When asked about the flavor profile of mezcal, one of the first characteristics that comes to mind is smoke. For some, it’s why they are so excited about the spirit, for others it’s a complete turn off. For those who find that smoky profile to be too much–and for those who just like good mezcal–there’s Zignum, a mezcal focused on the beauty of pure agave flavor.
Zignum means “tip of the spear” and the brand has just begun to pierce the US market. At initial glance, their four releases (Espadin, Reposado, Añejo, and Añejo Cristalino) seem to have more in common with tequila than mezcal. They take their name from the aging process rather than the agave used to produce them. That’s because the brand only makes mezcal from maguey espadin, which it organically cultivates from the seed.
In this week’s Bottle Breakdown, we sat down with Saul Moise, U.S. Commercial Director of Mezcales Casa Armando–which produces Zignum. He took us through their process for creating the brand’s various offerings, the sustainability practices they participate in, and his favorite ways to enjoy the mezcals.
Just to start, can you tell us a bit about your first experience with Mezcal, and how that experience impacts the way you view ZIGNUM?
My first experience with Mezcal was one that established my deepest respect and admiration for the spirit. I was with some friends when one of them brought out a Mezcal bottle. We poked fun at him, as we had our own assumptions about the quality of Mezcal, but once I had a single taste, the complexity and flavors blew me away. The lingering aromas felt as if the spirit was saying, “I’m here to stay”, giving me a glimpse into what would become my journey with the spirit. Now I drink Mezcal with pride, as it represents so much of my culture and who I am.
ZIGNUM is elevating the Mezcal category to where it belongs, introducing premiumization and accessibility by making the spirit enjoyable to all levels or expertise.
ZIGNUM is one of Mexico’s leading Mezcals, but is a bit on the newer side in the U.S. In your mind, what is it about the Mezcal that makes it different from the variety currently on the market?
Mezcal differs from other spirits in the market in many ways. Since the category is not limited to a single agave, like Tequila, it allows for expansive variety in flavor profiles. While smokiness is often considered a signature aspect of Mezcal, it is not the exclusive factor when identifying a high-quality Mezcal. As trade and consumer understanding of the Mezcal category grows, both are beginning to disentangle the expectation of smokiness from the quality of the spirit. In ZIGNUM’s case, there is no smoke; this allows for the palate to focus on the pure agave flavor the distillery has carefully cultivated.
ZIGNUM uses Maguey espadin for all of its Mezcals. Can you take us through the process you go through from cultivating the agave through distilling the liquid?
Sustaining Mexico’s agave ecosystem is crucial to Mexico, Mexican culture, and all the industries agave is intrinsically tied to. This is why ZIGNUM launched its own greenhouse nursery program, where we organically cultivate espadin from the seed. After the 7-year maturation cycle is complete, we harvest the agave, cutting the plants to reveal the “heart” of the agave plant called the piña. ZIGNUM cooks its piñas in modern ovens, cultivating the pure essence of the cooked agave flavor. Once cooked, fermentation begins when the piñas are shredded and water is added. This fermented juice is then distilled and Joven Mezcal is made! The next step for Reposado and Añejo is aging; ZIGNUM Reposado is aged for 8 months in charred, white American oak while ZIGNUM Añejo ages for 18 months in a mix of half American and half French oak.
ZIGNUM takes pride in overseeing the entire process from field to bottle, ensuring an authentic, high-quality Mezcal that is ethically and organically made. ZIGNUM prioritizes the environment that produces the spirit as much as the spirit itself, that is why the brand has several other efforts towards environmental responsibility (solar panel heating, wastewater treatment facilities, and reforesting) as well as giving back to the Oaxacan community (Fundación Don Antonio Rivera Venegas and the Fundación el Agave y Nosotros).
Most Mezcals that have been appearing in the US are not aged. Can you tell us a bit about how you age your Mezcals and what cask maturing does to their flavor profiles?
