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Posts from the ‘Agave’ Category

When an espadin is not “just” an espadin

File under things that have been weighing on my mind. So many times I have heard the following words – oh, it’s just an espadin. With the heavy focus on silvestres, and the more exotic the better, espadins have somehow become sidelined, forgotten, and well just plain ole maligned. This maguey of course makes up the bulk of what is in the market – almost 85% – so to make it out to be the industry’s merlot, well is just ridiculous.

So, on my most recent trek down to Oaxaca, I made it a point to try as many espadins as I could, really to remind myself of how utterly different and complex they are and how immensely talented those palenqueros are to get so much flavor and differentiation out of one kind of maguey – showcasing their true mastery in making mezcal.

This is how I found myself one night doing a tasting of “just” espadins at Mezcaloteca. The oh so knowledgeable and charming Andrea Hagan and I talked about some of the different ones they had and then she put together a pretty bold selection: an espadilla (wild espadin) fermented in leather, distilled in clay and from the Mizteca region, an espadin from the state of Guerrero, an añejo from 1998 (in glass the whole time) and a regular ole espadin from Miahuatlan. I really like how Mezcaloteca runs their tastings, and how they pair your palette and interest to the mezcals they have on hand rather than the pre-selected flights so many of us are used to.

I tasted through these in the order listed and of course found huge variety in flavors and strength. And that regular ole espadin from Miahuatlan, well, in this tasting order where it was last, it frankly wasn’t very interesting. So I spent the next half hour or so changing up the tasting order to see how i could get the most flavor out of each espadin. And what I found was by putting the one from Miahuatlan first, pretty much guaranteed it had a better showing no matter what followed in whatever order. And what made the añejo stand out? When it was third up. The two other mezcals were so bold in their flavors it didn’t matter which was second or last.

So, the lesson here – order of tasting is everything to get the most out of the mezcals, and perhaps even greater – an espadin is never “just” an espadin.

PS – I bought the one from Guerrero (Sanzekan) as I am trying to expand beyond my Oaxacafile focus.

Death by Ruta del Mezcal

It was a whirlwind of a Oaxaca trip – not so much in time but in all that was done in two very short and long weeks.

The pretext for the trip was a wedding – my first Spanish teacher in Oaxaca marrying her Danish love, and former classmate of mine. Despite already being married for four years (in Denmark) the shindig in Oaxaca was huge, fun and no less of a celebration. Honestly, if it hadn’t been for Marisol and her introductions to her friends all those years ago, I am not sure my path in Oaxaca would have led me where it did (to mezcal).

From those crazy and late-nights beginning to the trip, everything just steam rolled through till the last day. My last trip to Oaxaca, in December of 2014 after a two year absence, was more family vacation, so sneaking in nights to the newest restaurant, mezcaleria, bar, etc was challenging. This trip I was flying solo and made the most out of it – from trekking out to pueblos, to hitting the new spots, to eating whatever and whenever I could. And of course to do this in the middle of the gorgeous and insane Guelaguetza, well, the sleep when I’m dead mantra seemed close to becoming a reality.

So overview thoughts before I start diving into these over the next couple of weeks.

