A MATTER OF WOOD – up close and in our copitas

A MATTER OF WOOD – up close and in our copitas

It’s “Flight” time dear beloved patrons of all things Mexican. This time around the Mezcaleria of Ojo Rojo is breaking down the walls between the beloved Mexican spirits and the booze of a minority behind our bar.

With all our flights, we try to induce a different experience and express the countless expressions of Agave based nectar. We have paired previous samples with palate cleansers and nibbles to accompany the flavour profiles of the chosen drams. But this time we’re coming at you from a few different angles to push the tasting experience to new levels.

A Matter Of Wood

The theme of the flight this time around is wood. Good old fashioned oak to be precise. Certainly, when it comes to the Mexican spirits we harbour such love for, wood can be a forgotten element. Such is the impact of the earth and smoke and hundreds of other unique and in-your-face attributes of the Agave spirits, that any ageing process involved can sometimes become superfluous.

But that is not always the case, and although Mezcal and Tequila do not endure the same lengths of ageing as Scotch or Rum can, it does still have its role to play and characteristics to imbibe upon the holy nectar. What it comes down to essentially are chemical compounds called congeners. These come in good and bad forms, made up of lots of complex sounding scientific names that when tasted will make you say “Mmmmm” or “Yuk!”. Distilling alcohol produces these congeners, and fortunately the good congeners (the yummy ones) are quite stable, whereas the bad congeners (that can be poisons in more than one sense of the word) will break down over time. Here is where ageing plays its part, allowing the time needed to do away with the bad and keep the good. Another useful aspect of wood is its porous nature, allowing in small amounts of oxygen that will react with the bad congeners facilitating their removal. There are plenty of other aspects to ageing that have an impact on the spirit, including temperature, humidity, time etc. Time is an interesting factor when considering comparisons from Scotch to Mezcal and Tequila. The consensus on ageing is that there is a decay rate of change, or after a certain period the ageing process becomes pointless. Many researchers agree that almost a third of the barrel-ageing process takes place in the first year and up to half by the end of the second year. So, although Agave spirits spend a lot less time than a traditional aged Whisky, the effects are still poignant.

Barrel ageing, and the positive effects of, have certainly been scrutinised over the years. But the reasons why the process came about is from a simpler time. Merchants needed a way to transport their spirit. Wood is cheap and malleable (Oak ticking both of those boxes firmly) and some clever sod found out that by burning one side of the wood allowed them to bend it, therefore creating a shape that one man could roll around and manoeuvre easily. A by-product of this burning to shape process is that the charring of the oak on the inside imbibed its own characteristics on the spirit within. This charring imparts the now sought after flavour profiles we are used to seeing in spirits, and changes the nature of the oak itself. It’s practically a carnival of flavour-making going on aboard a wooden vessel of time.

Now enough of the science and messing around…let’s get down to business. The booze we have chosen for the flight this time around obviously has the wood-ageing at its flavourful core, but each has its own reaction and therefore characteristics taken from the process. Rather than go all-in on the ageing of Agave distillate, we need a solid wooden benchmark with which to compare. So, start off your tasting experience with a good old fashioned Scotch. This way you can hopefully see that wood ageing transverses species, showing how similar Agave based spirits can be to something like Whisky and how wood can give Mezcal and Tequila its own distinct individual flavours.
Instead of offering a nibble that might confuse the palate, we are going to liven up your schnoz and trap some flavoured smoke produced from actual wood chip to heighten the senses for the effects of wood. Also, it looks cool as hell!

Compass Box – Oak Cross – Malt Whisky

Compass Box are master blenders; their Oak Cross is produced to offer the best characteristics of both American Oak and French Oak…hence the Cross bit. While the American Oak gives the traditional Vanilla flavours, French Oak imparts a slightly spicy quality. The combination of wood brings out toffee apple flavours and stewed fruit. Served with an Applewood and Berry Tea smoke to compliment.

Corazon – Buffalo Trace Aged – Reposado Tequila

Aged for ten and a half months in ex-Bourbon barrels from the famous Buffalo Trace. There is all the spiciness and caramelised Agave flavours expected from a Reposado Tequila, but the Bourbon Oak imparts some fizzy corn hints and peppery sweetness. Served with a smoke produced from Hickory wood with cinnamon and pepper will alert you to these traits.

Ilegal – Anejo Mezcal

Aged for thirteen months in French and American Oak (for the “Double Cross”!) Sweet smoke is evident as is the traditional earthy nature of Mezcal. But the Oak has similar effects to the Scotch with the dried fruit element and slightly twists the classic oak flavour of vanilla into its own chocolate edged ensemble. Served with Hickory woodchip and Chocolate tea to bring out the deep dark flavours imbibed within.

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