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Posts tagged ‘Erick Rodriguez’

Finding the perfect mezcal tour

A tahona in Miahuatlan. Photo by Max Garrone

A tahona in Miahuatlan. Photo by Max Garrone

We get asked all the time about how to go visit palenques in Oaxaca. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on who you ask, the tourist infrastructure isn’t fully built out so tours and routes aren’t that obvious. There just isn’t a Silverado Trail there even if there are tons of distillers and plenty of roadside stands of somewhat dubious quality. But with the explosion of interest in mezcal over the past few years some great options have emerged. Here are a few of the most prominent.

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Copitas among us!

Omar Hernanez in his taller

Omar Hernanez in his taller

If you’re really into mezcal you have probably already been acquainted with Omar Hernandez‘s creations. He’s a Oaxaca based ceramicist whose copitas are starting to pop up in bars and restaurants in the United States but cover the walls, shelves, and anything else they’ll sit on at his taller at Alcalá 303 in Oaxaca. It’s on the main drag just down from Santo Domingo and next door to Oro de Oaxaca which makes it difficult to miss. Read more

Small producers showcase at Mexico in a Bottle

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I am often asked – where is the best place to try mezcal in the Bay Area? And my usual reply is, well, my house. Logistics make it hard to actually have everyone over – kid with homework and a bedtime, people probably having to drive to my house, etc etc. I say my house because over the years I have amassed a collection of some pretty awesome mezcals that are not available in the US, and most likely never will be. So short of going to Mexico yourself, or having an inside connection, this has been the stop gap solution.

This year we have solved that problem by creating small producers room at the Grand Tasting at Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle on November 15th. The idea is to bring out all those unique bottles that you’d only find on my bar and some things that I’ve never been able to find. This offering is part of the Mezcal Lover’s package, and in addition to fine mezcals, it will also be a chance to talk to a few of the people who make or find them.

In the line-up we have mezcals that I encountered on some recent mezcal adventures in Mexico. They have a way of finding you and I am so happy they are able to participate.

  • Aguas del Corazon was founded by Andrea Sánchez López, who I had the pleasure of meeting at my very first Vela Istmeña as part of the Guelaguetza celebration in Oaxaca. She was dressed in a gorgeous, traditional Istmeña dress, and poured us some of the mezcal, a full bodied arroqueño that blew my socks off. Aguas works with several small producers around the state of Oaxaca – small as in less than 40 bottles in some production runs. Andrea has a culinary background and has curated a delicious collection of tobala, espadin, sierra negra, coyote, and barril.
  • El Solteco is the new mezcal brand from Maestro Luis Mendez, who I recently wrote about as part of the sustainability series. Sr. Mendez has been cultivating wild agaves and these mezcals are the fruit of those labors.
  • El Tigre Mezcal is a cooperative project from the state of Guerrero.  They are producing mezcals from wild papalote and zcamexcal grown in the low mountains of Guerrero. These mezcals vary from 50-52% alcohol, and have a very different and earthy flavor.    
  • Mezcal Neta is a project from Max Rosenstock, who has been traveling the Oaxacan roads for the past several years to find mezcals for his burgeoning brand. We’ll have mezcals from San Luis Amatlan, a region known for its madrecuishe, verde, and increasingly, espadin.
  • Mezcal Cuish has probably done than any other mezcal when it comes to capturing the attention of a younger generation and getting them to care about mezcal. Started by a couple of art students in Oaxaca who had family connections to mezcal, they created a mezcaleria and a huge following of other art students, inspiring Oaxacan pride around the spirit.
  • Alma Mezcalera doesn’t need much of an introduction. A project by Erick Rodriguez, a tireless and intrepid promoter of mezcal as we’ve written about before here and most recently here, Erick will have his very special mezcals that he has sourced from all over Mexico.
  • Mezcal Chaneque will also be on hand. I had a chance to taste this mezcal in June  and loved its rounded flavors and depth. This is a mezcal that will soon be available in the US, but here is your chance to get an early jump on tasting it.
  • Aguas Mansas is a mezcal that was shared with me by Leon Vazquez, a bartender at Lolo Restaurant. It’s an espadin from Matatlan and tastes so different from what I usually expect from mezcals from that region. This is a mezcal that may hit our shores in 2016.
  • We also have some very rare mezcals from Maestros del Mezcal, a cooperative based in Oaxaca comprised of dozens of small producers. Max profiled their organization in June and I had a chance to go to their event in Oaxaca in July and tasted some very interesting mezcals, including some wild espadins that blew my mind.

