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Posts tagged ‘Raza Zaidi’

Is mezcal sustainable?

Left to right, Susan Coss, Raza Zaidi, Judah Kuper, and Ivan Saldaña.

Left to right, Susan Coss, Raza Zaidi, Judah Kuper, and Ivan Saldaña.

The evening before this year’s Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle San Francisco we hosted a panel titled “What We Talk About When We Talk About Sustainability” to dig into the raft of questions about sustainability in the mezcal industry. Aside from our debt to Raymond Carver the panel was inspired by the consistent questions from drinkers and bartenders throughout the world about how mezcal can be made in a way that ensures environmental, cultural, and economic sustainability.

The topic comes up in almost every conversation and since we had a team of brand heavyweights in town the moment was ideal for the discussion. Susan Coss moderated the discussion between Judah Kuper from Vago, Raza Zaidi from Wahaka, and Ivan Saldaña from Montelobos. We were also privileged to host many other brand representatives in the audience including Fidencio’s Arik Torren, Erick Rodriguez, William Scanlan, and more. Read more

Mezcal boot camp

In Situ's Ulises Torrentera and Wahaka's Raza Zaidi discuss the finer points of mezcal.

In Situ’s Ulises Torrentera and Wahaka’s Raza Zaidi discuss the finer points of mezcal.

Yesterday was a good day. I had a nice lunch at Calavera with Susan and then spent a little over two hours in Ulises Torrentera’s “Arte del Mezcal West Coast Tour” sponsored by Wahaka and organized by the same brand’s Raza Zaidi. Suffice to say that it was a cozy and mind expanding gathering on Calavera’s deck what with that late fall sunshine providing the perfect mood lighting as Ulises guided us through his thoughts on mezcal while Raza translated.

Today the tour heads to San Diego and Thursday Los Angeles before it heads to the North West. Full dates are on the Facebook page here. If you have a chance, go. It’s a casual and really fun encounter for anyone whether they’re a hard core aficionado or a complete newbie.

Kudos to Ulises and Sandra for making the voyage, we can’t say enough about Raza and Wahaka for setting this up. The altruistic spirit that animates events like this is what Susan and I are all about. But enough about us, here’s a quick clip of Ulises discussing the origin and importance of ensembles, apologies for the breaks which were for translation. He went on to talk about how they may just model the future of sustainable mezcal. For more on that and other topics you’ll need to attend one of his talks.

Tamarindo brings mezcal and tequila to Oakland in style

IMG_2467Susan and I had a great time at Tamarindo’s innaugural Mezcal and Tequila Festival yesterday. Tamarindo is an ideal spot, fantastic antonjitos in the hot weather, and that bumping downtown Oakland scene. It’s like the Mission 15 years ago with a diverse mix of people hanging out and an incredible scene that includes the Trappist next door, Umamimart around the corner and much more action in the neighborhood. Alfonso Dominguez has done a lot to foster that atmosphere and his influence was evident everywhere from including Umamimart’s gold plated bar ware on the bar to his family managing the entire scene including his dozing son Diego.

The tasting was arranged around cocktails and brands, here’s another spot that Alfonso managed to integrate some of the local vibe because each cocktail was concocted by a local bartender ranging from Troy Bayless and Jacobo Juarez up at Duende to Scott Baird over the bay at Trick Dog. Reps like Jake Lustig backed his diverse line up of Don Amado mezcal, Tequila ArteNOM, and Mina Real at one table (unfortunately they weren’t pouring one of his greatest and most recent discoveries, a Fernet Vallet and Amargo Angostura to look out for) while Raza Zaidi backed Wahaka at another. My tasting highlight was the brand spanking new Mezcalero #7 which Craft’s Katherine Lewis was pouring for the first time in the US. The mixture of Sierra Negro, Tepetazatae, and Tobala is something to seek out once it hits bars and retail shelves, ideally later this month.

Best of all it seems like this sort of tasting is starting to happen a lot more. Mezcal and agave distillates may finally have a moment to celebrate. We’ll certainly be doing our part for the cause with a tasting of two exciting silvestres in San Francisco this Saturday night and look forward to doing many more.