  1. There has always been that fine line of parallel city existence between Oaxaca and San Francisco -two joined souls. And never did this seem more clear with the unbelievable gentrification that has happened in Oaxaca over the past three years. The money poured into welcoming tourists is quite obvious (wow that new airport, the newly paved roads – though still laden with topes, the new andador on Garcia Virgil…) The new mezcalerias – I think there are now 8 or 9 now? The prevalence of high end restaurants, cafes and their specialty roasted coffee, a cerviceria – your basic food hipster paradise.  It is quite overwhelming and with an incredible exchange rate (15.5 pesos to the dollar) well, heavenly, for me, not so great for the average Oaxacans who have been dealing with increasing wage inequality and inflation. Which leads to…
  2. Mezcal is expensive in Oaxaca. The new rules and regulations of both CRM (Comercam) and the government body that oversees business registration have created an interesting market in the city where pretty much everything now sold in bars, restaurants, stores has to be branded. The newly regulated industry has opened some pretty big doors for the middlemen who seem to be the ones getting rich. Now getting a decent copita means paying 30 pesos at the least all the way up to 200 pesos for rare stuff. Again, this is not so much a problem if you are either wealthy or a foreigner, but as an average Oaxacan well suddenly your mezcal is pretty damn expensive, unless you have a connection.
  3. The looming (or not) agave crisis and sustainability issue of the industry. The price of agave has come down, more agave is being grown, but still, it is a fragile balance and the slightest thing could throw the whole thing out of whack (another agave shortage/pricing issue in Jalisco where they have been known to use the Oaxacan agave sugars for fermentation; blight; economic shifts of pay, inflation, etc.) And of course the fact that there is no overseeing body regulating the cultivation, re-planting of wild agave, etc despite everyone talking about this for years, and well, you have a kind of mishmash or desmadre of a situation brewing.
  4. The growing influence of the European market on mezcal. It’s an easier market to enter for the most part, it’s educated when it comes to complex spirits, and of course, so much easier for travel as Oaxacans don’t need to jump through the demanding US Visa hoops.
  5. The growing visibility of women in the industry. Always a part of it, but now coming out of the shadows a bit as people/brands/cooperatives recognize the great marketing opportunities and stories to be told. Also there is the increasing independence you see as women become more educated and are waiting to have children, or have more control over when they have children.
  6. And perhaps finally, the increasing lack of transparency you see in the industry – ironically at the same time of increasing CRM regulations. These regulations have allowed for a greater disconnect between the mezcalero and the end consumer, creating even more of a market where the drinker, and sometimes even the head of the brand, really has no idea where the mezcal comes from.

It was an amazing trip, as always, and no matter how many times I have been there, no matter how much time I have spent, each trip reveals something completely new – can we say mole amarillo with conejo?

Guelaguetza dancers

Guelaguetza dancers

Maestros del Mezcal tasting

Maestros del Mezcal tasting

Reyna Sanchez in her palenque

Reyna Sanchez in her palenque

Feria del Mezcal

Feria del Mezcal

Flor de agave in Sola de Vega

Flor de agave in Sola de Vega

Mezcal price list in Mezcalogica

Mezcal price list in Mezcalogica

Quick look – Mezcal Vago tasting in Oaxaca

Had the chance to meet up with Judah Kupor yesterday and taste though the whole Vago line at his tasting room/office/bottling facility in San Felipe del Agua. Pretty amazing stuff, especially when you are able to do it side by side and really get a sense of the flavors that are being pulled out by the mezcaleros. Stretched out several hours (important when you are looking at 12-15 mezcals), the conversation rambled over tons of topics including the controversial ones of adding water (distilling to ABV vs playing with colas, puntas and yes, water), sustainability around the agaves, wood, just how many mezcaleros to work with under a brand, fair pay, challenging the mezcaleros to move beyond their flavor comfort  zone and tradition, and well, you get the picture of a wonderful long afternoon. At some point I’ll be able to go through the notes and put those ramblings to paper.

But the mezcal – if you haven’t already had the chance to give it a try, they produce some pretty incredible stuff and are playing around with some new ones as well. Tasting some Espadins side by side – from their very first batch on, it is quite the trajectory of flavor. For anyone who ever says, oh, that is just an Espadin, well shame, because the variety and complexity of this maguey is pretty extreme.

Three Tobalas

Three Tobalas

Also tasting side by side three Tobalas was also pretty interesting and again pointed to how much is determined by terrior, water, and distillation and storing – clay/copper/glass.

It is impossible to name stand outs – Madrecuixe, Tepestate, Mexicano, Sierra Negra (with 10% Espadin) – all compete equally and really just depend on the personal palette of the drinker. Me, I still want to go for the Elote every time because nothing quite puts the flavor memory of Mexico into a bottle quite like that one, and presents equally the vital role both maiz and maguey play in life down here.

I am looking forward to a trek out to Candelaria Yegole next week to see the full operation and of course what further hours of conversation will unveil.

