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Posts tagged ‘michoacan’

Mezcales de Leyenda’s limited release project

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.

The new Mezcales de Leyenda line-up

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.

Grandes Leyendas

A cupreata from Northern Guerrero recognizes mezcaleros over 70 and benefits the family of Don Anastacio.

Cementerio Mezcalero

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).

Mezcales Unicos

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.

The Penca Verde cocktail

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!

Michoacan’s creeping mezcal infiltration begins… now

Here’s a quick update from Mezcalistas correspondents and fellow travelers Doug Wheeler and Peggy Stein from Michoacan. They traveled there this June and July sourcing crafts for Peggy’s business Mexico By Hand which guides tours through Michoacan and brings high quality artisanal crafts from the state into the United States. She regularly imports incredible finds which are sold at various museum stores and her web site. I cherish the pieces that I own, the only thing that’s keeping me from buying more is an aggressive budget.

Emilio among the mezcal

This last trip Doug and Peggy visited the Don Mateo vinata in Rancho Pino Bonito, municipio de Morelia, estado de Michoacán, Mexico where they sampled a flor mezcal made from a cupreata agave fermented 4-5 days resulting in an ABV well into the 60 percent range. Per Doug “Oh and it tasted smooth. Very smooth.” Here’s Peggy taking a sip. Note the slamming t-shirt.

The family boasts four generations of mezcal makers who have survived through the thick but mostly thin of life in the Michoacan countryside.

Emilio at the Don Mateo vinata

Emilio, his father and uncle run the vinata. Emilio is in charge of production and other business decisions. Emilio is actually American because he was born in Houston but has since lived his entire life in Mexico which adds yet more wrinkles to our cross border lives. Among the many fascinating things about this vinata and the world of mezcal in Michoacan is the level of cross brand collaboration. Doug was introduced to Don Mateo by Juan Mendez from Uasïsï Mezcal which you may have been lucky enough to sample at last year’s Mexico: Mezcal in a Bottle and will almost definitely find on shelves later this or early next year. That level of collaboration is really nice to see among competitors, they clearly understand that they’re stronger together when working to export to the American market. We don’t know when Don Mateo will reach the United States, keep your eyes peeled!
A fermentation barrel at Don Mateo

Update from Morelia’s big mezcal event

One of Erick Mezcal Almamezcalera's snapshots from the Encuentro in Morelia, 11/28-11/30, 2014.

One of Erick Mezcal Almamezcalera’s snapshots from the Encuentro in Morelia, 11/28-11/30, 2014.

Erick Mezcal Almamezcalera has a great update from the Encuentro Nacional del Mezcal which took place over the weekend following Thanksgiving in Morelia.

The fact that this event happened at all tells you quite a bit about the importance of the mezcal industry in Michoacan. All those bubbles of interest you’ve been seeing on this blog, hearing through aficionados, and the industry as a whole truly are signs of a greater development. Highlights from Erick’s account of the meeting include his latest updates on what’s happening with the proposed Norm changes that will redefine what it means to be a mezcal and the participation from some great people north of the border.

Take a look on his Facebook page.

The bat in mezcal

Uasisi bottleAmong the cluster of new mezcals at the Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle tasting we were very curious to try Mezcal Uasïsï which literally translates to “Mezcal of the Bat” in the indigenous Purepecha language in Michocan where it is produced. Our great friends Peggy Stein and Doug Wheeler, who run Mexico by Hand a fantastic small business that brings folk arts and artisanal crafts from Mexico directly to the United States, poured Mezcal Uasïsï at the tasting.

Fellow blogger Cristina Potters who writes about the Mexican culinary universe at Mexico Cooks already wrote a great piece about the mezcal which we were fortunate enough to republish in Mezcaliastas. I was really curious about it so I talked to Mezcal Uasïsï’s brand manager Juan Mendez to get a sense of their process and what’s going on in the world of Michoacan mezcal.

First of all, let’s get to the pronunciation: Juan rattled off a number of ways native Michoacanos would pronounce it but recommended Washici. Uasïsï’ literally means “bat” which is an allusion to one of the agave plant’s natural pollinators. Plus it’s just a great name.

