When it rains documentaries, it can also pour. We just heard about this very affectionate short about Cuish and its founder Felix Hernandez. Cuish bottles mezcal from a collection of Oaxacan mezcaleros and also has a very nicely appointed tasting room in the city of Oaxaca. Read more
Posts from the ‘Brands’ Category
Given last week’s line up of catastrophes, the week before seems like a lifetime ago. Back then I had a chance to taste Mezcales de Leyenda’s new high end, limited release, line of mezcals at San Francisco’s Mosto Bar. What a treat, and if I knew what was going to happen the following week, I would have consumed a lot more for fortification.
This is a new initiative by Mezcales de Leyenda which benefits social causes in the regions where the mezcals originate. It is a bold project in both cause, which at first glance seems all over the place, and determination in getting expensive and small production mezcals into the marketplace. Neither goal is easy nor inexpensive.
It’s interesting to see brands build out their portfolios to hit the different market segments – a cocktail mezcal for volume, the “sipping” mezcals that fall on the mid-high shelf, and the ultra high end premium bottles that are geared toward the collector. It is a gamble in a category that is still feeling its way through how to simultaneously meet demand for product, while still showcasing the beauty of small production mezcal.
This new lineup features mezcals, agaves, traditions, and causes from across central Mexico; each has a different focus.
A cupreata from Northern Guerrero recognizes mezcaleros over 70 and benefits the family of Don Anastacio.
An americano from Michoacan highlights the tradition of aging mezcal in glass, underground, and then unearthing it for celebrations, in this case specifically for Dia de los Muertos.
Reservas de la Biosfera
An ensemble from the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán bioreserve that straddles Puebla and Oaxaca benefits the conservation of regional cactacea (cactus).
Made from agave Montana harvested in Tamaulipus this is, as far as we can ascertain, the first time this agave has been distilled and distributed commercially. The benefit component of this bottle will go the cultivation and conservation of the agave Montana.
These seem like random “causes” until you understand how specifically tied they are to each region where the mezcals come from. How do you simultaneously source and export super small production runs and give something back to the community? As we have written about before, this is no easy task, and often times, a micro focus might make the most sense. If these mezcals are successful, the money generated from them, while small in our eyes, can be huge in these communities where dollars go much further. Supporting mezcaleros who work to carry on town traditions, providing financial support to families of elderly mezcaleros, supporting cactus diversity in bio reserves, and cultivating and conserving a new to mezcal production maguey – these are focused projects that look to maintain a balance of give and take.
But how did they taste?
Grandes Leyendas (369 bottles) is made from wild cupreata from northern Guerrero. It was distilled by Don Anastacio who recently turned 72. Roasted in an earthen pit, crushed by hand in a wood (fig tree) canoe, fermented in oak with water from the stream that runs by the palenque and distilled in copper. At 43% it was quite smooth and had a lovely sweet finish.
Cementerio Mezcalero (435 bottles) is made from the maguey Americano grown in western Michoacán. It was distilled by Don Guadalupe Pérez, who revived the tradition of burying mezcal three feet underground in glass for nine months (like a baby). Traditionally this was to hide the mezcal until it was unearthed for Dia de los Muertos. Local stream water, conical lava rock pit for the roast, wood fermentation tanks, copper still with a pine wood hat, it packs a punch at 48%. It was very dry, and well minerali, though the tasting notes referenced buttery.
Mezcales Únicos “Montana”(369 bottles) is the first known distillation of the maguey Montana from the Sierra Madre Oriental in Tamaulipus. Distilled by a father and sun team of the Obregon family from Guerrero (no mezcaleros in this particular region of Tamaulipus) it was a trial and error experiment in crafting the final product. And I have to say, what a final product in its unique meaty and blue cheesy flavor. Truly sublime.
Reservas de la Biosfera “Tehuacan” (555 bottles) is an ensemble of the agave Marmorata and Macrocantha (Espadilla) and was harvested with special permission from the local community that oversees the bio reserve. Distilled by three generations of mezcal makers, grandfather Don Bernardo, son Don José, and grandson Aquilino using local stream water, a lava rock pit oven, oak fermentation tanks, and a copper still. It was quite floral with a very black pepper finish.
In addition to the new line up, there were also cocktails and delicious passed treats including a chapulines and guacamole tostada, al pastor tacos, a ceviche tostada, and a fresh huitlacoche sope. What a taste sensation all round!
