Mezcal VS Destilado de Agave: An Incomplete Explanation

“Mezcal” as it has been popularly defined for many centuries simply means any spirit (hard liquor) made from agave. It is a broad, catch-all term. Since 1994, the word has been legally defined by the Mexican government in a way that excludes spirits made in certain places and using certain methods which had historically, and are still popularly, thought of as mezcal. Spirits made from agave that do not fit the government’s more narrow definition of mezcal must be labeled as something else - “destilado de agave,” “aguardiente de agave,” or “spirits distilled from agave” in the US.

Imagine if the Italian government was granted ownership over the word “pizza” and decided that only pizzas made in certain regions of Italy with certain toppings could use the name “pizza.” Everyone in New York would would be ordering a “pie baked from tomato, cheese and pepperoni.” If that sounds ridiculous, it should.

That a bottle is labeled “mezcal” means only that it has been certified to conform to the legal definition of the of the word, and is not a representation of quality, tradition or anything else. Bottles labeled “spirits distilled from agave” may or may not fall within the legal definition, and have not been certified.

Every batch of Mal Bien undergoes the same thorough laboratory testing for health and safety as certified mezcal.

We are big believers in the power of a strong, well managed denomination of origin (the regulation that determines which products can bear the name “mezcal”), and it is our hope that as agave spirits grow in popularity, the DO will develop in more sophisticated, complex ways to highlight and protect Mexico’s diverse spirits. To that end, you can find many bottles of certified Mezcal Mal Bien.

We are also big believers in the value of tradition, and we will never ask producers to change their methods, nor will we limit our bottlings to specific regions. Should the legal definition of mezcal expand to include these spirits, we will happily label them as such. Until then, they will continue to taste as good with some other words on the bottle.