Juan told me that the agave is all grown around Etucuaro just northwest of Patzcuaro and is part of a continuous 400 year old tradition. If true that makes the local mezcal industry similar in age to Oaxaca’s and says quite a bit about the widely distributed Mexican distilling history.  Juan plays the role of brand manager and works closely with the mastro mezcalero Ignacio Pérez Scott who makes Uasïsï and represents the fourth generation of his family to make mezcal. As with many brand creators Juan works closely with Ignacio to make the mezcal and maintain the brand. Juan’s mother Maira is the general manager while his two brothers and two sisters also share in the business.

The mezcal is produced entirely from wild Agave cupreata which takes eight to ten years to mature. The local growing conditions are very different from what we’re used to seeing in the valleys of southern Oaxaca. Most of the plants are at 1,075 meters above sea level and grow in valleys of dark, rich, soils shot through with the pine groves that you see everywhere in Michoacan.

Production is completely traditional starting with the underground oven which the maestro mezcalero dug out himself and lined with bricks. The roast time is 72 hours for 2.5-3 tons of piñas. The roasted maguey is then crushed by hand with an adze in a wooden canoe. It is fermented solely with wild yeasts and takes exactly 8 days. Per Juan fermentation is “exactly a Monday to Monday process and we still use an alambique de madera which means that we lose 30-40% of production because of the still. But it’s very traditional for us.”

I was curious whether they’re branching out into mezcal distilled from other agaves, making a pechuga or doing anything else different but Juan tells me that they’re very focused on the mezcal joven for export because they want to keep things simple in order to make sure that the process goes as quickly as possible. They also make a mezcal that is infused with tamarind for two months but they don’t have plans to export it. Juan told me it’s just too tricky to get it registered so they’re keeping it local for now. I’d love to try that out because the classic pechugas made with fruits are pretty incredible.

Right now they’re making 1,500 liters/year of the joven and, Juan, claims, they can ramp up to 5,000 liters/month if they have the export pipeline. I was very curious about this scale because most mezcal producers would struggle both with agave supply and still throughput but Juan told me that his maestro mezcalero owns more than 200 hectares, which is just about 500 acres, and that 70% of that land has cupreata  growing on it.

The sustainability of this operation has to be really tricky. Juan and I talked a bit about that issue and he acknowledged that they’re working on cultivating cupreata on a small portion of the land. Right now they only use wild because the cupreata doesn’t clone itself. They have to let the quiotes grow before they can cut them down to collect the seeds for their nurseries where germination takes 2-3 months. With luck new cupreata plants grow up over two years when they’re ready to be planted. Juan told me that “many producers are using the plants without replanting them. It’s very important for us to do this sustainably. We don’t want to damage the wild life. We don’t want to bother the bats because they do the pollination process. The majority of our maguey is still reproduced by bats, perhaps 80% by bats and birds.”

As we were finishing up our talk Juan talked a bit more about the realities of the bureaucratic and economic systems that he and many in the mezcal industry are facing. His is the classic lament of the mezcal world because he is waiting for Comercam to visit and finalize the certification of Uasïsï so that they can legally start exporting. They’re already looking for a distributor but for the time being you’ll need to hunt it down in Mexico City, make the trek to Michoacan or know a special someone to bring some back for you.

Michoacan mezcal makes quite an impression

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Lately the mezcal world has been swooning for Michoacan. First it became street legal in 2012 joining the states that can legally label their agave distillate mezcal. Lots of people already knew that the local mezcal was fantastic, it just wasn’t reaching far beyond the state’s borders. Then stories started circulating about the cupreata, the wooden stills, and many other novel elements used frequently in the state.

And then we finally got a bottle here in the US through the Fundacion Agaves Silvestres Vinos de Mezcal line and it blew our minds. The production method alone causes fits of the imagination, cupreata isn’t seen anywhere else, then it’s hand mashed in a wooden tub appropriately called a canoe, fermented in stone vats; oh and the still is made out of wood and copper.

Maria Elena Perez's contribution to the Wahaka and Fundacion Agaves Silvestres project.

Maria Elena Perez’s contribution to the Wahaka and Fundacion Agaves Silvestres project.

