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Posts from the ‘Tastings’ Category

La Ruta de Mezcal comes through San Francisco this weekend

Last year Tres launched it’s Ruta de Mezcal tasting in the back room. It’s back in town this coming Sunday 2-6PM so grab your tickets. Last year it was positively packed, this year promises more – more vendors, more food, more improvements. Susan and I will be circulating so grab us if you want to chat.

If you haven’t been yet, Tres has a huge back room which opens onto their back lot. They’re taking a big step towards sustainability and purity in tasting by providing a tasting glass for everyone. Plus there will be a bunch of food including classic snacks and their truck out back serving bacon-wrapped hot dogs, elote, ceviche, and tacos made from a pig roasted on the premises.

The mezcal list this year is, to say the least, expansive. Here’s what we know right now. More may slip in.

  • Wahaka
  • El Jolgorio / Nuestra Soldedad
  • Tosba
  • Mezcaloteca / Real Minero / Rey Campero
  • Vago
  • Del Maguey
  • Bruxo
  • Benesin / San Juan del Rio
  • Ilegal
  • Don Amado / Mina Real
  • Almamezcalera

Personalities will abound like Erick Rodriguez, Jake Lustig, and many others. See you there!

The flyer for La Ruta del Mezcal II.

The flyer for La Ruta del Mezcal II.

 

 

 

Mezcal hits Australia with Agave Love

Phil Bayly

Phil Bayly

This coming weekend, March 22-23 Sydney will be hosting Agave Love which sounds like a fantastic confluence of agave producers and lovers. I recently chatted with the organizer, longtime Sydney restauranteur Phil Bayly about the event, his background, and the state of mezcal in Australia. Agave Love’s Facebook page has lots of updated information so take a look.

You should really get excited about the guest list which includes luminaries like Julio Bermejo, Ivan Saldaña,Esteban Morales, and Marco Ochoa to name just four. The format sounds incredibly fun, it’s a roving tasting and discussion about agave distillates. That’s something we can totally get behind.

Can you tell me a bit about your background with agave distillates?

I started working with Tequila in 1980 with Tomas Estes at his first Cafe Pacifico, Amsterdam.

Together we set up 18 Tequila Bars in six countries in cities like Paris, London, Milan, and Cologne. In the early 90’s I returned to Australia which is where I am from. I opened a Cafe Pacifico in Sydney in 1997 the first tequila bar in Australia and ran it for 16 years. I was awarded the first Distinctivo T by the CRT in the Southern Hemisphere in 2006.

I have been going to Mexico regularly since the early 80’s visiting distilleries but with my focus on tequila. I first went to Oaxaca in ’85 to see and visit some palenques. It was pretty wild then, mind you not much has really changed. I always had an interest in mezcal and had a small range in Sydney from the beginning especially Ultramarine.

As mezcal started to grow I began to follow it and expand my collection making various trips to Oaxaca to see what I could find and bring back. I met Graciela for Real Minero in the late 2000’s and that grew my interest in the different varietals using different agaves. From there I met Ivan Saldaña and my passion grew from the drink to the plant itself.

Agave Love flyer

Agave Love flyer

How did you come up with the idea of creating a conference about tequila and mezcal?

From visiting Mexico and the tequila region then to Oaxaca the thing that struck me was it is not just about the drink but it is the people behind it. I have met and been inspired by so many amazing people like the ones I have mentioned and others like Ron Cooper and in particular the producers themselves I decided to ask them if they would consider coming to Australia so the people here could have the opportunity to meet and hear these people in person so they may be inspired as I have and get a greater understanding and appreciation of the variety of styles and regions. It took me years to educate Australians about tequila and they finally got it!

We have had a long history here in Australia of a market flooded with false tequila, we have finally overcome that.

What I have found is that with the influx of mezcal, the price and the intensities and complexities in flavours that it was really confusing Australians and they were wanting to drink mezcal like tequila. I saw a need to really educate them in to understanding what these spirits are and why they are so different and how to appreciate them.

