There are so many reasons to appreciate Bricia Lopez – knowledge of mezcal being reason number one. Number two is her generosity in connecting me with her friends in Oaxaca – in this case photographer and incredibly fun Omar Alonso. We met for lunch at Biznaga and got to know one another. After food, beers and a mezcal or two, he took me next door to Zandunga to check out their mezcal collection and to meet one of the owners, Marcos Toledo. Zandunga is an interesting restaurant that specializes in Istmo style cuisine that incorporates dried shrimp, fish and vinegar in many dishes. The flavors are distinctly different from the food generally found in the centro.
And what a mezcal selection! I focused on tasting mezcals from the brand Espirituoso, two of which came from Michoacan (a pechuga made from deer and agave azul and a cenizo maguey), the third from Miahuatlan de Porfirio Diaz (an espadin, madrecuishe and bicuishe blend). They were all delicious but I have to say, the pechuga blew my socks off. Its flavor was completely different than anything I have ever tasted – so meaty and savory.
But it was the conversation with Marcos that was the highlight. We talked about the changing market of mezcal and the transition of restaurants gravitating toward pouring brands and away from house mezcals. It seems a crackdown on regulations and certifications is driving this change – with mezcalerias in Mexico City being closed for serving unregistered mezcals (mezcals that are not officially registered as a business.) He thinks it is only a matter of time before this starts happening in Oaxaca and plans on shifting to official mezcals in 2013. Next year is also when the new law comes into effect requiring all of these producers to have registered businesses in order to sell their product in the market.
A lot of it comes down to taxes, and making sure that everyone is paying – which in the case of mezcal can be 60+ percent on each bottle. Not only do costs go up for restaurants, bars, stores, etc, but also for the patrons. It also means potentially limiting the market for small producers who usually do not go through the long, laborious and expensive process of creating an official business, and who sell direct (house mezcals).