A “wild” tasting

I had a chance to check out the Maestros del Mezcal tasting in Oaxaca. It was completely focused on wild agaves (silvestres) and included a collection of live plants. There were some pretty amazing mezcals from small producers – from varieties we do not see, or rarely see, in the US. I had a Sierra Negra that blew my socks off, a Chato from the Siera Sur, and a truly sublime wild Espadin from the Sola de Vega region. None of these are CRM (COMERCAM) certified, and unless the producers work with someone who has money and is looking to develop a brand, it is unlikely most of them will be certified. There was also the chance to try maguey tortillas which had a lovely sweet flavor to them.

A little bit of a surprise was how many more women were present on the producer side, which is really exciting to see as this is a tough barrier to crack – more on this later as it is a focus of my trip here to Oaxaca.

I had a wedding to go to later in the day so I was trying to be as moderate in tasting as I could be – pretty damn near impossible when presented with so many different varieties of magueys and flavors. At some point someone will need to figure out the pricing issue – small bottles were selling for 50-100 pesos, larger bottles for 150-250 pesos. For rare silvestres, that just doesn’t seem like enough and certainly doesn’t include the hours of labor of the palenqueros.

It was a great kick off for the mezcal adventures to come over the next couple of weeks.

Maguey tortillas

Maguey tortillas

Sample - wild agave

Sample – wild agave

Sample - wild agave

Sample – wild agave

That ominous sound you’re hearing?

A screen shot of Eduardo Belaunzarán's Facebook update showing Fundación Agaves Silvestres's effort at cultivating tobala hiuelos in the Oaxacan valley

A screen shot of Eduardo Belaunzarán’s Facebook update showing Fundación Agaves Silvestres’s effort at cultivating tobala hijuelos in the Oaxacan valley

It’s quiet but it’s the sound of agave supply collapsing. At least that’s what Susan heard routinely in her December trip to Oaxaca. I’d heard bits and pieces of this story before, that distillers who devoted energy to cultivating all types of agave are doing well while distillers who buy agave from farmers are getting hit by huge price increases. Now it seems like there is very little agave on the market. Demand for mezcal is  high and not enough of agave, especially the wild varieties, was planted 5-10 years ago.

A recent example, the tobala collapse in the valley around Oaxaca seems to be because the first wave of heavy demand from the late 90’s into the 2000’s wasn’t replanted. Some combination of contract distillation and unreplaced harvests left everyone there without any wild agaves.

Enter new thinkers in the mezcal world like the people behind Tosba, Vago, Wahaka who are aggressively propagating agaves on their land and meeting with amazing success. When Judah Kuper from Vago first told me that they were planting lots of agaves previously only seen in the wild I had him repeat himself three times just to make sure that I wasn’t taking his comment out of context.

Now it ends up that not only was he right but the equation is so much more simple, most distillers and farmers didn’t try to cultivate the wild species because previously they just sold to local markets and they could always find enough agave supply in the wild to fill the local demand.

Once mezcal started selling well throughout Mexico and became a hot export they kept harvesting without replanting. They distilled and didn’t farm. There are  exceptions like Luis Mendez based in Sola de Vega. He has quietly been cultivating tobalas, coyotes and jabalis for the past 20 odd years, and has shown incredible success in his practices. But he’s the exception to a sad rule.

Now that the estate grown operations are meeting success and have a consistent volume other makers who contracted out for their agave harvests or distilled juice are feeling a squeeze. At the very least it’s financial both because distillers can ask for more pesos/liter but it’s feeling like there’s an honest-to-god supply squeeze which may drive some contract buyers out of business or to raise prices. The good news is that the cultivation approach is spreading rapidly. And then there’s a vast reservoir of agave throughout the country that has yet to be tapped. That’s another factor behind expanding the Denominación de Origen. In the interim Oaxaca’s central valleys are feeling the squeeze.

What’s happening with Maguey?