Tell me about the specific format of Agave Love

I have presented at a lot of bar shows around the world and the one thing I don’t like about them is that they are in big halls located usually out of the centre of  cities and it is all about brand not really category so I picked some of my favourite small bars which are all within walking distance and asked them if they would come on board to host this event. Everyone of them embraced the concept and it has grown from there.

I wanted to create more intimate environments that relate to the spirits. I also did not want to do a 101 class although I did make one talk for the virgins, but I wanted to take people to the next level and really go deep into these categories. It would seem to me a waste to have these professionals just scratching the surface after coming all the way here.

The Agave Love lineup

The Agave Love lineup

I also wanted to create a situation where it was not possible to go to everything. I want to leave people hungry to want to know more and hopefully compare notes of what they had missed so there are 46 different sessions over two days but it will only be possible to get to a maximum of eight from the whole conference.

I found it necessary to add another venue just for distributors to be face to face with consumers and talk about their products. This I have called Agave Central with about 50 different brands of tequila, mezcal, raicilla, and sotol; not to mention all the different expressions. This will be set up similar to ‘Whisky live’ where it is not about who has the biggest stand, it is a table with a table cloth and let the products speak for themselves.

All the tastings will be blind with a range of six different brands in each. I have selected who may have their products where so as to keep it even and balanced on topic.

Benito Juarez loved mezcal

At least we hope he did because we had quite a tasting in his honor last night at Lolo in San Francisco. Mezcal Head, aka Ken Taylor, joined me to pour a fantastic variety of Oaxaca’s liquid pride in honor of one of the state’s greatest heroes. Courtesy of Lolo’s crack bartending staff we even managed to add some wrinkles to the tasting.

The set up just before our What Would Benito Juarez Drink tasting, aka our birthday commemoration tasting for Benito Juarez at Lolo.

The set up just before our What Would Benito Juarez Drink tasting, aka our birthday commemoration tasting for Benito Juarez at Lolo.

The big surprises were that we got to taste two different lots of the Del Maguey Minero from Santa Catarina Minas and the Tosba Pechuga instead of the previously scheduled Tosba Tobala. If you were looking for contrast you needn’t have looked any further. We started with a side-by-side tasting the Del Maguey Minero. The old lot was SCM 114, the new lot SCM 121 both from NOM-O41X. The older lot had a much deeper and rounder flavor while the new one was bright and citrusy. If ever there was a demonstration of the unique nature of every distillation run, that was it. Definitely a real treat for the evening. Both were full of the round fruit that ties together the Del Maguey mezcals.

We moved onto the Pierde Almas Dobadaan Lot 18-D NOM O120X which was very dusty and lean bodied. Ken found barnyard notes on the nose that the rest of us couldn’t pick up on. That’s not the first time he’s found something that others have missed, he has a great nose for these things. And, no he wasn’t using barnyard as a negative term, it’s more that woodsy smell. Everyone agreed that the Dobadaan was a great contrast to the roundness of the Minero. One of our tasters later said “if I was introducing someone to mezcal I’d start with the Minero exactly because it is so fruity and round.”

The Vago Arroqueno del Barro Lot S – 05 NOM O188X was a showstopper with an undulating curve of flavors between fruit, dry, citrus, and a lasting aftertaste of dusty clay no doubt from the clay pot distillation. It’s one of the special releases we mentioned earlier in the month.

We finished with Tosba’s Pechuga Lot 004 NOM O164X and were ready for a big fatty pechuga but were met with a sharp and lean flavors which may have been a bit washed out by the mezcals that preceded it. Ken and I chatted about whether we should have placed it earlier in the tasting. In previous tastings it’s been much more flavorful so perhaps the variety and intensity of flavors washed out the tasting experience. We’ll definitely return to this pechuga later on to see how it performs when it’s not preceded by such big hitters.

As a sign of mezcal’s popularity ours was just one of two public mezcal tastings in San Francisco last night. Wahaka’s Raza Zaidi was pouring for one of La Urbana’s Monday night tastings. With this sort of abundance, who can complain? La Urbana’s next tasting isn’t until 4/20 (…) when they will be pouring Don Amado. In the interim they are hosting a chef’s dinner Thursday March 26th that sounds interesting. Check it out.