I figured that Michoacan had to be part of my next Mexican itinerary and that we’d find out more then but others have been faster to the punch. Per our repost of Cristina Potter’s Mexico Cooks! blog she made the trip recently and found a fantastic palenque. A few weeks ago an attendee at our Meet the Karwinskis Mezcal Martes event at Lolo strongly suggested that our next tasting should feature solely Michoacan mezcals. Then out of the blue Ron Kunze, one of our long time fans, correspondents, and fellow travelers popped up with news that he’d just returned from Michoacan with a suitcase full of mezcal that we needed to sample RIGHT… THIS … MINUTE!

Not one to look gift mezcal in the mouth I jumped right in for a miniature survey of the world of Michoacan distilling. We started with the Bruxo Pechuga. Strangely it looks like Bruxo is available in England but not in the United States which means that we’re beholden to shoppers like Ron who are willing to bring a bottle back. This one has a very distinct yellow tint but it’s not as unctuous as some pechugas and quite flavorful without being fruity.

Bruxo Pechuga

Note the yellow tint of the mezcal.

Note the yellow tint of the mezcal.

While tasting the Bruxo we perused a mezcal menu Ron brought back from a restaurant in Morelia that he swore by. It gives a a great sense for the variety and complexity of mezcal production there. 1.5 ounce pours, lots of cupreatas but many more agaves, and a clear sense of centrality to the dining experience.

The mezcal menu from a restaurant in Morelia.

The mezcal menu from a restaurant in Morelia.

Next up the most distinctive bottle of the day, La Perla del Tsitzio Cupreata Enterrado 9 meses which has the most beguilingly fruity, even bubble gum like nose, incredibly full mouth feel, and an incredibly fruity palate. It reminded me of a fruity zinfandel. Per the product description it was buried underground in a glass container for nine months which sounds fantastic, they do that to some wines in the Mediterranean and distillates in the Balkans, but I still haven’t been able to find a convincing explanation of how this method alters the bottle’s contents.  The La Perla site has a description of this method which, while mouth watering, still leaves me a asking questions:

En el mes de octubre se lleva  a cabo el desentierro del mezcal reposado en vidrio bajo tierra durante nueve meses, el primer lote de producción que es el de enero se entierra dejando una muestra fuera cabe señalar que es una producción limitada de 350 litros promedio ya que se somete al reposo únicamente el primer lote de producción  a los nueve meses se desentierra y se lleva a cabo una sesión sensorial comparando olores y sabores del mezcal reposado y el blanco del mismo lote enseguida se brinda una comida con platillos mezcaleros preparados por las cocineras tradicionales disfrutando de un buen ambiente.

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La Perla del Tzitzio

After that we jumped into the land of the unlabeled bottle. Lots of mezcal never makes it into branded bottles and Michoacan is no different. Take this fine, apparently hand blown, blue bottle. Ron told me that the mezcalero said the bottle was almost more expensive than the mezcal inside which, once you get past the beauty of the bottle, is a pretty sad testament to the undervaluation of mezcal in Mexico.

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This next example looks medicinal partially because it came out of a pharmacy so I bet they just bottle it in the most readily available plastic bottles, the same ones that we use for rubbing alcohol. The mezcal within was of the rougher and more alcoholic variety. For once, the bottle did not belie its contents.  To the right you can see an example of a much more normative technique of mezcal bottling. We all have concerns about how rapidly the plastic breaks down but for consumption not too far from the creation date and expedience this definitely does the trick.

2014-07-22 18.47.55Unknown Michoacan mezcal

Last of all we sampled this nicely packaged gift set which contained an amazing little universe of silvestres that are generally hard to find if not impossible in the US, especially the Sierra Negra. None of these were revelatory, all were simply good, reminders of the remarkably high level of production across Mexico. I’m also an admirer of the small bottles wrapped in a single package because it’s a great entry point for anyone like the 95% of mezcal drinkers who only take the occasional sip. And it makes a tremendous gift so take note distributors and brands!2014-07-22 18.48.28

Obviously Michoacan has arrived as a mezcal producer and is gearing up to move into the United States in a big way. Just in recent weeks a few  producers told me that they’re ready to go, just waiting on COMERCAM certification or the final details of their export arrangements before they start shopping their products around. We’ve heard rumors that Bruxo will arrive soon so our fingers are crossed. In the interim we are proud to announce that you’ll have a chance to taste some Michoacan mezcal at our September 14th Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle event so definitely buy your tickets today!

