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When political unrest and mezcal collide

This is not a post to try and explain the current upheaval in Oaxaca, or go into the long history (and more recent) of why the teacher’s are striking. It is a highly complex and sensitive issue with people losing their lives and livelihoods. This is merely to look at the situation through the mezcal lens, given the boom in Oaxaca and the increased awareness of the city, state and culture because of it.

In 2006, when the uprising in Oaxaca closed down the city for months on end, the impact was very localized. Businesses closed, tourism halted, and it took years for the city, and much of the state to recover. Additionally, social media was not as developed as it is today so word was slower getting out to the world about what was going on. With this current situation, it remains unclear how long it could last, but there have been calls from several high profile people asking the government to end the violence and for the different sides to come to the table to resolve this in a transparent way. No one wants a repeat of 2006.

The rebuilding of the economy in Oaxaca after 2006 came in fits and starts. Not only did the city need to recover and rebuild businesses, it also had to do this during a time when the country became embroiled in the drug wars, the SARS epidemic, and the fluctuation of oil prices. International travel to Mexico plummeted, particularly from the US and Canada, and overall international investment slowed. But the mezcal industry chugged along, fueled by increasing domestic interest, and then increasing demand from the international market. Much of the demand was focused on Oaxaca, primarily because it has been the predominant mezcal producing state, and also because it was a state that was not having the same kind of cartel war violence as seen in other states with agave and mezcal production like Guerrero, Michoacan, and Durango. Its perceived stability also attracted Mexican nationals living in war zones in the north (Monterey, Chihuahua, Tijuana, Sinaloa, etc etc) with financial resources to start businesses. And money began flowing from Mexico City as more people with means became interested in starting mezcal brands. By 2011, pieces fell into place and the beginnings of the boom took root.

There is no doubt that the mezcal boom has been beneficial to the state of Oaxaca, with production growing exponentially since 2011. Road construction projects have been realized, support services increased, and huge promotional efforts from the state’s tourism office focused on the natural beauty, culture, and food and beverage of the state have made Oaxaca a primary destination. It was possible to put aside the tumultuous history of 2006 and move forward.

Except of course the underlying problems that sparked the 2006 uprising were never really resolved. And so here we are today with roadblocks on the key highways in and out of Oaxaca keeping goods stuck on the road. Reliable sources on the ground have told me of emptying store shelves, of shortages of medicines, of people being stuck and unable to get home, and of trucks full of mezcal unable to get either to bottling facilities or out of the state. In comparison to the lives lost, this seems a minor detail in the overall scope of the situation.

With more than 30 businesses already closed in Oaxaca’s historic Centro district because of the teachers strike, traveler’s canceling plans, and the concern being raised over the upcoming Guelaguetza and the impact if it is canceled, the economic situation in Oaxaca is tough. If this situation is not resolved, not only will more businesses be impacted, but it could slow and disrupt investment dollars coming into the state. The one positive is that the mezcal industry is in a more maturely developed place and it could help cushion a total economic free fall.

On a personal note, I am heartbroken by what is happening. Oaxaca has been my second home since 2003. I am worried for my Oaxacan friends, as I know the toll this takes on them personally. I remain hopeful that there will be resolution and that peace will once again prevail. And I hope that some of the long needed benefits that mezcal has brought to the people do not disappear with this latest turn of events.

If you are interested in keeping up with the events as they unfold, the following news sites have been covering the situation:

La Jornada – http://www.jornada.unam.mx/

Proceso Magazine – proceso.com.mx

http://www.sinembargo.mx/

Mexico in a Bottle, NYC Style

Check out our wrap up of our first Mexico in a Bottle outside of San Francisco. There is just one way to sum it up – beyond swell. We landed Friday night and hit the ground running, with our first stop at the Spotted Pig – a cold beer, a pigs ear salad and chicken liver toast. Fortification for the night ahead, which began and ended at Cosme. Because really, what more do you need than that? Edgar Morales was behind the bar and did us right with some pretty tasty cocktails. We then moved on to a couple of lovely copitas of mezcal (bartender surprise!) and toasted the night with James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef Daniela Soto-Innes, who won my heart as she played DJ and couldn’t decide between Janet Jackson and Nick Cave.

Saturday we ran errands, and attempted to eat at Russ and Daughters, but a two hour line is just not gonna cut it and we managed to find some other super tasty bagels close by. After more walking, in the right shoes so win for me, we ended up at Tacombi for refreshing Micheladas and fish tacos, and then an evening of list management and final logistics for the big event.

I am not going to repeat the details here, so if you haven’t clicked through yet to the wrap up and pictures, do so now. The high of the success on Sunday was capped by the Warriors and Mexico wins, and Monday with ramen under the Williamsburg Bridge. New York, you awright.

Tasting Notes: Mezcalero #15

Mezcalero 15 bottle

The latest bottle in Craft Distillers’ stellar Mezcalero series of small batch mezcals is out and it’s quite a marvel. First the details:

  • Location: San Luis del Rio, Tlacolula
  • Agave: Sierra Negra
  • Maestro Mezcalero:Don Baltazar Cruz Gomez
  • Distillation Date: October 2014
  • Bottle Date: October 2015
  • Quantity: 188 cases (846 liters / 1128 bottles)
  • ABV: 47.23%

As with all bottles in the series all those details are printed prominently on the label. It’s hard to believe that until recently this was a rarity, Mezcalero deserves credit for having been among the first to pioneer this standard.