What is it
Paranubes is a rum distilled from sugar cane juice in Oaxaca’s Sierra Mazateca region which is almost due north of the city of Oaxaca far off in the mountains. It is distilled by Jose Luis Carrera and imported by Vago. It hit the US market in June and is currently available in California, Illinois, Louisiana, New York, and Texas. Internationally you can find it in Italy. Read more
I had a chance to visit their palenque – a two birds with one stone event so I could see my friend Norma and visit the palenque. She lives in Teotitlan and puts on some pretty incredible textile and culture tours.
We set up a time to meet at the GAD palenque and get a special tour and tasting with Maestro Mezcalero Oscar Hernandez Santiago. Of course I got lost because my GPS disconnected and the directions sent us off in the complete opposite direction in Matatlan. Note to travelers – google maps is great and amazing, except of course when you have no phone reception which crazily enough, I didn’t in Matatlan. The palenque is on the edge of town as you head south on 190. It is a beautiful piece of property and will eventually be a centerpiece of the new style of mezcal travels in Oaxaca – a bread and breakfast on palenque property. It is now available to book through Airbnb. Read more
Over my years of visiting Oaxaca, Asis Cortes and I have never managed to be here at the same time. This trip is no different, but luckily, I was finally able to get out and visit a few of the palenques they work with. Special thanks to Puro Burro and Zack Safron who used to be a San Francisco based bartender. He has since made the leap to Oaxaca which is quite a trend with bartenders. Zach occupies a fascinating spot in the mezcal world: He works closely with Puro Burro which leads trips to Oaxaca geared toward the hospitality industry, and is a bartender at Mezcalogia, Asis’ Oaxaca mezcaleria. Zach acts as a kind of connector for the Casa de Cortes “empire” with Mezcalogia and the world outside of Oaxaca. His love and enthusiasm for mezcal, and Oaxaca, cannot be overstated. Read more
The much anticipated news that Pernod Ricard had acquired a mezcal company finally hit, with perhaps the biggest surprise of all being who it acquired– Del Maguey. Pernod will take a majority stake in the US’ number one mezcal company. The exact terms of the deal were not disclosed. According to the press release and what we have heard from the company, the current management team and staff remain in place and all operations in Mexico remain intact as well. Read more
Misty Kalkofen, Del Maguey‘s Madrina (godmother) is a big ball of energy when it comes to her passion project – mezcal and sustainability. If you haven’t already checked out the sustainability blog at the Del Maguey website, you should. It is highly significant that the brand that pretty much launched the mezcal category as we know it today has a dedicated space on their website discussing issues impacting the mezcal industry– this is a real issue that the category as a whole must address. Read more
Call this perks of the job… I recently was invited to the kickoff for a new dinner series at Cala, Gabriela Camara’s Mexican restaurant outpost in SF, centered on mezcal. We’ve written before about the restaurant and its focus on not only sustainable food, but also sustainable mezcal. This was the dinner that really brought it together in a fantastic way.
The brainchild of Cala bar manager Marsilio Gabuardi, the idea is to pair a mezcal with each course. It’s not new, the difference here is that there is only a mezcal pairing – no cocktails, no wine, no beer, just mezcal. This first dinner highlighted Mezcal Amaras, which is pretty much the house mezcal at Cala. The surprise of the night was being able to taste new Amaras expressions, including a tepeztate and cenizo, along with three different espadins and their cupreata. We were joined by Amaras U.S. brand rep Sofía Acosta Rascón and, to the delight of all of us, Gabriela Camara herself. Read more
It’s a new calendar year and things are changing for mezcal. As we all hold our breath this Friday we do know a few things, and all of them have some impact on the mezcal world.
It’s never been so cheap to create a mezcal brand
There are more mezcal brands on the market in the United States than ever before. With the growing interest in the cocktail space and even the retail world, the business case is there and brands are being built to fill niches in the market. We routinely talk to distillers, brand creators, and others who are interested in creating or bringing a mezcal brand into the United States.
In Mexico there are even more brands, so many that it’s been difficult to even imagine what’s going on in the mezcalosphere. That points to one fascinating contradiction in our moment: The production is there, the business interest is there, arguably the consumer interest is also there. But there are some big questions. Read more
We all knew that the big liquor companies were coming to mezcal. Zignum, Beneva, and others have been around for a while but the really big distributors like Diageo jumped into the game last year, signing a distribution deal with Mezcal Union, while Pernod Ricard sounds like it’s launching a mezcal in the next few months. Read more