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There’s now an app for your mezcal

A screenshot from Ulises Torrentera's Mezcaleria app.

A screenshot from Ulises Torrentera’s Mezcaleria app.

That sneaky Ulises Torrentera popped an iOS app on mezcal into the App Store last week with nary a notice. Actually he did flag it on Twitter but it feels like this will just spread by word of mouth so take a look and tell him what you think. Maybe it won’t rock your world but it’s exactly the sort of thing that mezcal has been missing.

Ulises is the owner of the In Situ Mezcaleria in Oaxaca as well as the Farolito mezcal brand and author of three books on mezcal. I guess, an app was the rational next step. The real question is why no one else did it before. Susan and I have talked about it but never managed to achieve the momentum and time to do it. Fortune to the bold and all of that. Ulises did it.

The app is really quite simple, an introduction, shots and descriptions of the most common maguey, and a guide to how its made. The photos and layout of the steps to make mezcal make this a great A/V tool for tastings and conversations so I’ll be definitely be using it in that capacity. There’s lots of room for additional information including agave types and details about history. Hopefully Ulises is thinking of this as a first version and will develop it further.

A screenshot from Ulises Torrentera's Mezcaleria app.

A screenshot from Ulises Torrentera’s Mezcaleria app.

The app is also something of a living advertisement for El Farolito and In Situ in that those are the only items listed under the Mezcales and Mezcaleria menus but, again, that’s what you get to do if you create the app. It’s all in Spanish but the translation shouldn’t be that hard for anyone who has a decent understanding of the language. I’ll be asking Ulises about the possibility of a translation when I’m in Oaxaca later this week so stay tuned.

How Mexicans get their mezcal

Puntera mezcal

The high alcohol Puntera mezcal at Palenque Roaguia.

In Mexico lots of people don’t pay taxes on their mezcal, they don’t see brand labels, and it’s probably not certified by COMERCAM: Many Mexicans buy their mezcal in bulk directly from the distiller. Or they depend on the underground railroad, friends, family, producers, bring garafones, big plastic containers up to the size of gas cans, into the city from the country side and then it’s broken down into used glass bottles.

It’s so common and pervasive that it’s easy to forget. But being in Mexico City and drinking with friends you see all these unlabeled bottles in home bars and that’s what they’re full of. Whereas we may have cases of wine in our closets, there’s a set here who has cases of mezcal ready from that annual pick up/drop off.

Punked by agave!

The label of Westland Distillery's Tukwila reposado.

The label of Westland Distillery’s Tukwila reposado.

In the fluster of the past few days as I’ve been hunting down all things agave spirit related in the United States a Facebook follower pointed me to Tukwila Reposado from Westland Distillery in Seattle. I blithely noted it and kept going and only circled back this morning to do more research. Then I realized that there was more to the story and got into touch with Westland’s distiller Matt Hofmann for a quick talk about the truth behind Tukwila.

First up it’s pronounced ‘taqwilla’ and is named after a Seattle suburb that runs south to Seatac. Second, the spirit actually exists but it was really a one off stunt. As Matt told me, it “was just a joke that we had thought of years ago. We’re 100% a malt whiskey distillery but let’s try something fun.”

Their version of fun is a bit more complex than what you or I get into and it turned to be more than they bargained for as well. They started four years ago with 50 gallon drums of agave syrup because that was the only agave source material they could use in Seattle. So good, so far but once they started to work with it they couldn’t get it fermenting. Matt said that it “was one of most difficult things to ferment, we couldn’t get it to go, we were utterly defeated by it. We threw 4-5 yeasts at it, we used enzymes, and then we ended up only getting 20% of the yield that we thought we would.”

Their perseverance paid off because they finally did get to distill it and stored it in the prototype barrels they’d used fro their early work with malt whiskeys. They blended the Tukwila by removing some of the spirit after a year and the rest after three years which yielded a grand total of 65 bottles; evaporation is the distiller’s enemy!

As for the confusion about the release well, they got to have it both ways. Matt is nothing if not a literal prankster because he fulfilled the desire to deliver an April Fools prank but “we actually released it.” It was a distillery only release with emphasis on the past tense since they sold out on April 1 after they posted it to their Facebook page and ran a press release. A group of fans showed up saying “we’re only here if you’re actually releasing it” which could have led to a rather sticky situation but everyone came out in the end.

How does it taste? Since it sold out long before I could hop a flight to Seattle we’ll have to trust Matt’s description.

It doesn’t really taste like tequila or mezcal. It tastes like what it’s made from, agave syrup. It’s pleasant but not super complex. A bit nutty with dark, spicy syrup notes. It picked up some of the character from the malt whiskey barrels. It’s pretty clean, and not viscous because the consistency of the syrup doesn’t translate to the distillate. And it’s certainly concentrated because of time in barrel.

Would they do it again? “It was a fun side project for us, but we’re never going to do it again. However, we are going to mature some of our single malt whiskey in used mezcal barrels. ”

 

 

American agave spirits

Yesterday’s post about St. George Spirits’ apparent re-entry in the agave spirits world drew a ton of messages from readers about other distillers trying their hand at distilling agave. So much so that we need a list to keep track. We’ll update it as we go so keep sending in your local craft distiller’s agave spirits and we’ll report back on their different approaches.


DistillerBottlesLocationDetailsAgave Source Material
Venus SpiritsLadrón Blanco, Reposado, & AñejoSanta Cruz, CAAgave juice
St. George Spirits? Alameda, CARoasted piñas
Genius Liquids? Austin, TXTexan Sotol: Dasylirion Texanum plants from W US 90. (silvestre). Pot stilled twice.
Westland DistilleryTukwilla ReposadoSeattle, WAPartial April Fools joke but 65 bottles were distilled from agave syrup and released in their tasting room. Agave syrup.
State 38 DistillingBlanco, Reposado, & AñejoGolden, CO

 

Agave spirits hecho en los Estados Unidos?

Get ready for them. I’ll have a piece about Santa Cruz’s Venus Spirits which already makes Ladrón Agave Spirit in blanco and, soon, reposado and añejo versions. Coincidentally, it looks like St. George Spirits is getting back into the business based on its Instagram feed. The story is that they tried years ago but were defeated by the mighty agave fiber. It will be fascinating to hear how they approach this challenge with fresh energy and to see who else jumps into this game.

 

We swore we’d never do it again. #agave #neversaynever #sorrynotsorry

A photo posted by @stgeorgespirits on

Agave in the house for the first time since 2008. #sevenyearitch #iwishiknewhowtoquityou

A photo posted by @stgeorgespirits on

Bobby Huegel’s mezcal trip

Hat tip to Andrew Friedman for bringing this fun video featuring Bobby Huegel and crew to our attention. It follows a palenque visit in Jalisco, possibly elsewhere, and featured Bobby discussing the debate over the NORMA, what constitutes a mezcal, and the big sustainability issues facing the industry. He reiterates our shared push to get bartenders and everyone involved in the industry to make it culturally, environmentally, and commercially sustainable. Patricia Coalunga makes an appearance in the background. It must have been quite a trip.

It’s part of the Tequila Interchange Project’s petition on the NOM which you should take a look at here. Really interesting stuff. They’re also relaunching the web site and membership structure later in May.

 

Tres’ mezcal road II

A signpost on La Ruta del Mezcal.

A signpost on La Ruta del Mezcal.

Yesterday we had a fine time at Tres‘ back room wending our way through their annual La Ruta del Mezcal with a variety of fellow aficionados and industry reps. A special shout out to Jayson Naona who organized everything. We obviously need more tastings like this.

A few items of note:

Erick "Almamezcalera" Rodriguez pours at Ruta del Mezcal

Erick “Almamezcalera” Rodriguez pours at Ruta del Mezcal

Two of the bottles Erick was pouring.

Two of the bottles Erick was pouring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erick Rodriguez aka Erick Almamezcalera poured some really interesting bottles. His batches are always small and distinctive. Yesterday he was pouring a Salmiana from San Luis de Potosi that was incredibly spicy and peppery even finding jalapeño notes. It would be a great match for meals. His Karwinskii was the mezcal equivalent of a spiced mango, full of classic agave fruit and peppery spiciness. By far the strangest thing at his table was the pechuga de iguana which flummoxes my descriptive powers. A lightening poll of other people I knew found similar responses that ranged from “otherworldly” to “indescribable.” It was certainly powerful, strong flavors and strong alcohol.

Erick also displayed the unique ceramic bottles from the 50-year-old agave mezcal he has started to sell called El Cuarenteño. Get into touch with him through his Facebook page if you’re interested in that. We’ll have a bit more on that project soon. And he was selling some really nice custom copitas which are well worth a look.

T-shirts in effect at Ruta del Mezcal

T-shirts in effect at Ruta del Mezcal

Bruxo gets into the T-shirt trade.

Bruxo gets into the T-shirt trade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mezcal t-shirts are officially a thing with the El Jolgorio crew wearing a variety, Bruxo offering its variant, Erick sporting his design and a few other versions wandering around. I’d be remiss if we didn’t mention ours, we’re already working on new designs so clearly there’s a trend here.

El Jolgorio had a big showing at a table manned by three people and looked constantly busy. It’s hard to read too much into that alone but the visibility of those bottles at bars and liquor stores tells me that they’re making a big impact. Their upcoming tepeztate is definitely something to taste, sweet and well balanced.

El Bruxo table at Ruta del Mezcal

El Bruxo table at Ruta del Mezcal

El Bruxo's marketing focus on their mezcaleros

El Bruxo’s marketing focus on their mezcaleros

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was El Buxo’s semi-official launch in North America so consider yourself lucky if you were there. They were pouring one through five of their series which is much more extensive in Mexico. The number three Barril was a stand out. Their California brand ambassador, Irais Monroy, told me that they may bring in others as well, keep your eyes peeled. It’s really nice to see that their marketing is focused on their mezcaleros and the production features of each mezcal in their list.

Real Minero's Largo, at 54% it's something to contend with.

Real Minero’s Largo, at 54% it’s something to contend with.

The Real Minero, Rey Campero, Mezcaloteca line up.

The Real Minero, Rey Campero, Mezcaloteca line up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Real Minero, Rey Campero, and Mezcaloteca continued to prime the North American pump: They’re being poured at tastings like this one because they’re not completely certified yet. The word is they will be legal and in stores soon. When? That depends on the TTB but it could be as soon as summer. It’s the same line up you may have tasted at Mexico in a Bottle with things like the Real Minero Largo, Rey Campero Jabili, and Mezcaolteca’s Espadin with cacao. I’m sure they will strike a cord with many an aficionado and be the gateway taste for anyone new to mezcal.

 

Mezcal Wahaka's line up at Ruta de Mezcal

Mezcal Wahaka’s line up at Ruta de Mezcal

Wahaka’s Raza Zaidi was pouring their line up including the two vegan pechugas from their “limited editions” series. They are indeed limited, once gone, gone forever, and since they’re almost out of stock grab your bottles today. Wahaka will be releasing a four new bottles in that series which should be really interesting. This is where their mezcalero Berto gets to experiment. More of that please! The new bottles in the limited edition series should be on store shelves soon. Again, when exactly depends on the TTB.

A few more photos from the tasting:

Jake Lustig, fresh back from Agave Love in Australia, was pouring Don Amado and Mina Real mezcals

Jake Lustig, fresh back from Agave Love in Australia, was pouring Don Amado and Mina Real mezcals

A group photo of all the bar tenders, brand ambassadors, and related folks from Ruta del Mezcal II.

A group photo of all the bar tenders, brand ambassadors, and related folks from Ruta del Mezcal II.

It's officially closing time as bartenders lit the fumes from a greater than 50% bottle of mezcal and watched the flames burn down the bottle.

It’s officially closing time as bartenders lit the fumes from a greater than 50% bottle of mezcal and watched the flames burn down the bottle.

La Ruta de Mezcal comes through San Francisco this weekend

Last year Tres launched it’s Ruta de Mezcal tasting in the back room. It’s back in town this coming Sunday 2-6PM so grab your tickets. Last year it was positively packed, this year promises more – more vendors, more food, more improvements. Susan and I will be circulating so grab us if you want to chat.

If you haven’t been yet, Tres has a huge back room which opens onto their back lot. They’re taking a big step towards sustainability and purity in tasting by providing a tasting glass for everyone. Plus there will be a bunch of food including classic snacks and their truck out back serving bacon-wrapped hot dogs, elote, ceviche, and tacos made from a pig roasted on the premises.

The mezcal list this year is, to say the least, expansive. Here’s what we know right now. More may slip in.

