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Don’t miss our Pop Up Pulqueria!

Pulque Pop Up

We love pulque so much that we’re throwing a Pop Up Pulqueria at Old Bus Tavern in the Mission March 6, 2016. Get your tickets today!

Taste the great (great, great, great) grandfather of mezcal, pulque. The 1,000 (at least) year old sacred fermented drink made from the sap of the agave plant. It was on the verge of dying out but it is now surging in popularity among a new generation in Mexico City. Newly converted pulque lovers are drawn by its history and light, refreshing flavor.

Our local treasure and the only pulque producer we know of in the United States, Salvador will be on hand to guide you through pulque’s rich history and delicious flavors. To up the ante (and agave!), we’re also bringing in Wahaka Mezcal’s Raza Zaidi to show you what mezcal is all about.

The kick ass bartenders at Old Bus Tavern will create a bevy of smashing cocktails (featuring both pulque and mezcal), plus a special pozole.

Get your tickets today!

On meeting David Suro

It seems hard to believe that our paths hadn’t crossed before but I finally had the opportunity to meet David Suro, he of Tequila Restaurant in Philadelphia, the Tequila Interchange Project (TIP) and Siembra Azul Tequila. For a good picture of the man and his passion for agave, be sure to checkout the great interview The Kitchen Sisters did with him a few years back.

Suro is in town doing a series of trainings and tastings for his Siembra Azul Tequila and Siembra Metl Mezcal. A special dinner at Oakland’s Calavera on Monday, a happy hour at Loló Tuesday, and a training and talk at ABV Wednesday. A whirlwind of activity for sure.

So what’s on Suro’s mind these days? Read more

A Trip to Mercado de Abastos for Oaxacalifornia

This is a cross post from one of our frequent collaborators, Ferron Salniker. You can read her excellent blog Ferronlandia here.

Friday is a good day for the Mercado de Abastos, Oaxaca city’s wholesale market. On Fridays and Tuesdays the señoras come from different parts of Oaxaca to the market to sell their crops. They’re sitting on stacks of newspapers, shelling peas or peeling nopales. Pulling tightly wound plastic bags of roasted ground corn that smell like crispy tortillas. Hustling piles of coral snap dragon-like flor de frijol.
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Mezcal launch party – La Palabra

Last night I had a chance to hit the launch party at Oakland’s Tamarindo for the new mezcal “La Palabra.” There is one type, an espadin from San Juan del Rio in Oaxaca. It comes in a beautiful square bottle which mimicks the decanter found in the mezcalero’s home. At 50%, it is no wallflower and has a full bodied flavor to match.

Brand co-owner Scott Crane, a guy who understands the importance of image after years in the music scene in Los Angeles, has been working on this project and crafting the launch in the US for several years and this party was certainly a celebration of that hard work. The young and hip Oakland crowd certainly reflected the raison d’être of the brand. Per the website:

No one saw the modern culture of mezcal: young, attractive, well-heeled Mexicans passing bottles around tables til the wee hours of the morning. There was an obvious cultural renaissance here, celebrating this national treasure the way generations of Mexicans never had before them. This is the mezcal they knew and loved. They needed to create a new brand of their own to embody this new Mexico,

Serving mezcal in the traditional fashion

Serving mezcal in the traditional fashion

Tamarindo went all out, creating four cocktails using La Palabra – incredibly simple concoctions that complimented the mezcal’s bold flavor.

The cocktail list for the night

The cocktail list for the night

There were also accompanying bites – sopes and smoky tacos that again, enhanced the mezcal’s flavor.

I am looking forward to sitting down with Scott in the coming weeks and talking more.

 

 

 

 

 

The petition against 199 is live!

The good folks at the Tequila Interchange Project are circulating a petition in opposition to the newly proposed NOM 199 that came out of left field. This is the NOM put forward to streamling and regulate the entire spirits industry in Mexico, which in theory sounds great. Of course like so many good intentions, it has gone horribly awry and is terrible news for any producer of agave distillates that falls outside of the DO.

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Garafone

One major practical use for garafones.

One major practical use for garafones.

Ah the humble garafone. They are the all purpose plastic containers for water, mezcal, fuel, and any other liquid that plays nice with plastic. Their multipurpose uses speak volumes about the subterranean factors that actually make Mexico function. The fact that they’ve been elevated to folk art status (see photo below) also speaks volumes about how mezcal lovers fetishize every and anything involved in creating their favored tipple.

A garafone cast from Omar Hernandez.