It’s great to see these small batches still arriving in the US. Along with a few others like Mezcalosfera and the Fundación Agaves Silvestres’ Vino del Mezcal series offer rare opportunities to drink these sorts of mezcals. This is how most mezcal used to be made and consumed – you pay for it because of all the costs involved which include – but aren’t limited to – getting certified by the CRM, shipping, distribution, and actually paying the mezcal maker a fair price. Just keep that in mind next time you feel the urge to complain about the cost! These types of mezcals are fairly priced, probably even under priced considering how unique they are.

The fifteenth bottling in the Mezcalero series is for serious aficionados. It’s made from Sierra Negra which is one of the rarest agaves. Mezcals made from this agave, technically a variant of agave americano, are almost impossible to find and they reward seekers with their individuality. Drinking these you get the feeling that mezcaleros just bow down to the inherent flavors in the agave and distill with the lightest of touches.

Mezcalero 15 label

Tasting Notes:

The nose on this Sierra Negra is really difficult to put into words. It’s definitely on the dry side – the best descriptor we have besides “dry” is “dusty” which gives you a sense of what we were detecting. The body was also strikingly dry with lots of minerality, very low viscosity, and a touch of sweetness at the front of the palate. While tasting it we talked for a while about how many mezcals and tequilas skew to the caramelized side of the spectrum. This Sierra Negra definitely is on the opposite side, obviously distilled with a very light touch. Non descriptive but comumicative words like “Delightful” punctuated our tasting notes. The alcohol really showed through so we double checked the label and were struck that it’s just at 47.23. We were also struck by the additional decimal places for the ABV on this one. They’re obviously very focused on this bottling.

How fun is Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle?

Don’t take our word for it, take a look at this video of the 2015 Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle in San Francisco. This year we’re expanding so tell all your friends that we’re bringing Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle to NYC 6/5 & 6/6, Chicago 9/18, then back to where it all began in SF 11/13.

Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle comes to NYC!

MEXICO IN A BOTTLE 2016 NY

We are super happy to announce that Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle will premiere in New York City this June 5th and 6th at Casa Mezcal. We’ve always wanted to take our tasting on the road and it’s finally time.  We’ll feature our patented mixture of fantastic mezcals, cocktails, bites, luminaries from the mezcal world, all wrapped in the music, video, and art of contemporary Mexico. You can see our full mezcal and programming line up on the Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle web site. 

Lest you think we’re lazy, we’re also bringing Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle to Chicago on September 18th, back to San Francisco November 13th, and we’re looking at a few other locations for next year. Watch this space for details!

Where to drink mezcal

Man, mezcal is getting popular in the United States. Last week I gave a talk to the California Academy of Sciences titled “Why Mezcal, Why Now?” The number of additions to our Where to Drink Mezcal in the United States list and map is another way of answering that question. We’ve added quite a few locations in recent weeks including Read more

Why Cinco de Mayo?

It’s that time of year again. Our feeds all blow up with mentions of tequila’s smoky cousin, special cocktails that stretch the boundaries of credulity, and all sorts of Mexican oriented drunkenness. While bartenders privately lament the lack of manners they enjoy the tips.

We’re not immune to the lure of Cinco de Mayo, hey, it’s a teaching opportunity! Hence our involvement in the San Francisco Academy of Science’s Thursday evening event. I’ll have a presentation on “Why Mezcal, Why Now” along with Raza Zaidi of Wahaka, Elisandro Gonzalez of Tosba, and Dr. Blake Simmons on agave’s use as biofuel. Oh, and there will be cocktails as well!

If you can’t make it, there are sure to be tons of events in your zip code but first we want to give you a primer on what Cinco de Mayo’s background because the true meaning of the holiday is infinitely more insidious and complex than most people make out. And, in many ways it’s the story of our era. Read more

Taste agave spirits blind and you may end up seeing more

By Ferron Salniker

Tomas Estes— international tequila ambassador, Tequila Ocho co-founder, and restaurateur— visited Tacolicious last week armed with five mystery agave spirits and a sales pitch.

Tomas Estes guides the tasting. Photo by Ferron Salniker

Tomas Estes guides the tasting. Photo by Ferron Salniker

“I’m not trying to sell you anything. Wait, actually I am,” he joked. “I’m trying to sell you agave spirits as a whole.” Read more

Why mezcal, why now?

I know, you wake up daily pondering that question and it’s the one that sees you off at night. The good news is that I’m here to help. I’ll be making a presentation to the California Academy of Sciences for their Cinco de mayo celebration this Thursday evening on exactly this topic so get your tickets today and swing on by Thursday evening. Read more

Pop Up in our Pulqueria

Pop Up Pulqueria Tamarindo

Our first Pop Up Pulqueria was so popular that we’re bringing it back but shifting zip codes to Tamarindo in Downtown Oakland. The idea is the same, we’ll have lots of fantastic, made in California pulque on hand and you can meet the master, that is, pulque maestro Salvador Gonzalez 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 Don Amado‘s Jacob Lustig to show you what mezcal is all about. The kick ass bartenders at Tamarindo will create a a special cocktail, plus a special Pozole from the delicious kitchen, all for $35! All other drinks (additional cocktails, beer) are not included in the price but are available for purchase. Just remember, we sold out of our first Pop Up Pulqueria the week before it happened so don’t delay, get your tickets today!

It’s 4-7PM Sunday, May 15th. Tamarindo Antojeria 468 8th St, Oakland, California 94607. Get your tickets today!