WWBJD? Find out at our next tasting

A mural of Benito Juarez by Jesús Cristóbal Flores Carmona.

A mural of Benito Juarez by Jesús Cristóbal Flores Carmona.

It’s March so we’re asking ourselves What Would Benito Juarez Drink. His birthday is the 21st but we are commemorating that momentous event along with the rest of Mexico on the 16th with a mezcal tasting at Loló.

For those familiar with our tastings over the summer, you already know the drill. For those who don’t: We meet at the back bar between 6 and 7:30 PM to taste through a cluster of mezcals, talk about their backgrounds, compare notes, and meet fellow mezcal aficionados. The price is $25.

This time out we’ll taste:

Tosba Tobala
Del Maguey Minero
Mezcal Vago Arroqueño
Pierde Almas Dobadaan

Needless to say these are some very special mezcals and this is a fantastic opportunity to contrast how different they are. This tasting will be even more interesting because Susan is on the road so we’ve enlisted fellow mezcal blogger Ken Taylor who writes over at Mezcal Head to pour with me. If you’re interested RSVP by emailing me. Hope to see you there!

Become a Mezcanaut, a true mezcal explorer

Mezcanautica logoNeed help navigating the rapidly changing and dangerous shoals of the mezcal world? Well, we have the event for you. Coming March 13th-14th in Oaxaca City Mezcanautica is set up to be a deep dive into the issues and questions driving the mezcal world today. Punning aside this looks like it’s going to be incredibly exciting and my Skype call with the organizers over the weekend only confirmed that expectation. And what an intriguing team it is: Graciela Angeles Carreño from Real Minero, Ulises Torrentera from In Situ, and Marco Ochoa from Mezcaloteca with an assist from William Scanlan who has been working with that group for some time. William also graciously helped translate.

The event in brief

Mezcanautica is envisioned as an annual event and since this is the first edition the theme is appropriately “The Origins of Mezcal.” It will encompass workshops, lectures, tastings, and a mezcaleria tour. The full price of the event includes all of the above except the mezcaleria tour because no one really knows how much you’ll end up drinking; best to leave that to your budget, if you know what I mean. You can find the full schedule here.

Saturday will have workshops presented by Marco, Graciela, Ulises, and others on a variety of fascinating topics ranging from Marco on the history of mezcal to Erick Baron on how to classify the scents in mezcals. The Sunday workshops will take you into the field with Graciela guiding you through the Real Minero palenque or you can visit palenques that work with Mezcaloteca. There will, of course, be structured tastings.

The lectures sound really interesting. Remember that great map of the diversity of agave across Mexico? That was created by Jorge Larson who will be giving a talk on the Denominacion de Origen. Others will address the aromas in mezcal and a dive into the evolution of agave in Mexico.

Agaves de Mexico map

And then there are the mezcaleria visits. You could do it all by your lonesome but the sort of company that this sort of event attracts will simultaneously deepen your understanding and appreciation for the culture that creates mezcal while allowing you to taste truly rare distillations.

The origin

I was really curious why such an event hasn’t happened before. Oaxaca has it’s annual Feria de Mezcal timed with La Guelaguetza in the summer and is quite a drinking scene. Graciela told me that a loose group of mezcal promotors, creators, and purveyors had long been interested in creating a more academically focused event that pulled together the people who would speak to the big questions and ideas in the mezcal world. It’s just that they’d never been able to get the organization right.

Everyone involved agreed that their goal is consumer education. Marco noted that the primary focus of “other mezcal fairs is try to sell product rather than educate consumers.” Ulises articulated the goal of Mezcalnautica as giving “the consumer credible information based on academic research and findings.”

While this conference is obviously focused on Oaxaca, everyone involved is thinking about the larger global market, especially in North American. Mezcanautica was created to really dig into the question of what tradition means and build a branding message for the North American market that is clear and resonates. As William Scanlan put it, “the US market hasn’t been pumped full of misinformation yet. This is our opportunity to give them something that’s lacking, an academic perspective, and define mezcal as a traditional, cultural, and spiritual beverage.” It’s a tough road but it is early days in mezcal’s international reputation so it’s still very possible to own that message.