And of course there will be some surprises as well, perhaps even a few from my private collection especially a madrecuishe made by Reyna Sanchez who was just profiled in this piece by Grace Rubenstein on NPR about female mezcal makers.

Be sure to check out the event website that has all of the details for not only for the Grand Tasting on November 15th but also for the other activities happening that week. But get your Mezcal Lover’s ticket today because they’re limited, we will sell out, and once they’re gone, they are literally gone. 

 

Is there an “ancient” mezcal category?

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Erick Rodriguez, second from right, with the mezcaleros.

Erick Rodriguez is many things. He guides tours, advocates for mezcal, sources mezcal, has his own label, and travels tirelessly to see what’s out there in the vastness of Mexico’s agave growing and distilling regions. He truly is one of the most dynamic characters in the business. That’s why one of his latest ventures is just as crazy as you’d expect. He has been working with a mezcalero to make mezcal from a 55-year-old agave. He claims, and anyone I’ve asked agrees, that this is the oldest known agave to make it into a mezcal.

Like anything this rare there’s a great origin story. A guy approached Erick at a mezcalero meeting in Mexico City saying that he had some agave that he wanted to make into mezcal. They got to talking and a strange story emerged. This guy had some agave that he claimed was 40-45 years old, a claim based on his dad’s death. See, his dad was murdered but had planted the agave before his death. They did the math and that was 55 years ago. In the interim no one seems to have paid any attention to the agaves. In true noir fashion, the secret almost died with this poor guy’s dad. It’s Erick’s own little agave murder mystery in a bottle.

Erick being Erick this was his type of project, he jumped in and wanted to distill it. If this story isn’t strange enough already he says it took a turn for the worse when he started talking about it with friends in the industry. He’s been documenting the entire process on his Facebook page so you can see a lot of it there. Plenty of incredulous comments matched with plenty that are enthusiastic. But he wasn’t really prepared for the discomfort that he felt from other people in the mezcal industry who didn’t exactly believe his claim. “People told me ‘that’s nothing new, you’re lying to people.'” Even close friends in the business “got really uncomfortable.”

That discomfort and slagging only lit a fire. Erick and his contact started looking at maps of the area and tried to figure out other ways of verifying the agave’s age. According to Erick “I brought in an archeologist, engineer, and agronomist-engineer Ramiro Angelina-Baños because we don’t want to get the facts wrong and I don’t want people saying ‘you know you’re killing the last of agaves” because it’s already mature, it’s going to die anyway.” They made sure that they had pups from the plant they were going to harvest so that it could reproduce and they could try and grow it themselves. They were able to get ihuelos from each plant and have replanted them.

One of the ancient agave plants.

One of the ancient agave plants.

As for horticultural question of how an agave can live that long before it reproduces, that’s beyond me. I’ll need to follow up with a botanist. I know it’s a cliche but one of the colloquial names for agaves is “Century Plant.”

Erick and his contact also looked around to see if they could find more and identify it but even he’s not sure what it is. “It’s not Barril because that’s short and fat. This one is long, cut leaves, two meters and seven centimeters high, three meters and thirty centimeters across with the leaves. You have to really dig it out of the ground and they weigh 150 kilos for each piña.”

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He’s calling this one El Cuarantero or El Gordo for obvious reasons but the price supports the name as well, he’s charging between $700-$1,000 per liter depending on who’s buying. Frequent buyers and those who account for a lot of volume get a discount. That’s pretty hefty, definitely way above my pay grade. At least it’s not the most expensive bottle of mezcal ever which clocked in at a purported $74,000.

I’ll let Erick describe the process and argue for that price point. He says that they did everything by hand, harvested the agave in steep mountain terrain but then had to reinvent the manual process of actually making the mezcal because the mezcalero and his crew had fallen away from tradition. “I paid them to go back to tradition, they already have a tahona but doing it by hand is better so I paid them, the assistants didn’t know how to use a canoe so I paid them to make one, showed them how to use it, and paid them for the extra time and effort it took to pound out the roasted agave.”