Mexico Cooks! guest blogs Michoacán Mezcal Uasïsï, Brought to You By Mayahuel–The Goddess of Maguey

This week we are re-publishing a trio of posts from the brilliant Cristina Potters at Mexico Cooks! about pulque, mezcal, and what Michoacan brings to the table. We started with pulque on Wednesday, moved to a mezcal primer Friday, and we wrap up with today’s post on a very special mezcal from Michoacan.

The region is seeing renewed interest since it joined the ranks of officially recognized mezcals. Recently we’ve tasted quite a few from the mezcal obsessed who have toted them home in their luggage. We look forward to seeing some on specialty liquor store shelves soon. You can find the original version of this post here.

Michoacán Mezcal Uasïsï, Brought to You By Mayahuel–The Goddess of Maguey

Mezcal Camioncito
When you read last week’s article, Mexico Cooks! had just boarded a guajolotero (often called ‘chicken bus’, in English slang) to go with friends to meet a mezcal producer in Michoacán.  I also left you with homework, class: did you read the article linked here?  Give it a once-over, if you didn’t already, and then let’s get going down the road.  Click on any photo to enlarge it for a better look.  Photos by Mexico Cooks! unless otherwise noted.

Mezcal Cupreata 3
Close to the northern edge of the Tierra Caliente, outside Etúcuaro, Michoacán, there’s a well-hidden vinata (mezcal-making setup)–it’s just beyond this field ofcupreata maguey.  To get there, you need to go with someone who knows how to find it.  The mezcal producer, Ignacio Pérez Scott, is the fourth generation of his family to dedicate himself to production of the liquor.  He produces traditional mezcal which he then sells to select bottlers for branding.  We’re visiting the vinata with Maira Malo Hernández, owner of the mezcal brand Uasïsï (wah-SHEE-shee), and her daughters, Viridiana and Mayra Méndez Malo.  Sra. Malo’s daughters and her sons, Juan, Carlos, and Jorge Méndez Malo are also part of the Uasïsï team.

Mezcal Don Nacho con Maira
In the shade of the vinata, mezcal producer Ignacio Pérez Scott shares an affectionate moment with Maira Malo Hernández.

Uasïsï, the name Sra. Malo chose for her mezcal, is the Purépecha word for bat.  It’s this bat that pollinates thecupreata maguey, among other magueys.

Mezcal con Flor
Don Nacho (“don” is an honorific title, used with great respect, and “Nacho” is the Mexican nickname for Ignacio) told me that his cupreata maguey (seen here with its spike of yellow quiote–the maguey flower) takes eight to ten years to mature. Once it matures and throws up the flower spike, the plant can be harvested.

Mezcal Maira Partiendo Piñas
When the producer harvests the maguey plant, the first task is to remove the quiote (flower stem); the pencas (leaves) are removed next. The pencas were removed from the places where you can see the diamond shapes on the outside of the hearts.  The pencas can be used in cooking, particularly in making traditional barbacoa and mixiote. The corazón (heart) also known as piña (pineapple) of each maguey plant is then chopped into smaller pieces for baking. In the photo above, Mezcal Uasïsï owner Maira Malo Hernández pitched in to chop some of the piñas. Photo courtesy Uasïsï MMH (Maira Malo Hernández).

Mezcal Tamaño de la Piña
Here you can see the size of the chopped piñas de maguey.  Each piña can weigh as much as 80 to 100 pounds.  Photo courtesy Uasïsï MMH.

Uasïsï Pino al Horno
Pine logs, stacked firmly into the fire pit.  Photo courtesy Uasïsï MMH.

Mezcal Horno
Don Nacho is tamping the volcanic rock evenly into the pit, on top of the pine logs.  Photo courtesy Uasïsï MMH.

Uasïsï Horno Incendido
The fire in the pit is red hot and smoking.  Photo courtesy Uasïsï MMH.

Uasïsï Piñas and Fire
The fire is burning evenly now, and the piñas are ready to be placed in the baking pit.  The pit will be loaded with approximately 150 piñas weighing a total of about four tons.  Photo courtesy Uasïsï MMH.

Uasïsï Horno Tapado
The burning pit is covered with petates (woven reed mats) and then with mounded earth.  The piñas need to bake for a full week.  Photo courtesy Uasïsï MMH.

Mezcal Piñas al Horno
After a week, the piñas are thoroughly baked and are now uncovered.  At the bottom right-hand corner of the photo, you can see some petates (woven reed mats). Photo courtesy Uasïsï MMH.