Earlier this year we asked mezcal wrangler extraordinaire Erick Rodriguez, aka Erick Almamezcalera, what he thought about the current state of the mezcal world. We’re publishing his comment along with a follow up lower down in this post in anticipation of his West Coast swing which starts tonight in LA and runs into next week. He will be leading tastings of Vino de Mezcal, the super rare (indeed they may already be sold out) line of mezcals from a variety of locations across Mexico imported by the Fundación Agaves Silvestres.

We can’t stress how rare this line of mezcals is and how they communicate just an iota of the world of mezcal out there. It’s a fantastic way to expose yourself. And, yes, the price does reflect the work involved because the distillation runs are very limited. Should you need any conscience cleansers the project was created both to bring you these limited delights and to funnel revenue into a truly worthy project of planting wild agaves outside of the town of Oaxaca in San Dionisio Ocotepec.

The translation comes to us courtesy of Gabriel Baum of ModernLanguages.com.

Per Erick Rodgriguez here’s what’s up with the world of maguey:

The point of view of many people who only know that mezcal comes from one or two states, or alternatively who only know what is happening in this current “boom”. .. If we don’t do something there will be a lack of maguey-mezcal in a not too distant future.

As was foreseen two years ago, the “looting” of maguey raised a level of disquiet among people who may or may not have known that this supposed “looting” (there is really no such thing) had already been going on since the 70’s. There are people, the same as those who exist in all types of Mexican businesses, who pay the mezcal producers for their maguey or for their mezcal at a higher price. This happens and will go on happening because there is no price that is worthy of their mezcal. There were tequilas that were made in Oaxaca from the 70’s onwards, that were marketed this way, here and abroad; for example Tequila Porfidio. From that point onwards there were irregularities, there were no rules or regulations for mezcal let alone anyone who would stand in the way of this development. Because, remember, traditional mezcal was only drunk and marketed within the communities in which it was grown, and elsewhere it was only known as a nasty drink of bad quality, or a poor person’s drink. So the village chiefs bought it or bartered it for their daily needs.

Thanks to the media coverage and to the interest of a few people or brands, it was marketed and distributed in this new “boom.” Some do it openly, others are masked and, as a result, there are a whole lot of people and personalities behind each marketer of mezcal. Nowadays “everyone knows about mezcal” and wants to have a brand, some because of the cachet, some because of fashion.

People! There are a lot of types of maguey in other states, it’s just that Oaxaca has the greatest number of types and varieties in the world. But another problem that we have is that we are using the wild maguey as a draw. People know that maguey is scarce and they want to stockpile all that is left on the mountains and in the valleys before someone else buys it and it acquires more prestige as a mezcal. Many people want to have something that maybe in the not-too-distant future might be a piece of history as in “once there was a maguey called Cuarentero and this Master Mezcalista only has one maguey of this variety left”

There are internal regulations or rules that are followed by each marketer or that say “This maguey is an ‘x’ and we are replanting 2000 new plants so drink it with pleasure because mezcal of this variety will always exist – Are there really such rules? Or are we really saying “Drink this because it is like the last panda bear on the planet and this is your only chance”.

Regulatory centers? People, we know this was badly done right from the beginning in 1994; it’s a matter of wiping them out and starting afresh. It’s a matter, for example, of taking actions with one’s own producers, otherwise it’ll be the same as what happens in every “boom”.

Well, maybe if each time is different, the difference is that the biodiversity of the maguey plants is being lost and won’t be with us for the next “boom” which will take place again in 15 to 25 years. And we don’t know if we’ll know what to do. Significant interests exist behind the scenes and they will continue to be driven by the industry. Taking action with your producers would be a good start. Make them part of the decision-making process and make them feel supported by paying them better so that they don’t have to sell off or squander their maguey.

The latter is what is happening in Durango, lately more than 5 tons of juice are leaving WEEKLY, and the owner was very clear with me: “I would like to have cash jingling in my pocket. If I turn it into mezcal it’s not so good for me and if I sell it as juice they pay me better and I don’t have to wait for them to come or to distribute it. If I store it it’s not good for me either because I haven’t got money for promotions, bottles, labels, transport etc. These days they pay me better for the juice and that’s what we need, money coming in so that we can go on sowing maguey.”