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Hand crushing the agave.

Befitting the special nature of this batch Erick wanted a unique bottle so he went to a local ceramics expert who took impressions from the agave leaves to make ceramic bottles. Erick, “wants to immortalize the agave on the bottle” and even this part of the process is connected to a deeper cultural root because his ceramicist is using rare production techniques that, he claims, he rescued from obscurity.  He’s got his finger print on every bottle so he stands behind his work.

The hand crafted ceramic bottles.

The hand crafted ceramic bottles.

It sort of feels like a stunt but he’s pouring his heart and energy into it and swears up and down about how great it is so I believe him. I’m now morbidly curious to taste it. If you want a bottle contact him through his Facebook page. He will be at Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle in November and may be able to bring some bottles.

All photos courtesy of Erick Rodriguez. Here’s a full gallery that documents the process:

Los Borrachos – throwing a mezcal tasting when #lovewins

It takes some cojones to throw a mezcal tasting in San Francisco during the annual SF Pride celebration. Add to that the historic Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage, a Giants home game, and the farewell Grateful Dead concert, and you are looking at truly committed mezcal lovers who made their way through mayhem to taste some really new and exciting mezcals, paired with great eats.

Erick Rodriguez and Adrian Vazquez, Los Borrachos, put together this tasting event at Bartlett Hall to showcase traditional mezcals. In addition to brands already in the market like Wahaka, Tosba, Del Maguey, Don Amado, Alipus,  and Mezcalero there were some new bottles from the Heavy Metl fold – Rey Campero, Mezcaloteca, and Real Minero – which will soon be imported to the United States as well as fresh bottles from Erick’s Almamezcalera label. Totally new to the market and making their debut were Mezcal Los Gentiles and Chaneque.

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How you pace yourself at events like these is the big question. I go for tiny tastes. I also try to focus on mezcals I’ve never had first and see how it goes from there.

Erick Rodriguez of Almamezcalera

Erick Rodriguez of Almamezcalera

My first stop was with Almamezcalera. Erick was pouring three new mezcals all distilled with spices and herbs and made from espadilla, a wild espadin, and distilled in clay and wood. I will not call these “healthy” mezcals, as I think mezcal holds medicinal properties period. I started with the Cilantro and Hoja Santa which was incredibly herbaceous (of course) and vaguely anis like. At 54% it was big, spicy and smooth. Next up was the mezcal distilled with ramos – considered a cleansing herb – and at 61% it was surprisingly non-alcoholic, very green and herbaceous. It felt more medicinal in the same way that Fernet does. Last up was the cinnamon and cacao, also at 61%, which was neither sweet nor perfumey which was what I was expecting and why I tasted it last. All three of these mezcals would work great as both aperitivos and digestivos.

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Next up was Chaneque, a major reason I braved the insanity to come to the tasting. I had tried their madrecuishe once in Oaxaca and was intrigued. Juan Carlos Rodríguez, owner of Chaneque, had the whole lineup, and a couple of special mezcals under the table. I rolled through the 59% Coyote from Matatlan; the Mexicano from Sola de Vega (surprisingly musky and not the usual hot sweetness I’ve come to expect from Mexicanos); a 52% 8yr aged (in glass) Espadin from Zoquitlan which blew my socks off with its thickness and richness, and proof of why an Espadin should never be considered pedestrian; a very dry and mineral 52% Tepestate from Sola de Vega that had a strong bite in its finish; and finally a 47% Tobala from Matatlan that had the perfect sweet finish to it. Chaneque should be in the market in a couple of months with the Espadin, Madrecuishe, and Tobala.

Clase Azul Cenizo Mezcal

Clase Azul Cenizo Mezcal

The 49% Mexicano from Los Gentiles was very subtle and had the lovely sweetness you get with this maguey. I saved their collaborative project from Clase Azul – a 44% Cenizo from Durango – for last. This project is an experiment with only 6,000 liters produced (a drop in the bucket for this tequila brand). Created with the idea of economic development and jobs – it is part reforestation/cultivation of a wild agave, part art project with is ceramic black bottles, and beaded tops, and a price point of $225.

