The agave plants used to produce Sombra Joven Mezcal grow in the Oaxacan Sierra, close to San Juan del Rio and San Luis del Rio. Famed Sommelier Richard Betts launched the brand in an effort to fight the low-quality mezcal bottles produced solely for use in cocktails.
It is a small-batch, unaged, artisanal, distilled spirit with spicy and fruity notes and just a hint of smoke. The agave spirit tastes good while also establishing sustainable production processes.
The mezcal is produced in their own Plaenque in Santiago Matatlan using organic agave, sustainable wood, solar-powered tools for production, and rainwater.
Let's find out how good this spirit is in our expert review of Sombra Mezcal.
Sombra Mezcal Joven Review
- Agave type: Espadin
- Age of Agave: 6 years
- Mezcalero: Isaias Martinez Juan
- ABV: 45% (90 proof)
- Style: Joven
- Price: $40 per 750ml bottle
- Rating: 3/5
What is Sombra Mezcal?
Sombra Mezcal is a sustainable mezcal brand established by Richard Betts in 2006. To produce their Joven Mezcal, Sombra only uses organic agave plants that grow in altitudes of up to 8,000 feet above sea level. During production, Sombra uses sustainable wood for roasting, a solar-powered tahona for milling, and rainwater to cool condensate lines.
Since 2017, the mezcal brand has distilled its spirit in its own Palenque, located in Santiago Matatlan.
Poured in our tasting glass, Sombra Mezcal Joven looks like many other unaged agave spirits. Clear and transparent, and when swirling it, you get a nice and light coating on the glass.
The aroma of the spirit is slightly smoky and spicy, with sweet hints of banana, caramel, toffee, and cotton candy. If you let the flavors develop, the mezcal a subtle floral and fruity scent of mango and stonefruit emerges.
The flavor profile is straightforward, with light smoke and a distinct ethanol flavor. After a few sips, I can detect additional flavors like citrus, pepper, cherry, and tobacco.
The finish pairs strong alcohol notes with white pepper and oak lingering on your palate.
The Joven expression of Sombra Mezcal is a simple and smokey spirit with a simple flavor profile. However, the value for money is quite amazing, that's why we rated it at 3 out of 5 stars.
Sombra Mezcal Joven in cocktails
Sombra Mezcal Joven is made of 100% Espadin agave and has a distinct smoky note that works best in mezcal cocktails. Here are some cocktails, you should try making with it:
- Mezcal Negroni: I prefer my Mezcal Negronis on the smokier side, and Sombra definitely delivers on that. Excellent base for the famed Italian aperitivo.
- Mezcal Sour: Probably my favorite cocktail to make with this spirit. This sour cocktail is enhanced with Amaro liqueur for a better-balanced drink. The depth of flavors also helps the one-dimensional mezcal to shine.
- Mezcal Margarita: Either based on Sombra Joven only or as a split-base drink with Tequila, lime juice, and triple sec.
- Frozen Mezcal Paloma: This frozen twist on the classic Paloma cocktail is a perfect cocktail for a hot summer day.
How to drink Sombra Mezcal Joven?
Even if it's the traditional way to drink mezcal, this Joven expression isn't the best sipper as it's heavy on smoke and alcohol notes. However, the agave spirit works excellently in mixed alcoholic beverages like cocktails.
Sombra also has offers types of mezcal that are more suitable for sipping. The first is Sombra Mezcal Reposé, a Reposado Mezcal aged in formed Bordeaux wine barrels sourced from a wine estate in St Julien, France. The other is Sombra Mezcal Ensamble, a limited edition spirit made with a ratio of 61% Tepeztate and 39% Tobalá maguey.
Sombra Mezcal, crafted in Oaxaca, Mexico, has introduced a fresh bottle design inspired by Mexican tradition in 2020. The design draws from the "vaso veladora," originally used to hold prayer candles in Oaxacan churches but later repurposed for sipping mezcal.
The bottle's subtle grey-shaded glass pays homage to the brand's name, "Sombra," meaning "shadow" in Spanish, and the light smokiness of its flavor. Copper lettering and a refreshed logo symbolize the stills used in distillation.
The bottle shape represents the adobe bricks created by Sombra's Adobe Brick Project, part of their sustainability initiatives, which recycles distillation waste to construct houses for those in need in the local community. This eco-conscious design, in collaboration with Sandstrom Design, not only respects Oaxacan traditions but also aligns with Sombra's commitment to sustainability.
Sustainable and Responsible Production Process at Sombra Mezcal
I already mentioned a few things Sombra does to ensure they work sustainably and responsibly. But I want to explain the measures they take in more detail.
The agave plants Sombra uses to produce their mezcal are growing at very high altitudes on the slopes in the Sierra of Oaxaca. The Espadin agave for their Joven Mezcal grows at an altitude of up to 8,000 feet above sea level.
Sombra has contracts with local farmers there and only purchases organic agave plants. They're also hand-harvested and fermented with the help of native yeast.
The hand-harvested piñas are roasted, and for this procedure, any mezcal brands need wood. Sombra uses only certified and sustainable wood. That helps in preventing deforestation.
The milling process of mezcal is performed according to the traditional method using a stone tahona. Usually, this stone wheel is powered by mules or horsed. However, at Sombra, they work without animals throughout the entire production process. Instead, the mill is powered by solar energy installed by Sombra.
Clean production process
Also, the production process is powered mainly by clean energy and utilizes rainwater to cool condensate lines. This rainwater is collected on the factory roof, just like the solar power used in the distillery.
Re-using waste products
The biggest problem in mezcal production is the waste it produces. Agave plant fibers left after roasting, fermentation, and distillation are often dumped into rivers, lakes, etc., close by a distillery. And with it, also the acidic by-products that contaminate the water.
As if that wouldn't already sound alarming enough, the volume of waste is approximately ten times the amount of the actual end product. So what to do with it? At Sombra, they mix leftover agave fibers with earth to create bricks used to build houses in villages in Oaxaca for people in need.
Pros & Cons
- Great in cocktails
- Uses sustainable practices
- Good value for money
- Strong alcohol note
- Not a great sipping mezcal
- Not that complex in taste
In our Sombra Mezcal review, we had a closer look at their Joven expression and how it compares when drinking neat and in cocktails. Our result is a solid 3 out of 5 stars, which more or less complies with the customer reviews I read before trying the agave spirit.
The 100% Espadin mezcal works best in cocktails and offers solid value for money. For that reason, If you come across this pretty bottle, grab it and give it a go.