While Mezcal can be delicious and authentic while being un-aged, aging a spirit allows for an extra depth in flavor and body. In technical terms, cask-aging reduces the ethanol content, which removes the harsh alcohol taste in the spirit, which in this case, allows for the cooked agave flavors to shine through. The Mezcal destined to become ZIGNUM Reposado sits in charred, white American oak, while the spirit bound to become Añejo ages in a mix of half American and half French oak. ZIGNUM ages its Reposado for 8 months, well beyond the 2 months required by law. Its Añejo ages for 18 months, surpassing the law’s 12-month requirement.
Apart from the color deepening, the smooth texture of Mezcal can also be credited to the barrel aging. The sensory performance derived from barrels can be various, and mostly depends on the barrel types and the aging time. Barrels aging adds unique characteristics to Mezcal, from coconut, vanilla, and caramel to burnt sugar, toasted coffee and smokiness. In short, barrel aging increases the complexity of the Mezcal by softening the texture, adding delightful aromas, and strengthening the structure of the Mezcal.
Can you tell us a bit about ZIGNUM’s agave nursery program, and how it promotes bio- and genetic diversity as well as protects against over-harvesting?
ZIGNUM’s agave nursery program is part of MÉTODO VERDE, the brands sustainability initiative. The nursery is a pioneering program that is used as a model in agricultural curriculums at some of Mexico’s most respected universities. While some producers rely on the common agave cloning method, ZIGNUM invests in germinating from the seed in order to maintain the species’ health and vigor by allowing bio- and genetic diversity. This allows for us to maintain our own agave supply, instead of depleting the environments natural agave.
Our re-foresting efforts also bolster the environment by offsetting any harvesting from other producers that may have not been otherwise replenished.
As aforementioned, agave is a vital part of Mexico’s ecosystem, and it is crucial that brands treat the plant that is so deeply rooted in Mexican culture with reverence and respect. The Mezcal and Tequila industry of dependent upon the long-term health of this plant.
Why is sustainability so important to ZIGNUM and the entire Mezcal community?
Being a core pillar in ZIGNUM’s values, sustainability is not only beneficial for the Mezcal and Tequila category, but also for the overall Mexican community and environment.
Having a wastewater treatment plant allows us to purify and re-oxygenate water that is used during production; this in turn is then used for irrigation and re-foresting, among other things. Our solar panels are used to heat the water use in the distilling process and are another clean source of energy. We are also animal-cruelty free, certified Clean Industry by Mexico’s Federal Environmental Protection Agency, ISO 9001, Kosher, as well as HACCP, among other designations.
We started with sustainability from the inside out, implementing it throughout every step of our production and hoping to be a model for other distilleries. ZIGNUM supports the Oaxacan community by investing in the long-term health of the environment, the community, and the employees. We prioritize creating the best possible environment, and quality Mezcal is simply a byproduct of that.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy ZIGNUM’s various Mezcals? Is there anything you particularly like to pair with them?
Personally, any ZIGNUM expression served neat is absolutely delicious, especially when paired with sal de gusano (worm salt) and an orange slice. Sal de guasno can also be complemented with pineapple, green tomato, or mandarin oranges.
ZIGNUM Joven can be paired with the above-mentioned ingredients, in addition to any other citric fruit. ZIGNUM Reposado is delicious with deeper flavors, like “dulce de leche”, chocolate, roasted pineapple, dried fruit, or low-fat cheese. Lastly, ZIGNUM Añejo is complemented with dark chocolate, brownies, chocolate cake, dried fruit, dried nuts, or low-fat cheese.
Are there any Mezcal cocktails you are currently enjoying making with ZIGNUM and can you tell us how to make them?
I am really enjoying making the ZIGNUM Guava, as it is the perfect refreshing cocktail for summer with its crisp guava and orange tang.
- 1.5 oz ZIGNUM Reposado
- 2 oz Guava Juice
- 0.5 oz Orange Juice
- 0.5 oz Cardamom Syrup
- 4 Fresh Basil Leaves
- Using a shaker, shake all the ingredients together.
- Garnish the cocktail with a basil leaf.
To find yourself a bottle, head over to the official website.