So, what will you do Mezcalista friend? Would you take some real actions? Help spread the category/concept of mezcal or just advertise brand names and drinking places? Where to start? Who’s responsible for all this? Many people who have been organized since the 90s produce almost 4 million magueys a year to cover their demand. Does this tell you something?

Whenever you’d like to discuss and have work groups on the subject… It would be a great pleasure for me to be invited and to take part. If you have any questions or doubts we can discuss them. Personally. I am at your disposal. Erick Almamezcalera.

We chatted really quickly with Erick earlier this week in advance of his tasting tour of the West Coast:

What I’m bringing this time to the USA is the voice and responsibility of master mezcaleros, we want people to be able to identify different types of mezcal and the methods of production that are being used, the types of maguey and where agave distillations are produced in Mexico. We will show that there are three types of mezcal, namely industrialized, artisanal and traditional. We will get to know what is “Mezcal Wine.” (Vino de Mezcal) What to look for? What is there behind each one of the distillations, creating traditional micro-harvests each one of which has the fully named varietals. Our mezcals are a traditional Mexican drink extracted from wild agave and made by master mezcaleros with ancestral knowledge, respecting traditional manufacturing processes and, as a result, offering us soul enriching experiences and unforgettable states of consciousness.

With the responsible consumption of our mezcal you help to keep this thousand year tradition alive, you support the sustainability of more producing communities, you strengthen fair trade and you help avoid the inclusion of industrial structures in the production of this drink.

 

Save the maguey by drinking its distillate

erickrodriguezLots of good information in this article about the plight of the maguey. While that does a good job of framing the issue which we’ve written about as well, you also have an opportunity to support the recovery of wild maguey (also known as agave) species in a more consumerist fashion. The Fundación Agaves Silvestres is working to replant wild maguey populations. It’s a tough effort but it’s one of the more interesting out there. You can support it directly and reward your taste buds by purchasing their Vino de Mezcal series. And wouldn’t you know that it’s your lucky day because Erick Almamezcalera who is intimately involved in that project  is on a swing up the West Coast offering tastings of the series. We’ll have more from him later this week but here are his tour dates:

Quiote

Blooming agave on Los Alamos Road in Sonoma

Agave quiote on Los Alamos Road in Sonoma

A quiote is the stalk that shoots up from an agave plant when it’s ready to reproduce. They can be dried and used as fuel, construction materials, food or even as a decorative item. They’re one of the most dramatic elements of the agave life cycle.

Read more of our entries in the Mezcalistas Encyclopedia of Mezcal and email us questions or ideas for future entries.

COMERCAM Meeting in Oaxaca

We got a heads up on a big COMERCAM meeting happening in Matatlan, Oaxaca this Saturday (full article here.) We are especially interested in this as some pretty contentious issues will likely be discussed including heavy crackdown on uncertified mezcal (small batch/small production mezcal) being sold into the market, domestic vs export market production, and regulatory controls. We’ll have a complete report next week about the meeting and what it might mean for the mezcal industry, or more specifically, small producers.

Journey to the Sierra Norte and Mezcal Tosba

One of the best things about going to palenques in Oaxaca is it usually means traveling to some of the most beautiful parts of the state. It also means traveling on some pretty rough roads, but more on that later.

I first met Elisandro Gonzalez-Molina in San Francisco at a mezcal tasting. He is one of the forces behind Mezcal Tosba, the other is his cousin Edgar Gonzalez-Ramirez. They are from the small pueblo of San Cristóbal Lachirioag in the Sierra Norte, a gorgeous and mountainous region northeast of the city of Oaxaca, and also one of the poorer regions in the state. Primarily Zapotec, with Mixe pueblos mixed within, it is primarily alpine dotted by of tropical microclimates, not unlike what is found on the western side of the coastal mountains of Oaxaca.

