We’ve tried a few bottles of Casamigos tequila here at 31 Whiskey, and have never been disappointed. I’m not saying it’s the best tequila ever — but it’s probably the best of the celebrity-endorsed tequilas and seems to be doing just fine based on worldwide sales. Building off that success, they’ve now dipped their toe into the world of mezcal, launching an unaged edition with more apparently to come.
Back in the early 2010s, famous actor George Clooney and his nightlife entrepreneur buddy Rande Gerber were building vacation homes next to each other in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. (As one does when they are incredibly wealthy.) The pair had been sampling local tequila trying to find the perfect one to stock their homes and, after working their way through the available offerings and finding none to their taste, they decided to simply make their own. (Again, as one does when they are incredibly wealthy.) Their goal was to create a tequila that tasted great and didn’t burn going down, minimized any hangover, and could be taken straight or over ice.
Clooney and Gerber partnered with property developer Mike Meldman to commission a local distillery to make their dream tequila, ordering a reported thousand bottles of tequila per year. After hearing the size of the order, the distillery asked the trio to get a business license to facilitate the transaction and so they formed the Casamigos tequila company (Casamigos being a combination of “casa” and “amigos” for a rough translation of “house of friends”) in 2013.
The company was never intended to produce a single bottle of tequila for commercial sale, only intended as a mechanism for the trio to stock their own personal liquor cabinets. However, it didn’t take long for word of this special tequila to get out and they started selling to the public in 2014 with Clooney and Gerber still taste testing and acting as quality control for every single batch of tequila. Sales went through the roof, doubling every year, and in 2017 the British spirits giant Diageo purchased the brand for a cool $700 million with an additional $300 million to come based on performance. Since then, the brand has become one of the fastest growing tequila brands in the world.
Here in the United States, the tequila is imported by the Casamigos Spirits Company based in White Plains, New York.
- Learn More: What Is Mezcal?
We saw with the Casamigos tequila that the company is willing to take the time and invest in doing things the right way, maximizing flavors by using traditional methods. Their mezcal seems to be building off that same template, using processes and techniques that date back centuries.
Quick note on mezcal: technically, tequila is a sub-category of mezcal. The two spirits are made in very similar ways, but tequila has more requirements and legal definitions. Mezcal does have some legally defined varieties, but it is the broader of the two categories. So, much like how all bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon, all tequila is mezcal but not all mezcal is tequila. You can see this reflected in our taxonomy here on the site, as all the tequila varieties are nested under the mezcal branch on the reviews page. Typically the defining difference is a smokier character present in mezcal versus a more herbaceous and citrus profile for tequila.
Just like with tequila, this mezcal starts with a crop of 100% agave plants. But where tequila requires a specific agave variety called “Blue Weber”, here they are using an older variety known as Espadin. Those agave plants are grown for eight to nine years before being harvested, and the hard cores of the agave plants are sent to the distillery for processing.
At the distillery, the agave cores are cooked in an ancient traditional method in which a large pit is dug into the ground, lined with hot volcanic rock, and then the agave cores are split in half and placed inside. The cores roast in this pit for up to six days before they are removed and allowed to cool for 24 hours.
The next step in the process is extracting the sugary liquid from the roasted cores, a job for which Casamigos uses the traditional method where a single horse rotates a large crushing wheel called a “tahona” over the cores and crushes out the liquid. The liquid is then fermented for between two to eight days to create the alcoholic liquid, allowing for the yeast to act on the sugar in the liquid and create interesting flavor combinations. That liquid is then batch distilled twice in copper pot stills to create the final raw spirit.
Given the label, for this joven bottling of mezcal, it is unlikely that it saw any time in an oak barrel. It seems like it has just been proofed down a bit with water and bottled as-is.
This is a really cool design at first glance, and I think it’s a great way to sell bottles. But the more I touch it, the less I actually like it.
The overall design is the exact same as their regular glass tequila bottles, with a rounded body, gently rounded shoulder, and slightly tapering neck. The big difference is that while the bottle is still glass, the outside surface has been sandblasted and is rough and opaque. The rough texture on the outside means that people are more likely to touch the bottle, which is known to increase sales at liquor stores. The problem is you can’t really see inside, which might be slightly concerning for those wanting a peek at what they are getting.
It’s definitely an interesting and novel take, and I appreciate them doing something different. But personally I think it just feels strange and I don’t like it.
On the outside of the bottle is the typical Casamigos labeling — sparse, minimalist, and improves the look and feel, in my opinion.
The liquid is crystal clear and water white, which is exactly what you want to see coming from an unaged mezcal.
The aromas coming off the glass are richer and smokier than the usual tequilas we’ve seen from Casamigos: there’s some deep cedar wood, a wisp of smoke, some earthy clay, and then just a tiny hint of lemon zest citrus. It smells like a campfire that went out a few hours ago. I am also getting a bit of sulfur in there, but that seems to be an intentional component instead of a distillation fault.
Taking a sip, that smoke and cedar are the most dominant flavors I’m getting. There’s just a tiny hint of agave sweetness on the front, but then the smoke and cedar kick into high gear and that’s pretty much all you get from then on. Near the finish, there’s a touch of spicy black pepper, but even that is only a hint of what you’d normally see in a tequila.
Usually, with the addition of a bit of ice, the more herbal and lighter components of the flavor profile are scarified in exchange for toning down the richer and darker notes. But here, I think we’re actually seeing those more herbal elements accentuated.
I wasn’t getting nearly any of the herbal agave before, but with a couple ice cubes added it’s coming more clearly into focus. There’s that sweetness up front, a touch of cut grass, and then the smoky characteristics kick in and add some unexpected richness. From there, a bit of lemon zest gets added to the mix and on the finish there’s more of that black pepper spice.
This really does come the closest to actually balancing out the bite of the Cointreau and the lime juice, something that a normal margarita fails to even attempt. The herbal earthiness and smoky characteristics in the mezcal provide just enough depth to balance out the other components, and there’s even still a hint of the herbal agave adding some uniqueness to the mix.
The one complaint I have is, compared to other mezcals, the smoky and earthy notes are still pretty muted in here. I get the smoke for sure — but that’s a hard one to mask. Everything else, you do have to strain a bit to see. The tone and the texture is mellow and improved, but nothing from the mezcal is really the star of the show. It’s a good cocktail, but it’s not the best I’ve ever seen.
This is undoubtedly a good sipping mezcal when taken neat. I don’t think I can say the same on the rocks, but those interesting flavors are exactly what makes this an excellent choice for cocktails. We’ve got a spirit that provides the right level of richness and depth without becoming the diva of the performance, or outshining the rest of the cast.
While this absolutely meets the bar for what makes a good mezcal (and even slightly exceeds that bar), it doesn’t really jump into that next category of “exceptional” spirits. There’s nothing truly unique or exciting here, it’s just a well executed smoky and earthy mezcal. Ideal to keep on the liquor shelf, but not the one you’d necessarily pick to impress your friends.
|Casamigos Mezcal Joven|
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $53.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
An excellent smoky, earthy mezcal that delivers exactly what you would expect — but staying in the middle of the road will only get you so far.