Mezcal Chopping Trough
The more than six foot long pine-lined trench where the baked piñas are hand-chopped and smashed with axes.

Mezcal Machacando Piñas 2
The vinata crew has moved some of the baked piñas to the trough and are hand-smashing them with axes so that they can be placed into the fermenting tanks. Don Nacho and his crew use no machinery during any stage of their mezcal production.  Photo courtesy Uasïsï MMH.

Mezcal Tinacos
These are the tinacos (covered storage tanks) where the baked and smashed piñas are fermented.  The fermentation process takes a week.

Mezcal Alambique
Post-fermentation, the process of double-distillation begins.  This is the alambique (still), made of pine.  As the mezcal distills, the metal top allows condensation to drip back into the still.

Mezcal Alambique 2
The other side of the alambique.  Don Nacho explained that the wooden still will last for about one year; after that, the wood will be replaced.

Mezcal Fire Hole
This is the fire hole, where a pine wood fire actually cooks the fermented maguey piña mash to distill it.  Above the metal arch of this fire hole are several inches of concrete, the top of which you can see in the photo just before this one.  No fire actually touches the wooden still.

Uasïsï Ad
The finished product: Uasïsï Mezcal Joven.  Photo courtesy Uasïsï MMH.

Uasïsï Bottle with Labels
Both sides of the bottle.  The front label, on the right, tells you that this is joven (young, unaged) mezcal with 48% alcohol content.  The back label, on the left, gives all the pertinent information about the mezcal: the number and lot of the bottle, the exact provenance (village or state) of the mezcal, as well as the type of maguey used.  Photo courtesy Uasïsï MMH.

Mexcal Uasïsï stand
Tamarind or pear flavored mezcal Uasïsï: made slightly sweet with real fruit, it’s perfect for dessert.  Photo courtesy Uasïsï MMH.

Cata Mezcal UNLA
This Uasïsï tasting was held at UNLA (Universidad Latina de América) in Morelia, Michoacán.

And what, you ask, does Uasïsï joven actually taste like? To start with, if you have tasted other mezcales, you probably and immediately think smokey. Uasïsï is not in any way smokey.  To my palate, Uasïsï joven tastes fresh, like the green of the maguey.  It has slight lingering tones of Michoacán pine.  It carries a hint of flowers.  Because the alcohol content is high, the first sip feels strong in the front of the mouth. As it moves to the back of the tongue, it mellows.  And the moment you swallow that first drop, filled with the flavors of Michoacán, you immediately want another.  Uasïsï is an extraordinary drink, destined to be a star in the world of mezcal.

Mexcalli Mezcalería
Now that you know you want a bottle (or two or three–don’t forget about the tamarind dessert mezcal) of Uasïsï mezcal, where can you get it?  The Uasïsï home base is Mex*Calli Mezcalería, Buenavista #5, Pátzcuaro, Michoacán.

Cristina con Maira y Luis Robledo Morelia en Boca May 2014
Otherwise, my good friend Maira Malo Hernández and I (pictured at Morelia en Boca 2014 with Mexico City chef and chocolatier Luis Robledo Richards) invite you to buy Uasïsï at:

  • Itacate Morelia
    Blvd. Juan Pablo II #315
    Morelia, Michoacán
  • Agua y Sal Cebichería
    Campos Elíseos #199-A
    Col. Polanco, México D.F.
  • La Catrina Comedor & Mezcalería
    Av. 5 de Mayo #661
    Zamora, Michoacán

It’s entirely possible that Uasïsï mezcal will be coming soon to a liquor store near you.  Check back with Mexico Cooks!from time to time and we’ll keep you up to date on the possibility of export to countries outside Mexico.  And if you’re planning to be in Mexico and would like to visit thevinataMexico Cooks! can make that dream come true.  The experience is magical.

Mezcal in Michoacan

Mezcal can be made in many places, 7 Mexican states to be precise, so you would expect wide variation in tastes and how it’s made. Here’s a quick post from Alvin Starkman about how things are done in a particular palenque, or vinata as it’s called in Michoacan.


Update: A reader points out that Michoacan received it’s denominación de origen in February so there are now 8 states in Mexico authorized to make mezcal.  We apologize for that error.