Elisandro and Edgar came to the United States, like many of their pueblo neighbors, in order make a better life for themselves and also to send precious dollars back to San Cristóbal Lachirioag, a lasting legacy of NAFTA, that decimated these small agrarian pueblos in many parts of Oaxaca (and of course all over Mexico.) While in the US, they spent time talking about what they could do to bring economic opportunity to their pueblo, and staunch the flow of young people north. The idea of Mezcal Tosba was born; magueys were planted on Edgar’s family milpa beginning in 1999. In 2006 Edgar returned to Oaxaca to learn how to make mezcal.

The Sierra Norte is not a region currently known for mezcal production. Palenques had existed, but with so many people leaving the land for better opportunities, many of them were abandoned and the tradition began dying out. Far more common in the region was aguariente (a distilled beverage made from sugar cane), coffee and pulque.

Visiting Tosba soon became a obsession for me – not only for the opportunity to meet Edgar and see the Palenque, but also to have an excuse to travel to the Sierra Norte, where I had never been. Arranging it was another story – back and forth with Elisandro, coordinating with Edgar during one of his weekly trips to Oaxaca (there is no cell phone service in most of the Sierra Norte) and finally a meeting at In Situ to coordinate the details, including a map of how to get there.

There would be four of us on the journey – me, my partner in mezcal crime Ana JB and In Situ owners Ulises Torrentera and Sandra Ortiz Brena. We rented a more or less sturdy car (why car rental agencies in Oaxaca insist on using white cars is beyond me) and left the city at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning.

I took the first leg of driving, mostly to ensure I’d be driving the “best” roads. Our plan was to hit the market in Ayutla, a Mixe pueblo high in the mountains. We found a bustling commercial center where colectivo trucks unloaded people and their goods, and crisp in the clear, and quite cold, air. Luckily there was delicious coffee to be had and a filling breakfast of chilaquiles, enfrijolades and the best damn tortillas I have ever had (their rich corny flavor haunts my dreams to this day – think of the tortilla equivalent of the bread from Tartine.) We walked the market, taking in the sights and sounds of Mixe and Zapoteca being spoken. We bought green coffee beans, flor del maguey, chilies and carne; the last to cook later that day at the Palenque. And then we found the pulque and tasted the seemingly infinite varieties and flavors to be found. Side note – I would travel for pulque and could become as obsessed with it as I am with mezcal.

We piled back in the car, though not before a couple of palenqueros called out to Ulises – we were after all traveling with a mezcal rock star – who were anxious to have him try their mezcals. It was not quite 9:30am.

I let Sandra take over the driving, a good thing because from Ayutla on it was dirt road – washed out, rutted, impassable during the rainy season, cliff hugging, you name it. The views were stunning and a constant reminder of just how high we were and just how far a drop it was off the edge of the road. I will never ever ever again complain about the pinche suburban trip to and from the coast in Oaxaca.

We met Edgar in the center of San Cristóbal, and from there, drove to the palenque – another 25 minutes on a rutted road, down the mountain. We parked our car at the top of the entry to the palenque because, while our car would have made it down, it never would have made it back up – it seems only Nissan Sentras can make that trip.

The palenque is nestled in one of the tropical microclimates. It is completely self-sustaining, growing everything needed for mezcal production – maguey, wood, fruits and vegetables – you name it, it grows. Currently there is one roasting pit, with plans for another. There is a large adobe building that will eventually house the bottling and labeling facility. Currently mezcal is transported to Oaxaca where it is bottled. There is a large tin roof covering the crushing area, the three fermentation barrels and three stills. There is no electricity, though Edgar is making plans for either solar or river generated power.

We ate papayas and lemons as Edgar showed us the lay of the land. He is utterly engaging and wickedly smart. In addition to the savings of the two cousins, they also secured a loan from FAO PESA, a UN funded program that provides capital for projects like these. Tosba makes three mezcals – an espadin, a tobala and a pechuga. Water for the mezcal comes from the river that flows down the mountain to the valley.

It was impossible to imagine how they could bottle mezcal here, or more to the point, it was impossible to imagine how the bottles would get to and from the palenque if my rattled bones were any indication. But the idea is that bottling there will provide more jobs for the pueblo.

