcal.
We work with both old and young producers, which is interesting [when it comes to] how they see their production. We must first like their mezcal. We then see the quality of the mezcal and the consistency of the production.

Can you please take us through the different experiences you offer?
Mariana: The experience lasts three hours, that’s the time that we stay together here talking about mezcal. We would do this at my house here in Coyoacán. We give out a little tasting platter with different ingredients that we will be pairing with the mezcal. [That way] You can see the different flavors of each mezcal.

Andrea: We show pictures, we show videos, not only about the mezcal process of production, but also about the folklore in Guerrero. We try to talk a little about the origins and history of mezcals. The sensorial part is where you can learn from your own experience with it and use the tools we teach them: how it tastes, how it smells, and how to identify its characteristics. Mariana is part of the team that prepares the meals. This ensures that everyone doesn’t get too drunk. Mariana has brought down the family recipes to the tasting. This is something you won’t always get to do in a restaurant. It makes the tasting feel like you are at a friend’s home. Mariana learned the recipes from her grandmother when she was very young. She would often be in the kitchen with my grandmother.

Shop All You Need For Mezcal Tasting

From glassware to other tasting accessories you’ll need to get to know the agave spirit.

Shop All You Need For Mezcal Tasting

From glassware to other tasting accessories you’ll need to get to know the agave spirit.

What are the best snacks to pair mezcal with?
Mariana: Cheese is very good to pair with mezcal. Citric fruits are also good. The other must be instant coffee. It’s quite a strange thing, but it works well with every mezcal. So you have a little instant coffee in your tongue, and then you have a small sip of mezcal, and it’s going to be a completely different and interesting [experience]. The cheese is similar to a traditional snack in Guerrero’s Mezcal Areas. When you go to mezcalerías, in most of them, they have these aged cheeses.

Andrea: Try it with berries, because berries have a little bit of acidity but [also] freshness. Red notes can be found in some mezcals, which are made from red fruits. Also chocolate, dark chocolate or very good quality chocolate—high in cacao percentage. It is great with mezcal!

What glasses or cups are you most comfortable using to sip mezcal? Do you have any favourites that you keep in the kitchen?
Mariana: In different towns, they use the cups that are made with squash, but we think that’s not the best way to drink it, because with this type of cups, they’re going to absorb the mezcal.

Andrea: Sometimes they pour in the traditional three-ounce veladora glass. This one has a wide mouth and a wide margin. It leaves enough room for the spirit to breathe. It opens it up. It has lines that are not part of the design. It is difficult to see the body, legs or tears that describe the mezcal’s viscosity.

Mariana: Also, if there’s color in the glass, you’re not going to be able to look at it. You can’t see the physical qualities that the mezcal has.

Andrea: The spirit tasting glass is high enough so the alcohol doesn’t evaporate faster. It’s about the same height of a tequilero. However, the tequilero has an open mouth so the spirit can’t evolve in how he breathes. This one also has the rounded taste that you may find in whiskey.

Can you please describe one of your tasting methods?
Andrea: The idea is that you use saliva in your mouth when you have the first appreciation of the mezcal. Take a small swig and then mix it with your saliva. Next, swirl it around a bit. You will then cover your entire mouth with the spirit. Before you swallow, you inhale through your nose. Next, you swallow the spirit and then exhale through your mouth. This is called the kissing technique. It not only goes up to your nose but also causes your gums and inner cheeks to burn. It starts to react very well on your palate, so you can take small sips.

This is a lightly edited and condensed version of the article.

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