Creme de Poblano soup from Mayahuel

Creme de Poblano soup from Mayahuel

Thankfully among all the mezcal was some pretty delicious food from Lolo, Uno Dos Tacos, Colibri, Mosto, and Mayahuel in Sacramento which wins the prize for most dedication to come all the way to SF in the midst of the traffic nightmare. And their creme of poblano chile soup – delicious. For me the true treat was the delicious drunken cake from Polvorón Panaderia in Hayward – course textured, moist and only slightly sweet. And their Tres Leches is the bomb. If you can’t get to Hayward, don’t worry, you can get the cake at Uno Dos Tacos.

Pastry from Polvorón

Pastry from Polvorón

 

 

 

Tres’ mezcal road II

A signpost on La Ruta del Mezcal.

A signpost on La Ruta del Mezcal.

Yesterday we had a fine time at Tres‘ back room wending our way through their annual La Ruta del Mezcal with a variety of fellow aficionados and industry reps. A special shout out to Jayson Naona who organized everything. We obviously need more tastings like this.

A few items of note:

Erick "Almamezcalera" Rodriguez pours at Ruta del Mezcal

Erick “Almamezcalera” Rodriguez pours at Ruta del Mezcal

Two of the bottles Erick was pouring.

Two of the bottles Erick was pouring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erick Rodriguez aka Erick Almamezcalera poured some really interesting bottles. His batches are always small and distinctive. Yesterday he was pouring a Salmiana from San Luis de Potosi that was incredibly spicy and peppery even finding jalapeño notes. It would be a great match for meals. His Karwinskii was the mezcal equivalent of a spiced mango, full of classic agave fruit and peppery spiciness. By far the strangest thing at his table was the pechuga de iguana which flummoxes my descriptive powers. A lightening poll of other people I knew found similar responses that ranged from “otherworldly” to “indescribable.” It was certainly powerful, strong flavors and strong alcohol.

Erick also displayed the unique ceramic bottles from the 50-year-old agave mezcal he has started to sell called El Cuarenteño. Get into touch with him through his Facebook page if you’re interested in that. We’ll have a bit more on that project soon. And he was selling some really nice custom copitas which are well worth a look.

T-shirts in effect at Ruta del Mezcal

T-shirts in effect at Ruta del Mezcal

Bruxo gets into the T-shirt trade.

Bruxo gets into the T-shirt trade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mezcal t-shirts are officially a thing with the El Jolgorio crew wearing a variety, Bruxo offering its variant, Erick sporting his design and a few other versions wandering around. I’d be remiss if we didn’t mention ours, we’re already working on new designs so clearly there’s a trend here.

El Jolgorio had a big showing at a table manned by three people and looked constantly busy. It’s hard to read too much into that alone but the visibility of those bottles at bars and liquor stores tells me that they’re making a big impact. Their upcoming tepeztate is definitely something to taste, sweet and well balanced.

El Bruxo table at Ruta del Mezcal

El Bruxo table at Ruta del Mezcal

El Bruxo's marketing focus on their mezcaleros

El Bruxo’s marketing focus on their mezcaleros

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was El Buxo’s semi-official launch in North America so consider yourself lucky if you were there. They were pouring one through five of their series which is much more extensive in Mexico. The number three Barril was a stand out. Their California brand ambassador, Irais Monroy, told me that they may bring in others as well, keep your eyes peeled. It’s really nice to see that their marketing is focused on their mezcaleros and the production features of each mezcal in their list.

Real Minero's Largo, at 54% it's something to contend with.

Real Minero’s Largo, at 54% it’s something to contend with.

The Real Minero, Rey Campero, Mezcaloteca line up.

The Real Minero, Rey Campero, Mezcaloteca line up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Real Minero, Rey Campero, and Mezcaloteca continued to prime the North American pump: They’re being poured at tastings like this one because they’re not completely certified yet. The word is they will be legal and in stores soon. When? That depends on the TTB but it could be as soon as summer. It’s the same line up you may have tasted at Mexico in a Bottle with things like the Real Minero Largo, Rey Campero Jabili, and Mezcaolteca’s Espadin with cacao. I’m sure they will strike a cord with many an aficionado and be the gateway taste for anyone new to mezcal.