A garafone cast from Omar Hernandez.

A sign of things to come? The Fancy Food Show report

How’s this for a bit of a non-sequitur; the Fancy Food Show?

It’s a great place to see trends in the specialty food and beverage industry, and since it is in San Francisco, not too much of a stretch for Max and I to get there. Having walked this showroom floor several times in the past, I can say it is important to have a specific focus, otherwise you end up stuffed full of a deadly combination of jelly bellies, jerky, cheese and prosciutto. Just saying…

The Fancy Food Show is interesting in that it simultaneously launches some truly interesting stuff and sets trends, while at the same time plays catch up to larger food market trends (craft, sustainable, organic, etc.) This year a few trends really jumped out at us:

  1. Fresh juice blends: Not smoothies, not canned, pasteurized juices but the real fresh stuff with no additives;
  2. Non GMO labels: I am used to seeing these at the Natural Products Expo, but not to this extent in a mainstream show like this one.
  3. Mexican salsas: We saw a few in the Mexican pavilion but also good ones throughout the show. There is clearly a trend in the growing selection of higher end, better ingredient craft Mexican salsas and sauces, which is to say no fructose corn syrups or sugars to enhance flavors.
  4. Swimming in broth: No longer content to offer just broth, there were stands focused on bone broth and much more. Sure, you’ve heard a lot about this trend but it’s moving through the food culture to a point of prominence very quickly.
  5. Good Food Awards: What used to be a focus of the farmers market crowd appears to have achieved mass market validation. Or at least be reaching for it. The sheer number of Good Food Award winners on the show floor and prominence with which they displayed their awards was a marked change from the past. It’s clear that the food world has been pining for some form of validation and may have found it in this tidy package.

But back to our first love, mezcal. Of course there was tequila at the Mexico pavilion, but also one mezcal brand, Banhez, and a sadly empty raicilla stand.

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There was also the Mala Noche mezcal from Zacatecas disguised as a tequila, these Zacatecas projects are becoming very interesting because they clearly produce large volumes and hit low price points. The big question is whether they’ll really land on the market in the United States because it’s already saturated with low cost brands.

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Banhez is something I’ve had my eye on for a bit. It’s part of a cooperative out of the Ejutla in the state of Oaxaca. This one was an espadin/barril ensemble that had a nice, bold flavor with a slightly sweet undertone. I’m looking forward to seeing this in the market along with another project from the cooperative that should see the light of day soon.

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Also at the pavilion, D’Lola, a line of fantastic salsas including a Chipotle that blew our socks off with flavor, a red jalapeño salsa, a green jalapeño salsa and a peanut sauce. All are aimed at a higher end market, with an eye on chef driven recipes and uses. I am looking forward to playing with these in pasta sauces, spreads with cheeses, and maybe even a cocktail or two.

Mi Mole not only boasts nice packaging, but also a logo that clears up that they are not selling a product made from MOLE but MO-LAY. They have a traditional Oaxacan Mole Rojo and a Negro.

Frutos de Vida knocked our socks off with their delicious and clean tasting fresh juices. These are 100% juice. No  sugar or water, just the fresh juice. Pardon the pun but this is not only refreshing to see but so refreshing on the palate that we had to force ourselves away from the stand. The stand out was a combination of orange, celery, and nopal. I see a “morning after” market, Max thinks this is going to be huge for parents who don’t want to feed their kids sugar through a straw. Since it’s non-pasteurized and perishable, there are clearly some logistics of getting it to market to be worked out. But wow.

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Finally, in the Mexico pavilion, an unassuming company named Cocanmex sells a wide variety of dried fruit and fresh coconut. This seems completely pedestrian until you actually start tasting what they have to offer. Just like the Frutos de Vida they don’t add any sugar and have some incredible treats like dried golden kiwi, pomegranate seeds, strawberry, and watermelon. Yes, dried watermelon. Now that was a real treat which made both of us close our eyes and wonder what we’ve been missing all these years. Their whole, fresh coconut, with an accompanying spout you could screw in to get the fresh water and a pre-cut mark to make it easy to break it open to get the coconut meat was a winner. How I’d love to see that in the market here in the US – no more can, coconut water AND meat and a totally compostable container.

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Outside the pavilion, Salsaology, Molli and Gran Luchito salsas and sauces caught our eye. All had deep flavors and none of that cloying, sweet, gel like texture that have come to define so many jarred Mexican sauces and salsas in the market. Salsaology is out of Southern California, Molli from Dallas, and Luchito from England. We also so a few cocktail mixer companies and were particularly impressed by Crafted Cocktails. Again, no awful additives, nice clean flavors and a great way for the folks at home to make some good cocktails without having to make their own mixers and shrubs.

