So here's the thing about mezcal: it's going to brutalize you on your maiden voyage. If you're not the kind of person who likes jumping into the deep end with spirits, this bottle may not be for you and mezcal in general may not be for you.
As something to consider, when I brought this up to the counter of my local grocery store, the clerk asked, "Do you like this stuff?" You'd have thought from his response that I was slapping down a couple of twenties for a big jug of horse piss. I told him I'd never had it, at which point he shook his head. "My parents are from Oaxaca," the clerk explained. "They drink mezcal all the time. but it's way too much for me." He ominously hoped I enjoyed it, and we went our separate ways.
First, a little background. Technically all tequila is mezcal, just how all cognac is technically a specific kind of brandy. The heart of tequila production is in Jalisco, where just about all tequila is made from blue agave. Most mezcal, on the other hand, is made from espadín agave in and around Oaxaca. Here's where it gets fun: the agave hearts used for tequila are dried in a kiln as part of the production process, whereas with mezcal they're literally thrown into a smoldering pit and covered over with earth.
In certain methods, a horse crushes the softened agave hearts with a stone wheel. In other cases, raw meat like rabbit or chicken might be dissolved in the spirit to give it a meaty quality. To some, mezcal production may sound less like distillation and more like low-rent witchcraft. Suffice it to say that mezcal producers do not give a shit about what you think, nor are they the least bit interested in catering to your bourgeois sensibilities. To me, that's a bizarre plus.
Now, I can tell you that I did enjoy this despite the clerk's grim warnings, but I want to contrast that with someone who did not. When it comes to spirits, my girlfriend has a narrower comfort zone than I. On the nose, I smelled roasted vegetables (specifically, corn, artichokes, and ancho chiles), along with clay, earth, and black pepper. I liked smelling this. It was smoldering and brooding. Karen, however, smelled burnt rubber and industrial solvents, which I can't at all dismiss out of hand.
On the palate, the El Silencio Black is expansive. There's just a little bit of light sweetness, then a slight bit of peppers—namely, jalapeno, sweet peppers, and red bell pepper. However, the savory enhances the sweet, and there's a nice hint of grapefruit in the middle of it all. In a strange way it reminds me of a roided-out Sauvignon Blanc, which is known for including a lot of bell pepper notes amidst the sweetness and acidity of white wine. The combination works there, and it works here.
As for the finish, it's soft and fading with some residual tingle on the middle of the tongue. It reminds me a lot of the aftertaste of a good tomatillo salsa. Karen thought all of this tasted like the liquid remnants of a pink pearl eraser that someone set on fire. It's totally not for everyone, that's for damned sure.
All in all, I quite liked this, as did my friend Adam. Mezcal is the tequila for foodies. It's brash and completely uncompromising, and if you like branching out it's hard not to be charmed by something like the El Silencio Black. It was my introduction to Mezcal, and it was a great one. I recommend it to the adventurous drinkers: you know who you are.