 

Mezcal Wahaka's line up at Ruta de Mezcal

Mezcal Wahaka’s line up at Ruta de Mezcal

Wahaka’s Raza Zaidi was pouring their line up including the two vegan pechugas from their “limited editions” series. They are indeed limited, once gone, gone forever, and since they’re almost out of stock grab your bottles today. Wahaka will be releasing a four new bottles in that series which should be really interesting. This is where their mezcalero Berto gets to experiment. More of that please! The new bottles in the limited edition series should be on store shelves soon. Again, when exactly depends on the TTB.

A few more photos from the tasting:

Jake Lustig, fresh back from Agave Love in Australia, was pouring Don Amado and Mina Real mezcals

Jake Lustig, fresh back from Agave Love in Australia, was pouring Don Amado and Mina Real mezcals

A group photo of all the bar tenders, brand ambassadors, and related folks from Ruta del Mezcal II.

A group photo of all the bar tenders, brand ambassadors, and related folks from Ruta del Mezcal II.

It's officially closing time as bartenders lit the fumes from a greater than 50% bottle of mezcal and watched the flames burn down the bottle.

It’s officially closing time as bartenders lit the fumes from a greater than 50% bottle of mezcal and watched the flames burn down the bottle.

Erick Rodriguez gets what he wants

Checking in with Erick Rodriguez of Alma Mezcalera and plenty of other projects. He sources much of the mezcal behind the Fundacion Agaves Silvestres’ Vino de Mezcales series, guides tours of mezcal production zones, and is a real political activist when it comes to defining the future of mezcal. We’ve called him the Indiana Jones of Mezcal exactly because he combines all of these ventures in a constantly evolving state of political action. Always ethical, personable, and ready to head off into the heart of Mexico in search of its next mezcal.

The latest update is that it sounds like the NORMA as proposed in meetings across Mexico and in a recent presentation by Danny Mena in NY is going to become law. The really big news is that Erick’s definition of a traditional mezcal labeled as “Ancestral” in the proposed law looks like it’s going to remain intact. That’s pretty incredible considering the strength of industrial producers and the dynamic within this discussion. While still a niche product distillation, exports, and interest in mezcal is booming so hopefully this regulation will lay the foundation for stable growth. Everyone I know has been unusually encouraged by the process because it has been unusually transparent and quick. The organization that oversees mezcal regulation in Mexico, COMERCAM, has had open meetings and actively engaged with a variety of people in the business. This despite all the dark rumors.

I chatted with Erick to go back over his original idea and to check in on where he sees the process today. He had a pretty succinct description of the financial inequities inherent in the current system: “Look small producers can’t compete with industrial producers who are making 5,000 liters a day. If you’re small you may make  30-60 liters in one run. We can’t compete legally if we want to call it mezcal. We can’t even pay taxes because if you make a traditional mezcal the ABV is going to be higher and taxes rise with the ABV so industrial producers even get lower taxes.”

That’s been a problem for a while as the vast numbers of small producers try to make a place for themselves inside Mexico and on the international market. The tax rate has been an especially tough barrier for domestic distribution because if you’re used to drinking mezcal as part of your daily life, once you get that official stamp of approval from the government, the price of it increases for your customers. Erick was recently in Michoacan where local producers asked him to talk to the government about that issue. He said “it’s like wine in other cultures, you drink it daily but now the government wants to increase the price on us small guys while the big guys pay less.”

Erick was the person who really got the Ancestral label into the current NORMA proposal despite consistent protests that it would cloud customer information about mezcal “They keep saying they don’t want to confuse people. But it’s a necessary distinction. They don’t even want me to speak about it. They want to erase that this type of mezcal exists because it doesn’t look good for their mezcal.” And by their mezcal Erick means big industrially produced brands.

To go back over this quickly I’m appropriating John McEvoy’s nice table of the proposal here. Read his blog post on the recent presentation of this in New York both to get more depth on the topic and to get a sense for the degree of transparency involved. For the first time in collective memory there has been some form of road show about these regulations which is revelatory in its own right!

