My self-discovery and love affair for Mezcal began in 2017 during an excursion to the outskirt desert towns in Oaxaca. Halfway through the trip, the Mercedes-Benz minibus made an hour pit stop at El Rey De Matatlán. A small, but productive Mezcal Palenque (distillery) that rests by the roadside of the main highway towards the community of Teotitlan del Valle. It was at this distillery I kissed Mezcal for the first time, was taught how to identify genuine Mezcal and learned of the variations of Agave and Mezcales. As my knowledge of Mezcal grows, so does my pride as a native of Oaxaca almost as if Mezcal runs through my veins as it does with the Maestros and Maestras of Mezcal (Master Mezcal Distillers). As stated in my first Mezcal journal entry, it’s near next impossible to know everything about Mezcal. New information of its origin is always brought to light, new stories of the Mezcal Masters in the field are told and new Mezcal labels are introduced into the market as the popularity of this spirit grows in the cocktail communities. For your consideration I’ve compiled a list of a handful of my favorite Mezcal labels in hopes you’ll try them and by doing so, help support our local Mezcal producers back in Oaxaca. To be clear, this list is by no means exhaustive or definitive.
MEZCAL LOS AMANTES
My initial curiosity for Mezcal was sparked while watching an episode of Munchies, Guide To Oaxaca, where the host makes a stop at Mezcaleria Los Amantes in the heart of downtown Oaxaca. After watching, I made it my mission to not only visit this bar but learn as much as I could about Mezcal while visiting Oaxaca in October of 2017. Mezcaleria Los Amantes is small artisanal distillery in the town of Tlacolula, while its bar sits in downtown Oaxaca, a stone’s throw from Santo Domingo. The bar is small, sensually lit and walking in is like walking into a shrine for Mezcal with knowledgeable bartenders. The Mezcal to kiss here is the young Espadín Mezcal. This Mezcal in particular has been the most refreshing one I’ve tried, it has identifiable fruit tones and a mildly smoky after note with a sweet, citrus flavor end with a slight herbaceous mid note. The aroma of this Mezcal is refreshing and humid almost as if you’re right under a waterfall. A perfect introduction to Mezcal for those not familiar with this spirit.
- Website: www.losmantes.com | Instagram: @losamantesmx
During Mexico’s prohibition era in the 1920’s, women played a significant role in the history of Mezcal and up until the 1970’s, women primarily sold Mezcal in bulk, door-to-door in neighboring communities of Oaxaca and Maestra Mezcaleras (women Mezcal distillers) were unheard of. Similar to cooking, the feelings and emotions of the Maestro or Maestra are unconsciously infused into the Mezcal during its production. If the they were happy or of sweet nature, the Mezcal will be sweet however, should they have strong tempers, the Mezcal will have a dry, punchier aroma. One Mezcal the emphasizes this theory is that of Maestra Mezcalera Berta Vásquez. Specifically, the wild Tobalá Agave Mezcal which is exclusively distilled for Mezcal Cuish. It’s earthy, herbaceous, exceptionally smoky and slightly humid and produced in the mountainous region of San Baltazar Chichicapam. An absolute rarity even for Oaxaca, as this 50% Mezcal to my knowledge, is only produced for Mezcal Cuish. Mezcal Cuish doesn’t produce its own Mezcal rather, it sources Mezcal of the highest caliber from within the Mezcal regions of Oaxaca. Their commitment to support our Maestros and Maestras sparked a heavy interest in me to move back to Oaxaca promote and possibly work for this brand exclusively. If you’re unfamiliar with Mezcal I do not recommend this Tobalá Mezcal due to its high alcohol content and strong smoky aroma; prior experience with the Espadínes is highly recommended. At this time of this writing, this label of Mezcal is not available anywhere in the States.
- Website: www.mezcalescuish.mx | Instagram: @mezcalescuish
On the backside of Santo Domingo sits one the best old world Mezcal bars you’ll find in the city of Oaxaca, Mezcaloteca. I took a Mezcal tasting crash course here and was lucky to have co-owner Silvia as my bartender and taught me how to identify genuine Mezcal and instantly fell head over heels for this label, its culture and of course the bar itself, which is sensually lit and perfectly decorated to the aforementioned old world feel. Silvia is a living, breathing Mezcal encyclopedia, patient and insanely knowledgeable with all things Mezcal in fact, 90% of what I know of Mezcal I learned from her. Mezcaloteca is unique in that they have Mezcales from various regions of the Republic with an emphasis on the Maestros that produce each one. Naturally, the ones from Oaxaca were my favorites during the tasting. Mezcaloteca’s Mezcales are sweet and delectably smoky with strong earthy end notes, ranging from 45% to 60% proof, whilst managing to go down smoothly due to their strict artisanal cultivation, distillation and fermentation processes. The Mezcal that stood out from the rest were those made from Karwinskii Agaves, better known as Cuixe. Mezcaloteca’s Mezcales are rare in the States but do offer an export label, Mezcalosfera.