Not your everyday mezcal topics

They aim to address the messaging issue by really digging into the traditional culture invested in the creation of a mezcal and the cultivation of agave. Jorge Larson is going to focus his speech on the idea of defining the Denominación de Origen (DO) by the community that produces the mezcal rather than the geographic distribution of the agave. That may sound esoteric but consider that most European wines are defined by their community names and standards rather than what vines grow wild within a certain geographic area. Sure, it’s much more complex than that but the point is fascinating. Put another way, should we be defining mezcal by the taste of the community that created it rather than by the agave that goes into it?

If you’ve been to Mexico in a Bottle or one of his earlier tastings then Iván Saldaña’s topic at Mezcanautica needs no introduction: He will be presenting on terroir and the implications for flavors in mezcal. Despite a Mexico in a Bottle audience member’s argument that we should abandon the use of the term terroir and embrace instead the Spanish word terruño, Ivan and everyone else in the world has stuck with terroir as the common description of the land and local process that gives a mezcal a distinct flavor. This is obviously one area where, despite anyone’s effort, the French have won. Aside apart, Ivan contributes enormous intelligence to this topic and is an incredibly engaging speaker so I really look forward to hearing his latest thoughts on the question; especially because the mezcal world is expanding so quickly that classic community oriented terroirs are appearing on the more global market so frequently. 

There are obviously many more speeches to attend which fill out pretty much any interest in the world of mezcal. Dr. Abisaí García will be talking about the history of agave in Mexico while Xitlalli Aguirre who also contributed to that famous Artes de Mexico map of agave distribution across Mexico will be returning to that topic for her presentation.

Jules Verne loved mezcal

20,000 Leagues Under the SeaAnd now for the fun stuff. The phrase Mezcanautica comes from Ulisses’ term Mezcanaut in his book Mezcalaria to mean ‘an explorer in the universe of mezcal.’ While we can guarantee that you won’t meet Laika on this journey, you will encounter the awesome aquatic branding courtesy of Mariana Garnica, Marco Ochoa, and Belem Romero. They took the Mezcanaut idea into a parallel and opposite direction by embracing the iconography of the 19th Century Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and diving down under the waves to discover rarefied mezcals and agaves. It’s fun stuff, check out more of Belen’s art.

Up up and mezcal to the future!

Everyone involved with Mezcanautica would love to see it flourish not only as an annual event in Oaxaca but as a roadshow across the United States. It’s early days for that latter concept but things like this have been known to come together quickly so stay tuned, you may be able to receive your official Mezcalnaut Badge of Courage in a nearby town soon.

The details

Cost for a ticket is just shy of $300 US or $4,500 Mexican pesos for all events in the three day conference except for those evening mezcaleria jaunts. You can register here. Just be warned that the proceedings will all be in Spanish so start that language refresher course today. Email William Scanlan for more details including how to take advantage of group rates at local hotels.

Mezonte Raicilla from Candido Romero – Tasting notes

IMG_4203

Shaky hands, low lighting, but you get the idea of the Mezonte front label.

The back label with all the glorious production details.

The back label with all the glorious production details.

Last week I tasted two Raicillas, this Mezonte and the Raicilla Venenosa Maximilliano. Clearly we need to drink more Raicillas. That’s a problem because there are only four on the market in the United States and the odd personal import like this bottle of Mezonte. Perhaps worse, they’re hard to find in Mexico. This is obviously part of a great unwritten tragedy because they taste amazing and are a huge contrast to classic Oaxacan mezcal flavor set. I can only hope that we’re in the “Rise of the Raicillas” chapter of this book where Esteban Morales‘ launch of Raicilla Venenosa in October is the first of many which will culminate in the return of the repressed distilling heritage of Jalisco.  For the time being it’s a really hit and miss game. If you find bottles like this, buy them and pay full freight to encourage their production because, as I’ve heard from Esteban and others, Raicilla production really needs financial support.

