Mezcal

MEZCALES DE OAXACA | A LOVE AFFAIR

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. 

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Mezcal Los Amantes Oaxaca

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

Mezcal Cuish Berta Vasquez Oaxaca

CUISH
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

Mezcal Mezcaloteca Oaxaca

MEZCALOTECA
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

Mezcal Meteoro It Fell From The Sky

MEZCAL METEORO
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 Espadín

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

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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

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AGUARDIENTE
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

Mezcal Bosscal Joven Cenizo Durango

MEZCAL BOSSCAL
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

MEZCAL OAXAQUEÑO | A PRE-HISPANIC ART

The word Mezcal originates from the ancient Nahuatl word Mexcalli, which divide into two words, Metl (cooked) and Izcalli (Agave). It’s well categorized that over 20 types of Mezcales are distilled from Agave within the Mexican Republic. The Agave succulent has a current population of over 200 species, 150 of which are native to Mexico, with the state of Oaxaca leading the way with 38 species native to its region; 8 of which are used for Mezcal production. One being the Agave Angustifolia, better known as the Espadín Agave. Other Agave species included the Tepeztate, Mexicano, Tobalá (Potatorum), Cuixe (Karwinskii), Jabalí, Arroqueño and the Sierra Negra. Other states within the Republic use the Agave which are native to their own region to produce other variations of Mezcales. The state of Sonora for example produces Bacanora, made from the Agave Angustifolia and Agave Rhodacantha. The state of Durango produces Mezcal from the Agave Cenizo (Durangensis), while the state of Jalisco produces the most popular of Mezcales, Tequila; made from the Blue Tequilana Weber Agave. Because of the unique variants of the Agave, the artisanal process utilized to cook, distill and ferment the Agave, as well as the water chosen to distill the Mezcal, each Mezcal is miles different from one the next. As such, Mezcal must be treated with the utmost respect while consumed as a bottle of Mezcal can take on average seven years to produce. On account of the years it takes for the Agave to mature. The domesticated Espadín Agave for example can take between seven to ten years to mature, and the Agave found in the wild as the Tobalá or Karwinskii, can take anywhere between 13 to 15 years to mature. 

Mezcal is an integral part of the Mexican culture, full of history, legends, aromas, flavors and folklore, all of which incorporate a vast amount of traditional wisdom, regarding the cultivation and use of the Agave and Mezcal. The final product depends on the species of Agave employed, the climate in which the Agave matured, the specific fermentation and distillation process and finally, the container used to age it. Each Mezcal bottle contains aspects of an age-old tradition of the land that gives it life and the vast knowledge of each individual producer, known as Maestro or Maestra Mescalero(a). These influences set Mezcal apart from other spirits, not to mention its immense pre-Hispanic and Mesoamerican history it has under its belt. We don’t know exactly where Mezcal originated from as major influences derived from different cultures and peoples, this gives Mezcal a rich history that makes it near impossible to know everything about it. Even now evidence is being uncovered of the first stills that are traced back to ancient China and the Middle East, not to mention the various legends as to how this, spirit of the Gods came into the possession of humans.

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One such legend tells of Quetzalcóatl (feathered serpent and God of Wind) falling in love with the virgin Goddess Mayahuel the sacred fountain of water and granddaughter of Tzitzímitl, the celestial demon of darkness intent on preventing the Sun from raising. Upon learning of this forbidden love, Tzitzímitl killed Mayahuel by ripping her limb by limb and scattering her pieces throughout the ancient world of the Aztecs. Quetzalcóatl cried with the deepest of sorrow on the burial sites of Mayahuel and thus, the sacred Agave plant was born. In his rage Quetzalcóatl killed Tzitzímitl causing the Sun to rise every day and during the fight, a lightning bolt struck the Agave, causing it to cook and the ancient peoples then enjoyed this sweet nectar from the charred body of the Agave, giving birth to the sacred spirit of the Gods, Mezcal. Other versions the legend state that Mayahuel transformed into the Agave to hide from her Grandmother Tzitzímitl. But wowever Mezcal came to be, its widely accept its roots are heavily planted within the state of Oaxaca.

During the 1920’s, the women of Oaxaca marked a decisive factor of the industry's survival during Mexico’s prohibition era. An era when Mezcal was fabricated and distributed clandestinely. Women working in the industry were known as Mezcalilleras or Mezcaleras. During prohibition, women turned to Mezcal distribution as a perfect complement to their husband’s work, acting as business administrators and pillars of the family during the long periods of time when the men would go into the mountains to produce Mezcal illegally. And up until the 1970’s, women primarily sold Mezcal in bulk, door-to-door in neighboring communities within Oaxaca and at the time, Maestra Mezcaleras were unheard of. However, in recent years thanks to labels as Cuish and Mezcaloteca which promote local distillers, more Maestras are gracefully represented within our industry.

Mezcal runs through the blood of every Oaxaqueño. Aforementioned, it’s almost impossible to know everything there is to know about Mezcal, as new information of its origin are constantly being discovered, new stories of its Maestros and Maestras in the field are told and new Mezcal labels are introduced into the market as its popularity grows. This is why I love Mezcal, as it can transcend through different lifestyles and cultures. It can be consumed in times of happiness and in times of sorrow. It brings us together to mark a special occasion in our lives, such as a wedding or even a death in the family. Having us contemplate that life is measured out in cycles. The land’s cycle is marked by the flowering and maturing of the Agave. For the Agave, a cycle is marked by the coming of the rains. For the horse, whose powerful muscles bear the weight of the massive round stone that grinds the cooked Agave hearts, a cycle is made after every turn of the stone. For the Mezcal distiller, the last drop of Mezcal out of the alembic represents the end of yet another working day. For the Mezcal drinker, the cycle begins every time a new bottle is opened. And what a true drinker looks for in Mezcal is heightened sensitivity, not dulling of the senses. Mezcal uplifts the senses, conversation flows more freely, eruditely even and far more cheerfully when a bottle of Mezcal is given a place of honor at the table.

| Source |
- Artes De Mexico #98: Mezcal Arte Tradicional