- Reservations: www.mezcaloteca.com | Instagram: @mezcaloteca
During my half year stay in Oaxaca in late 2016 to early 2017 I searched all over the city to find the best possible Mezcal I could find. Some I found through word of mouth while others I found through Instagram searches, one being Mezcal Meteoro. Surprisingly I couldn’t find this Mezcal anywhere in Oaxaca, even though it’s distilled here. After a little digging I found it at La Europa, a high-end liquor shop on the ritzier side of Tijuana. Mezcal Meteoro can be described as a dry, slightly spicy Mezcal, with a strong earthy aroma, leaving no mid or after note to lust after, giving you a warm happy feeling after each kiss of this rather rare Mezcal. I recommend this Mezcal for a cold day and definitely worth the trouble of finding it, both for its uplifting characteristics and bottle aesthetics. As far as I know this label does not have a Mezcaleria anywhere within the Mexican Republic, which is probably why I had a hard time finding it. The tag line "it fell from the sky," perfectly describes the rarity of this Mezcal.
- Website: www.cayodelcielo.com | Instagram: @mezcalmeteoro
MEZCAL MARCA NEGRA
The quintessential beauty of Mezcal is how no two are ever alike, even those of the same label. As the aromas and flavors of each Mezcal is unique because of the region in which it’s produced, the water used to ferment, and the techniques used by each Maestro or Maestra when producing Mezcal. These and other factors contribute to the unique characteristics of every batch of Mezcal. Though aromas and flavors will be for the most part, consistent within each label, each bottle will have its own life and characteristics due to its artisanal process. The Espadín Mezcal Marca Negra distilled in San Juan Del Rio, by maestro Mezcalero Isaías Martínez Juan, has a strong identifiable fruit tone and a very humid aroma, think cave under a waterfall, similar to Los Amantes but with a much stronger aroma. Marca Negra’s Espadín Mezcal has a sweet, citrus flavor ending with a herbaceous note. As with any Mezcal, Marca Negra is not a common spirit found in the States.
- Website: www.marcanegra.com | Instagram: @mezcalmarcanegra
MEZCAL DE DON RENE
The aroma of this Mezcal is similar to being under a waterfall or near a rushing river. On par with taste it’s very refreshing, goes down smoothly and has a slight herbaceous end note. My grandfather has been buying this Mezcal for decades from a man known as Don Ren. Don Rene does it old school as he personally picks up the Mezcal from San Baltazar Chichicapam, a town in the southern sierra region of Oaxaca, and sells it by the liter to those whom have purchased from him before. I was fortunate to have sit down with Don Rene and talk Mezcal when he delivered a five-liter tank to my Grandparents house while I was there on vacation. By far this is the most prized Mezcal in my collection, but I think it’s due to the sentimental value it has with my Grandfather. As you’ve guessed, there is no label for this Mezcal, hence no official bottle. I did however go on a hunt for a bottle worthy of this Mezcal and thanks to one of Instagram fans, I found this gorgeous bottle in a local shop/art gallery that sells artisan wares and products from local Oaxacan artists.
- Get the bottle here | Instagram: @tiendaq
My Grandfather calls it Holy Water and the folk in the rural, hidden town of Eloxochitlán in the region of Papaloapan (northern most point of Oaxaca) go as far as calling it a gift from the Gods themselves. This rare spirit known as Aguardiente, is only distilled locally in micro batches and almost illicitly by a selected few. To be clear, this spirit known as Aguardiente is not a Mezcal and though both spirts parallel each other with the distillation & fermentation processes, they each share a class of their own. Aguardiente is more compared to a rum, as it’s distilled from sugar cane and to my knowledge not commercially produced and acquiring a few liters of this spirit demands a two-day journey outside of the capital. Describing the smoky, delectably sweet aroma of this spirit is complicated, the smell almost burns your nostril cold. Each kiss gives you one hell of a punch on the face, burns your throat for a few seconds, then leaves a very sweet after note. I picked up a few liters of this Aguardiente from a tailor after my Grandmother asked a shop keeper if she’d kindly guide us to an Aguardiente vendor. The tailor shop was lit by outside light, it was dusty and unorganized but felt cool and fresh compared to the outside hot, humid weather. Then I saw it, the massive teal glass jug filled with Aguardiente. The tailor was a very knowledgeable old timer and after a customary shot of Aguardiente, he siphoned a few liters into two three-liter Coke bottles.
- Get the bottle here | Instagram: @tiendaq
As a Sagittarius and in my early twenties during the ‘finding yourself phase,’ I came across the Chinese Zodiac and found I was born a Fire Rabbit. The further I studied, the further I agreed with the views of this philosophy, because it accurately described who I am and have since had a deep respect for the rabbit thereafter. It was then no surprise I immediately gravitated towards Mezcal Bosscal during my Mezcal research last year, you guessed it, because of its rabbit logo. Mezcal Bosscal is a micro Vinata (palenque/distillery) from Durango, Mexico, with a beautiful philosophy towards its elaboration and use of a rabbit as their logo, paying patronage to the land, their ancestry and the moon. Their Mezcal is distilled from the wild Cenizo Durangensis Agave, producing a Mezcal with a strong smoky aroma, a slight earthy flavor and a balanced after note. I don’t know what it is about this Mezcal and its sister Damiana, but they tend arouse your sexual desires after a few kisses. From what I understand, the locals consider both of these Mezcales as aphrodisiacs. Open a bottle of Bosscal Mezcal next time you’re alone with your lover and love as rabbits do.
- Website: www.bosscal.com | Instagram: @mezcalbosscal