This bottle from Pedro Jimenez’s Mezonte label is an extraordinary example of the genre. Pedro is renown in the mezcal world for his Guadalajara bar Pare de Suffrir dedicated to all species of agave distillates. Plus he created one of the most engaging documentaries about mezcal with Viva Mezcal. You have no excuses if you haven’t watched it yet.

Pedro’s Mezonte label is focused on promoting solely traditional mezcals, especially those from Jalisco and Michoacan. They’re all very unique and small productions that represent the true spirit of their producers. This bottle made by Candido Romero was an explosion of floral notes throughout the nose, really something that you could go on sniffing for quite some time. It has a very lean body and eschews the big viscosity common in Oaxacan espadin. It has a light floral flavor to match the nose. I can’t emphasize how balanced it is: The flavor is an expression of the nose which only enhances the flavor ad infinitum.

Bottle No. 10 in the second Vino de Mezcal series featuring Ixtero Amarillo.

Bottle No. 10 in the second Vino de Mezcal series featuring Ixtero Amarillo.

The label is just as extraordinary as the bottle’s content. The list of all the details of its production are extensive and enlightening. Lovers of Mezcaloteca will recognize it immediately. The details are incredible including that it undergoes a 21 day fermentation. It’s made from Ixtero Amarillo which, my tasting partner Ken Taylor aka Mezcal Head, noted also recently made an appearance in the Number 10 bottle of the Vino de Mezcales line.  Sadly there are only 60 liters of this bottling but that’s just they way it should be. It’s a limited vintage and we have to learn to start treating these things like the living treasures they are.

Christmex comes to San Francisco

Join us tomorrow for the first ever Christmex at San Francisco’s Mexican Museum 10-4. You’ll be able to take in the museum’s fantastic collection, purchase fantastic imported crafts from Michoacan, and listen to great music all while sipping Mexico’s great spirit of mezcal. In attendance:

  • Wahaka Mezcal
  • Mezcal Tosba
  • Tamales and treats from Tina Tamale
  • Son Jarocho collective from 12-2PM
  • Great holiday gifts imported directly from the finest crafts people in Michoacan by Mexico by Hand
  • And the incredible collection at the Mexican Museum!

MexicanMuseum

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

 

Mezcalerías in Oaxaca flourish in quantity and diversity

Putting the mezcal back in the bottle

We had quite a crowd of aficionados at the first Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle. Photo Michael Skrzypek

We had quite a crowd of aficionados at the first Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle. Photo Michael Skrzypek

No, not really, what was tasted is already gone but we’ve received a bunch of questions about our tasting over the past week so a few quick responses are in order about which mezcals are on the market, where to get items, and our future plans. First up we have to thank Ken Taylor for writing such a great wrap up of the event for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, he really captured the scene. We learned quite a bit from his piece because we were all so busy coordinating things so definitely give it a read. We’re already planning next year’s event so if you have feedback or ideas, we’re all ears!

Two limited edition mezcales new from Wahaka the fall of 2014. The Espadín Manzanita and Espadín Botaniko.

Two limited edition mezcales new from Wahaka the fall of 2014. The Espadín Manzanita and Espadín Botaniko.

New Mezcals

We are proud that we were able to present so many new mezcals but working out the kinks in distribution and certification mean that you won’t see most of them in your local liquor store for a bit. We will definitely tell you when any of the following mezcals come to market so stay tuned. Here’s what we know right this second.

  • Wahaka’s Espadín Botaniko and Espadín Manzanita should be available later this fall. 
  • Raicilla Venanosa should be available later this year.
  • Real Minero, Rey Campero, Mezcal Sanzekan, and Mezcaloteca don’t have a release date yet.
  • Mezcal Uasïsï doesn’t have a release date yet.
  • Mezcalero #10 doesn’t have a release date yet.
  • Mezcal Valvodinos doesn’t have a release date yet.

T-Shirts

The Mezcalistas sport their latest T-shirts.

The Mezcalistas sport their latest T-shirts.

Books

The cover of John McEvoy's book on mezcal.

The cover of John McEvoy’s book on mezcal.

Tastings