Friday, September 18, 2015, 6:00-8:00pm at Literacenter (641 W. Lake Street, Chicago), is holding a mezcal master class, a tasting of rare mezcal guided by Lou Bank, a man who knows more about mezcal than any other person you’ve probably ever met. The title of this highly interactive presentation is “Mexico in a Bottle: Mezcals, Raicillas, and other Agave Expressions.”

Mezcal, as many of you probably already know, is distilled largely from wild agave plants; unlike tequila, it remains for the most part an artisanal product, hand-crafted by smaller mezcaleros in Oaxaca. The smoky flavor of mezcal results from cooking the hearts of the agave plant in a wood fire prior to mashing, fermenting and distilling.

Earlier this year, after I wrote two Tribune articles about mezcal, tequila’s smoky brother beverage, Bank contacted me to set me straight on a few points. He did so in the best possible way: over some obscure bottles of mezcal he brought back from Oaxaca. I covered that encounter in Newcity:

At that meeting, Bank and I proceeded to sip through a number of mind-blowing mezcals, punctuated by equally mind-blowing Bankisms on a number of topics, for instance:

  • Tequila vs. mezcal:   “I’ve never tasted a high-end tequila that was as delicious as a mid-level mezcal.”
  • On barrel aging mezcal: “The only reason to bury that terroir with the ’rounded notes’ of an oak barrel is because you don’t like the taste of that terroir.”
  • On buying mezcal: “My rules are, one, never buy a mezcal that has a creature in it—no gusano (worm), no scorpion, no snake, no nothing. Two, never buy any mezcal that has color—has to be clear. Three, never buy a mezcal that is lower than ninety proof, so you’re getting it as it comes out of the still.”

You know those images on Mayan and Aztec codexes of guys in feathered headdresses holding steaming cups of what most of us interpreted to be cocoa – Bank says those cups are quite possibly holding mezcal. Contrary to much wisdom about distilled spirits arriving with the Spanish, mezcal has been and remains a spirit created through open distillation, in clay pots, using technologies well known before 1492. Mind, blown.

At this Friday evening event, Bank will walk us through 5 different mezcal, sips of which will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about mezcal, tequila and probably life itself. Bank is an accomplished speaker, raconteur and good guy – he will lead a spirited presentation with audio-visual support, entertain all your questions, even the most naïve (I helped prime him for that kind of inquiry).

Cost of the event is $30; buy tickets here:

Bank is passionate about mezcal and about supporting indigenous mezcal farmers. ALL proceeds from this event go to the organizers of a greenhouse in Santa Catarina Minas, Mexico, who are helping replant wild agave, the plant that makes mezcal mezcal.

There will be light snacks of chips and mini-cemitas from Cemitas Pueblas, all included in the general admission price.

Parking is available on the street, and there are several lots nearby, but if you want to take public transit, get off Green or Pink lines at Clinton.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...