Three New Categories Cooking Grinding Fermentation Distillation
Mezcal Pit ovens, elevated stone ovens, and autoclaves – diffuser use under review Tahona, Chilean or Egyptian mill, trapiche, shredder or series of mills Wood, masonry or stainless steel tanks Stills, continuous stills, columns stills made of copper or steel
Artisanal Mezcal Pit ovens or elevated stone ovens Tahona, Chilean or Egyptian mill, mallets, trapiche, or shredder Wood, clay or masonry tanks, animal skins, hollows in stone, earth or tree trunks, and process may use maguey fibers Direct fire on copper stills or clay pots and coils made of clay, wood, copper, or stainless steel, and process may include maguey fibers
Ancestral Mezcal Pit ovens only Tahona, Chilean or Egyptian mill, or mallets Wood, clay or masonry tanks, animal skins, hollows in stone, earth or tree trunks, and processmust use maguey fibers Direct fire on clay pots and coils made clay or wood, and process mustinclude maguey fibers

The discussion about the distinction between Aristanal and Ancestral has been pretty well talked to death but take a look at Pedro Jimenez to the barricades post here, John McEvoy’s response, and our own screed about the threats from excessive industrialization. It boils down to making a distinction between people who want credit for continuing to produce mezcal exactly as it has been for hundreds of years. We think  that there’s a good argument for this both for the product and the marketplace because it allows makers like those Erick works with to distinguish themselves just like Cognac or Bourdeaux Crus.

The best news is that it looks like there’s going to be a clean vote on the NORMA within weeks, possibly even this Wednesday. From what Erick has heard the three variations of mezcal will be sealed into the law and three new states will be certified as producing mezcal, Morelos, Estado de Mexico, and Puebla.

And just as they acknowledge those states even more are emerging as mezcal producers. Erick is off to Veracruz where he recently found a bunch of mezcal distillers who blend their products in a local factory and label them as destillados de agave. He said “I told COMERCAM to mention Veracruz, they don’t even know that mezcal is made there! I asked them [the Veracruz producers] if they want to be part of the new NORMA  and they told me ‘No we’re happy with what we have.’ so I’m going to visit the small producers and find the good ones.” Just like he always does. Stay tuned because Erick is working on a very interesting distilling project that we’ll write about very soon.

Digesting COMERCOM’s suggested changes to mezcal

Since they were released May 19th COMERCAM’s suggested revisions to how mezcals are labeled have been the source of a vigorous discussion. Clayton Szczech at Experience Mezcal has the most lucid description of what’s in the proposal that we’ve seen so definitely read his piece thoroughly.

Erick Rodriguez has long been active in this discussion and his Facebook post presents his position succinctly, here’s his opening salvo about this latest circular to give you an idea of the passion and debate this announcement has sparked:

Que puedo decir… Me cagan estos pendejos les falta tener más información y no sólo querer tomar decisiones por sus huevos, si no se revisan muchas cosas injustas para los mezcales tradicionales o una división de categorías ( industriales, artesanales y tradicionales) se seguirán comercializando “pese a quien le pese” (así como se menciona) dejemos por un momento las tradiciones, costumbres lo cultural los que trabajamos con estas familias que por siempre han sido aplastadas por sus intereses económicos y sociales, no los abandonaremos, no les diremos dejen de producir, porque seguro migraran y por consecuencia la desintegración familiar también se violenta la garantía individual de libertad de trabajo, consagrada en el art. 5 de nuestra constitución.
Habrán tomado algún día buen mezcal estas gentes?
Neee! yo me chingo un Mezcalito pal’alma…
Abracen a sus maestros. 

In brief the circular proposes changing the labeling to “mezcal” which sounds like it means industrially produced and a new category of “mezcal artesanal/tradicional” which means pretty much what you expect: Agave hearts have to be cooked underground, crushed, fermented, and then double distilled. The one interesting note about the artesanal/tradicional category is that the cooked agave hearts can be crushed with mechanical means. This is not fully surprising as you do see some palenques that otherwise are fully “traditional” in their process using mechanized chippers. 

However, circular 20 seems to cloud the distinction in the main proposal so we are going to do some more digging on that question. We chatted with a few people already producing mezcal in a traditional and artisanal fashion who say that most changes for them would be relatively small and mean slight changes to their labels. We haven’t been able to find anything on the question of whether this proposal would open the door to a tiered system for certification costs and tax rates but it certainly appears to create the legal distinction needed for that. We’ll have plenty of time to dig since it will probably take years for this to wind its way through the Mexican political system.

Oaxaca’s daily La Imparcial reported the story with quotes from COMERCOM’s head Hippocrates Nolasco Cancino.

 

 

 

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: