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Do you know how your mezcal labels are made?

The Vago label processTruth in manufacturing is seldom so direct. Watch this video about how Eric Ramirez makes Vago‘s labels. It’s all manual and he only uses the leftover agave fibers from Vago’s distillations. It doesn’t get more basic than this which is one of the main reasons people love mezcal. Tip of the hat to Andrew Says for bringing this to our attention.

While you’re at it watch this video from last year where Vago’s maestro mezcalero Aquilino Garcia Lopez describes how they used to hand mash roasted agave in a a canoa. Make sure to wait for the end when he talks about how much he could mash as a 21-year-old. That’s pretty unbelievable. Thank god for the tahona.

Oaxaqueño correcto

Italian’s have caffe corretto which is an espresso with a dash of grappa. Lately the fall chill has inspired the creation of a Mexican variant with mezcal instead of grappa. Obviously I can’t recommend it for all occasions but boy does it end a meal in style, especially some of the big holiday meals which loom over the next month-and-a-half. Should you prefer cacao to caffe make some Mexican hot chocolate and correct away…

The bat in mezcal

Uasisi bottleAmong the cluster of new mezcals at the Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle tasting we were very curious to try Mezcal Uasïsï which literally translates to “Mezcal of the Bat” in the indigenous Purepecha language in Michocan where it is produced. Our great friends Peggy Stein and Doug Wheeler, who run Mexico by Hand a fantastic small business that brings folk arts and artisanal crafts from Mexico directly to the United States, poured Mezcal Uasïsï at the tasting.

Fellow blogger Cristina Potters who writes about the Mexican culinary universe at Mexico Cooks already wrote a great piece about the mezcal which we were fortunate enough to republish in Mezcaliastas. I was really curious about it so I talked to Mezcal Uasïsï’s brand manager Juan Mendez to get a sense of their process and what’s going on in the world of Michoacan mezcal.

First of all, let’s get to the pronunciation: Juan rattled off a number of ways native Michoacanos would pronounce it but recommended Washici. Uasïsï’ literally means “bat” which is an allusion to one of the agave plant’s natural pollinators. Plus it’s just a great name.

Juan told me that the agave is all grown around Etucuaro just northwest of Patzcuaro and is part of a continuous 400 year old tradition. If true that makes the local mezcal industry similar in age to Oaxaca’s and says quite a bit about the widely distributed Mexican distilling history.  Juan plays the role of brand manager and works closely with the mastro mezcalero Ignacio Pérez Scott who makes Uasïsï and represents the fourth generation of his family to make mezcal. As with many brand creators Juan works closely with Ignacio to make the mezcal and maintain the brand. Juan’s mother Maira is the general manager while his two brothers and two sisters also share in the business.

The mezcal is produced entirely from wild Agave cupreata which takes eight to ten years to mature. The local growing conditions are very different from what we’re used to seeing in the valleys of southern Oaxaca. Most of the plants are at 1,075 meters above sea level and grow in valleys of dark, rich, soils shot through with the pine groves that you see everywhere in Michoacan.

Production is completely traditional starting with the underground oven which the maestro mezcalero dug out himself and lined with bricks. The roast time is 72 hours for 2.5-3 tons of piñas. The roasted maguey is then crushed by hand with an adze in a wooden canoe. It is fermented solely with wild yeasts and takes exactly 8 days. Per Juan fermentation is “exactly a Monday to Monday process and we still use an alambique de madera which means that we lose 30-40% of production because of the still. But it’s very traditional for us.”

I was curious whether they’re branching out into mezcal distilled from other agaves, making a pechuga or doing anything else different but Juan tells me that they’re very focused on the mezcal joven for export because they want to keep things simple in order to make sure that the process goes as quickly as possible. They also make a mezcal that is infused with tamarind for two months but they don’t have plans to export it. Juan told me it’s just too tricky to get it registered so they’re keeping it local for now. I’d love to try that out because the classic pechugas made with fruits are pretty incredible.

Right now they’re making 1,500 liters/year of the joven and, Juan, claims, they can ramp up to 5,000 liters/month if they have the export pipeline. I was very curious about this scale because most mezcal producers would struggle both with agave supply and still throughput but Juan told me that his maestro mezcalero owns more than 200 hectares, which is just about 500 acres, and that 70% of that land has cupreata  growing on it.

The sustainability of this operation has to be really tricky. Juan and I talked a bit about that issue and he acknowledged that they’re working on cultivating cupreata on a small portion of the land. Right now they only use wild because the cupreata doesn’t clone itself. They have to let the quiotes grow before they can cut them down to collect the seeds for their nurseries where germination takes 2-3 months. With luck new cupreata plants grow up over two years when they’re ready to be planted. Juan told me that “many producers are using the plants without replanting them. It’s very important for us to do this sustainably. We don’t want to damage the wild life. We don’t want to bother the bats because they do the pollination process. The majority of our maguey is still reproduced by bats, perhaps 80% by bats and birds.”