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So what do we think this portends for the market – particularly for Mexican food and beverages? Everything we saw validates that there is a market for higher end Mexican products and that the explosion of more expensive Mexican restaurants around the country are educating people that Mexican food, and beverage, does not have to be cheap. As for the show, what was voted the hottest trend this year? Southeast Asian food, but with Mexican food a close second…

 

Mezcal is 21, long live mezcal!

I missed this in all the Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle rush but this past November, November 11 to be exact, mezcal celebrated the 21st year of its Denominación de Origen which means it can now drink its own supply. Here’s the official announcement courtesy of a tipster.

A 21 AÑOS DE LA PROTECCIÓN A LA DENOMINACIÓN MEZCAL 2015

Where to buy your mezcal in Oaxaca

One of the super strange things that a mezcal obsessive notices while tramping around Oaxaca is that if you’re stuck in your North American head space you keep wandering into retail stores and not finding any mezcal. If this was, say, Napa or Sonoma, stores would be everywhere to put their native alcoholic beverage front in center so that you couldn’t leave town without buying at least a few bottles.

But Oaxaca, and Mexico in general, are different places with their own rules about how things are done. I know, it seems quaint but these are fundamentally different rules of the road and they even have something to tell places like California. What you do notice while strolling Oaxaca is that everyone seems to be opening a mezcaleria and offering their own white labeled selection of mezcals at restaurants. But given the city’s reputation as the center of mezcal (yes, we know great mezcal is produced everywhere else in Mexico, take a chill pill, we’re talking about reputation here) you’d expect little stores next to all the craft emporia selling all the great small bottlings produced by the most remote corners of the state.

But as you stroll the streets you’d be hard pressed to find one, nary a Bi Rite or Healthy Spirits of mezcal to be found. This last trip I poked my head around corners expecting something, anything, and finally found a few places. Mis Mezcales is next door to Mezcaloteca on Reforma, it’s unclear but feels like they’re drafting off Marco Ochoa’s success. No matter, they offer a limited if nice selection of artisanal mezcals; kind of proves my point. There’s also a little shop tucked into a revamped mini-mall off Alcalá called Plaza Santo Domingo. Many of the puestos in the Benito Juarez market (main market just off the Zócolo) now carry a decent selection of artisanal mezcals, though at a premium price. And one of the funniest, if most well stocked, is a supermarket off the west side of the Zócolo – funny because they stock El Jolgorio rip offs and a bunch of strange mass market brands among all the artisanal bottles. 

But what this absence of speciality mezcal retail really reveals is a different way of doing things because, unlike the horribly restrictive laws about alcohol in the United States, you can buy bottles of mezcal from tasting rooms. So, if you want a fantastic artisanal bottle head to Mezcaloteca and go through their introduction to mezcal then buy bottles of your favorites. Ditto In Situ, Cuishe, and many others. And that’s not even mentioning the palenques where you can buy right from the garafone. You may not get the sommelier or specialty retail chatter but you will find earnestness, fantastic selections, and a real direct connection with the makers which puts the lie to the branding idea. Who needs one when you’re talking to the guy who distilled your mezcal?

Of course it would be nice to have a few more mezcal boutiques for all the palenques that you couldn’t visit, maybe we could just get a store in the airport staffed by someone that Ulises trains?

The sadness of Oaxaca airport

One of the Beneva stores at Oaxaca airport.

One of the Beneva stores at Oaxaca airport.

After all the great things that you experience in Oaxaca the airport is a decidedly Janus affair. Arrival is always a bit dreamy because you’re finally there, departure from the airport is a real downer. Not only are you leaving behind all the great flavors, people, and sights, you also come face to face with the industrial brands in all their tawdry sameness.

Beneva is there wrapped in green branding, Zignum as well. If not for the Guelaguetza craft stores it would be a complete visual loss. It’s a real rallying call for someone to put in a mezcal boutique to blow away all the mass market places staffed by women in high heels and skirts. Alas, like all airports everywhere, it feels like the Oaxaca airport is beholden to chains and big corporations. Still, I’ll put in a plug for mezcal and brand Oaxaca: Do you want to see great boutique mezcal, textiles, and ceramics that will astound everyone that sees or tastes them or do you want the desultory line up there today?