  • Wahaka
  • El Jolgorio / Nuestra Soldedad
  • Tosba
  • Mezcaloteca / Real Minero / Rey Campero
  • Vago
  • Del Maguey
  • Bruxo
  • Benesin / San Juan del Rio
  • Ilegal
  • Don Amado / Mina Real
  • Almamezcalera

Personalities will abound like Erick Rodriguez, Jake Lustig, and many others. See you there!

The flyer for La Ruta del Mezcal II.

The flyer for La Ruta del Mezcal II.

 

 

 

Focus: Ramirez Liquor

No visit to Los Angeles is complete without a stop at Ramirez Liquor. I usually hit the one at Soto and 7th so I can check out tacos on Cesar Chavez. They have a few other locations around the city, each carrying a terrific selection of all things agave and craft beer, including some craft beers from Mexico. Their mezcal selection is pretty impressive and they even have some bottles of Metl in case you want to grab any before they’re all gone, forever.

Six full shelves are dedicated to mezcal which is impressive in a store that seems to carry every kind of tequila on the market. They also have a half shelf of Sotol, though still no Raicilla (but they thought it would be soon). They carry most of the mezcals currently available in California and had the full line of Del Maguey, including the Iberico and Arroqueño, plus the sublime Conejo from Pierde Almas. But be prepared to drop about $150 – $200 for these beauties.

I picked up a bottle of El Silencio as I have yet to try it, and stumbled upon a 22oz new release from New Belgium Brewery – a cocoa mole porter. You can also order online and they will ship to you.

Bottle of El Silencio

Bottle of El Silencio

photo 4

The cocoa mole porter

Heads up – they just opened a tasting bar in Whittier. You’ll be able to sample tons of craft beers, wines and maybe, just maybe mezcal…

 

La Cuevita – The Mezcal Cave of Los Angeles

It’s been awhile since I had a chance to get to Los Angeles for a pure mezcal weekend, couched with the perfect excuse of a baby shower, Oaxacan style. This time, I took the bus down and back as I had the time and the hills and fields of the Central Valley were green – it’s been a while since that has been the case here…

I love Los Angeles, I suppose that makes me a rare San Franciscan. The food is amazing, and well, it is super chill and friendly. And catching up with dear friends is always a treat.

It’s interesting to see so many changes since I first started going to Los Angeles on a regular basis – primarily the explosive growth of public transportation, bike lanes, and well crafted beer; so much craft beer that the LA beer scene certainly gives the NorCal beer scene a run for its money. Much of it is lighter and crisper (a session IPA from Golden Road Brewery – so refreshing!) But back to mezcal…

After the baby shower, a group of us decided to check out La Cuevita in Highland Park – a quickly gentrifying neighborhood northeast of downtown Los Angeles. La Cuevita was an old neighborhood dive bar that has changed ownership and been updated. It’s a beauty of a space – dark and small just as its name implies. The bar is simple, though awash in craft spirits, including a whole wall of shelves completely dedicated to mezcal.

Inside La Cuevita

Inside La Cuevita

Mezcal ambiance

Mezcal ambiance

It is famous for its “late night” happy hour that runs from 5-9pm and features $5 cocktails. Apparently good ones too as our table was awash in manhattans, margaritas, mezcal mules, and more. Oh, and they have Indio beer. But one look at their mezcal wall steered me clear of the cocktails.

These guys know their stuff (lately we’ve been on the war path pointing out how important this is) and Sol, the bar manager with the fantastic name had equally fantastic suggestions on what to try. I went for Enmascarada 54 – a strong full flavored 54%er thus its name. I love this mezcal and was thrilled to see it in a US bar. We also had some La Niña del Mezcal Espadin and a surprising madrecuishe from Los Javis. The latter is potentially a sign of the problematic supply of wild agaves as these guys produce a lot of mezcal for the low-mid market.

This might just be my new favorite mezcal bar north of the border. I loved the aesthetic, the vibe, the mix of young people that did not give any of us “old” folks the look of what-the-hell-are-you-doing-here, the tangy and spicy sal de gusano they dipped their oranges in, the guy working the back bar who had the most amazing ‘do I have ever seen, and the Mexican guy who said to me as I ordered my mezcal – “whooa, you drink that shit?”

Yes, yes I do.