It is stunningly beautiful at the palenque – it is surrounded by mountains and the play of light. So gorgeous and peaceful, we spent the afternoon talking mezcal and life. Edgar’s parents and sister arrived and we ate tlayudas and sopa de guias (a squash vine soup that is divine) and grilled meat and guacamole. And again I was struck by how delicious the tortillas were. I was even convinced to drink the water that came straight from the river (oh I put up a fight because it went against everything my traveler instinct told me.) It was delicious and I have to say, this is what makes the flavor of Mezcal Tosba so delicious – it really does taste like the water – fresh and slightly sweet.

After the meal, we set-off to hike to the waterfall and to see the maguey and the rest of the milpa. Edgar grabbed his rifle (jaguar country) and we set off. We walked the paths through the magueys that hugged the mountainside and eventually found ourselves walking under a canopy of trees as we neared the waterfall.  We stood in silence as we listened to the water moving over the rocks and looked upward as the fading light sprinkled through the leaves. We walked back through a grove of mango, looked over at the sugar cane, stared in wonder at the pineapple bushes and then finally returned to the palenque to watch the sunset across the valley. As it turned pitch black, we lit candles and stared at the stars as Edgar regaled us with tales of the jaguars, how he lost his eye while cutting maguey and hitting a stone (now all of his employees wear eye goggles) and other nights spent under the stars. We may also have engaged in ghost stories, but I will neither confirm nor deny that.

We finally decided it was time to head back to town – the trusty Sentra taking us back up to the car, which eventually took us back to town. We arrived in time for the posada celebration complete with Banda music and dancing and pan dulce. After, we went to Edgar’s parents, where we were spending the night. Somehow there was more food to be consumed, more mezcal to be had and more talking to be done. We tried the new espadin, which prompted an intense back and forth between Ulises and Edgar about why it tasted different than the last batch. Were the maguey from a different altitude – with the answer yes. It seemed impossible for me to believe that a 50-meter difference could change the flavor, but it did – though I only noticed after Ulises had said something. Oh to have his palette!

And then it was time for bed. It felt like the middle of the night but in fact it was only 10pm.

But sleep would elude us that night. We were awoken by the jarring sound of Banda music over the municipal loud speaker at about 4am. If you haven’t heard it before, think John Philip Sousa on crack. Oddly, it was followed by Strauss and kept going till about 6am when we finally gave up on getting any more sleep. Sadly, a local musician had passed away during the night, and this was his tribute.

We filled our mugs with coffee and headed up to the terrace to watch the sunrise. As the light came over the top of the mountain, the strains of Ave Maria wafted from the loudspeaker. We sat in silence as tears rolled down my cheek as I thought at that moment I was as close to my sister who had recently passed away as I could hope to be. It was majestic.

We then headed to Villa Alta for the Monday market, loaded up on baskets and chiles, dropped off Edgar and said our farewells, and then began the long trip back to Oaxaca.

Chilies at the Ayutla Market

Chilies at the Ayutla Market

Beans at the Ayutla market

Beans at the Ayutla market

fresh pulque, ayutla

fresh pulque, ayutla

pulque bottles

pulque bottles

Ayutla market

Ayutla market

The view in the Sierra Norte

The view in the Sierra Norte

Roasted maguey, Mezcal Tosba

Roasted maguey, Mezcal Tosba

Cutting maguey, Mezcal Tosba

Cutting maguey, Mezcal Tosba

Mezcal Tosba Palenque

Mezcal Tosba Palenque

Tlayudas

Tlayudas

Sopa de guias

Sopa de guias

Edgar Gonzalez-Ramirez

Edgar Gonzalez-Rodriguez

The water source, Mezcal Tosba

The water source, Mezcal Tosba

Tree canopy, Mezcal Tosba

Tree canopy, Mezcal Tosba

Sunset at Mezcal Tosba

Sunset at Mezcal Tosba

Dancing in the square in San Cristóbal Lachirioag

Dancing in the square in San Cristóbal Lachirioag

Sunrise in San Cristóbal Lachirioag

Sunrise in San Cristóbal Lachirioag