As we were finishing up our talk Juan talked a bit more about the realities of the bureaucratic and economic systems that he and many in the mezcal industry are facing. His is the classic lament of the mezcal world because he is waiting for Comercam to visit and finalize the certification of Uasïsï so that they can legally start exporting. They’re already looking for a distributor but for the time being you’ll need to hunt it down in Mexico City, make the trek to Michoacan or know a special someone to bring some back for you.

I know what you’re doing this Sunday

Tamarindo is having their second annual celebration of agave distillates and antojitos this Sunday, November 16th, 3-7PM. We’ll be there as will many other local mezcal aficionados, makers, and anyone interested in Gloria Dominguez’s fantastic cooking. If you need any coaxing here’s our write up of last year’s event. Make your plans accordingly!

Tamarindo mezcal & tequila tasting

 

A little mezcal to get your day started right

Courtesy of the Internet Book Archive on Flickr. This excerpt and image come from América pintoresca; descripcion de viajes al nuevo continente por los mas modernos exploradores" (1884)

Courtesy of the Internet Book Archive on Flickr. This excerpt and image come from América pintoresca; descripcion de viajes al nuevo continente por los mas modernos exploradores” (1884)

Vasijas del cementerio de Nahualac (De fotografía) Pasamos la noche, que nos pareció interminable, debajo de una simple choza de esteras.Por la mañana, nos calentamos el estómago con un buen trago de mezcal, y volvimos á em-prender nuestra tarea. Los hallazgos fueron numerosos, pero todos parecidos, y los ídolos, loscarritos de niño, las urnas y los dioses Tlaloc se repitieron sin cesar. La estación de Nahualac ocupaba mucha más extensión que la de Tenenepanco, y nospareció además de fecha mucho más remota, porque no encontramos ni un solo fragmento deosamenta humana. También abundaba más la imagen de Tlaloc, habiendo encontrado algunascompletas, agitando con la mano derecha una serpiente, atributo que simbolizaba el relámpago,el rayo y la tempestad. Recogimos en Nahualac cerca de ochocientas piezas de todas formas, y provistos de tanrico botín, nos despedimos de la montaña.

The images from this book are spectacular and are a testament to Flickr and the Internet Archive. It’s well worth a few minutes of your time this Friday even if you have to substitute coffee for un buen trago de mezcal.

Vaso de mezcal

Just a little reminder of how things used to work courtesy of a display at San Francisco’s Mexican Museum.

From the Mexican Museum.

From the Mexican Museum.

From the Mexican Museum.

From the Mexican Museum.

The old world exceeds the new when it comes to mezcal

Mezcal DerrumbesLately I’ve noticed a mini-trend, lots of new mezcals are appearing in Europe either before they come to the U.S. or perhaps even without consideration of the U.S. market. When I talked to Esteban Morales earlier this summer he made it clear that his Mezcal Derrumbes would have a place in the U.S. soon but would get to Europe first because it was easier to release it there first. Sure enough, you can now order it through the UK and they’ll even ship to the U.S.

But that’s just the beginning of something that may be a trend because once I started poking around I found at least a small cluster of mezcals available in the UK but not the U.S. including:

Granted, some of these may be rebottlings, some of this is definitely just the great fruit of international variety. Perhaps someone will pop up and tell us what’s going on.

As I noted above some of the ecommerce places in the UK offer these awesome mini bottles that you can rarely find here. Here’s one for Patron. This is exactly the sort of thing that people want because they would love to taste before buying an entire bottle. It’s the same factor driving the half or one-and-a-half ounce pours in bars and restaurants. Cuish offers a bundle in Oaxaca that look like this:

Cuish mini-bottles

The next best thing is the St. George Spirits‘ 500ml three pack of their gins. Now that’s something I’d love to see for mezcal lines so that they’d be more affordable. I bet plenty of people would go for that as a gift.

Which is another way of saying, perhaps the UK has something on us…

Anyone out there in the mezcal world want to step up and explain why this is happening or is it as simple as restrictive American liquor laws?

 

 

The new axis in distilling

Who knew that a secret axis runs through the globe connecting Italy and Mexico? I always suspected that grappa and mezcal had plenty in common. This great interview from the excellent wine blog Hawk Wakawaka with Giannola Nonino who, along with her daughters, has really made Nonino Grappa what it is today. The interview makes it clear that grappa and small producers like the Nonino family have much in common with many mezcaleros. It starts with the family, check out this cool illustration of the Nonino family tree and this history, because families tend to maintain product values rather than industrializing them. It extends right through all the critical elements in craft distilling, carving out a brand in marketplaces that have never encountered your product, working with the right distributors, innovating, and maintaining your values. The fact that Nonino is one of the most prized and well known grappa brands speaks well to those points and provides a great example for the mezcal world.

Mezcalerías in Oaxaca flourish in quantity and diversity

To the barricades!

The Pastry War‘s Bobby Heugel issues a stirring call to bartenders, and pretty much anyone who enjoys the distilled fruit of agave, to get with the program and at least engage with the big questions in the industry. That is, how do you create a sustainable market place for a product whose lifespan is measured against the decade rather than an annual crop? God knows we’ve talked about this ad nauseam in blog posts and most recently at panels for our Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle event but Bobby has a great idea here about creating a space for a conversation.