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It’s official, Wahaka is organic

We were interested to hear that Wahaka finally received its USDA Organic certification earlier this month. I chatted with Raza Zaidi, Wahaka’s San Francisco principal, via e-mail to see what the brand is up to. The organic designation is particularly interesting since only three other mezcals (Del Maguey, Montelobos, and Mezcales de Leyenda) have it and it seems like a powerful factor in the American market. Of course, if we missed another mezcal with that designation definitely tell us, this is a really interesting piece of the mezcal industry that we’re investigating further.

Raza told me that the certification process was pretty straight forward for Wahaka because “we were always 100% organic” and only use two ingredients estate grown agave and water. Susan and I have visited a number of palenques and know that most of them are organic simply because they operate in a traditional manner. They don’t use any pesticides or additives because they’ve always depended on the simplest of factors to create their mezcals. You actually get the sense that many palenqueros are suspicious of the organic label exactly because it carries the whiff of something foreign and bureaucratic.

Since most of the artisanal or craft mezcals we’ve found are de facto organic I’m really curious how mezcal makers see the value of the USDA stamp. Raza told me that Wahaka knows that the label will increase domestic sales but also brings with it a positive impression of quality. “Our motivation was to increase awareness of the purity of the product and to increase sales in US.” Raza put a point on the troublesome reputation that organic has in Mexico by noting that “most people in Mexico know that artisanal mezcals are by definition organic, here in US not so much.” That is, obviously, a continuing battle in the American food industry.

Wahaka has a bunch of other little news bits, they’re now bottling their silvestres, the Joven Tobalá and Joven Madre Cuishe, at 42% and will release a sample pack of their 5 mezcals in 200ml bottles. Just like those great St. George gin sample packs which make perfect gifts or a quick portable bar. There’s also that imminent Vino de Mezcal series that we mentioned a while back; that series should hit a mezcaleria near you later this month. Wahaka is also aiming for a special end of year release. It’s keyed to the holidays but we’ll see whether they can overcome all the bureaucratic hurdles before then. We certainly hope so.

Vino de Mezcal tasting

The full Vino de Mezcal lineup.

The full Vino de Mezcal lineup.

The Sunday before last I was privileged to attend a small tasting of Wahaka Mezcal’s latest line, Vino de Mezcal. As one of Wahaka’s founders, Raza Zaidi, explained Wahaka has a small non profit foundation called Fundacion de Agaves Silvestres dedicated to reforestring wild agaves. This is a pressing issue in the mezcal industry since wild agaves, called silvestres in Spanish, are in incredibly high demand, reproduce slowly and have been difficult to cultivate.

Raza explained that he and his partners feel an obligation to help repopulate silvestres and already have a nursery set up in the fields of their property in San Dionisio Ocotepec. They plan to transplant the first class of their agaves into the wild later this month and in early March. While the foundation is driven by the best of intentions Raza and his partners are perfecly cognizant of the problems they face. The greatest is crop loss which might be as great as 70% and, ultimately, Raza acknowledged, this is just a drop in the bucket for the rest of Mexico’s silvestres production. But they’re trying to get the project moving forward with the hope that they’ll have an impact down the road.

To get there they’re expanding how the foundation functions. To date it has run off a small donation from Wahaka. Starting this March or April that income will be supplemented by revenue from the sales of a line of mezcals sourced around Mexico. And those mezcals have been selected by none other than the Indiana Jones of mezcal, Erick Rodriguez. Erick guided us throgh a tasting of the Vino de Mezcal line and we’re happy to report that you’re in for something really special.

To start with these are extremely small bottlings of 60-80 liters each. They’re also from all over Mexico, sometimes outside of the legally defined area of mezcal but, as Erick noted, “they were called mezcals before there was a legal definition.” Erick makes his way across Mexico to the most remote distilleries and palenqueros to keep that tradition alive. He’s dedicated to bringing as much revenue from the project back to the palenqueros so that they can see the fruits of their labors. Each of these bottles is at least 50% alcohol while the Puntas, aka heads or the first alcohol out of the still, range up to 70%. You’d be hard pressed to pick out the Puntas because the alcohol doesn’t overwhelm the tastes. Just like at Mezcaloteca, each bottle has a simple list of all the pertinent information about it, who made it, where it’s from etc.

Here’s the line up, we’ll run a full review soon.

Tepache Espadilla (Espadin) from Puebla
Popamalo (tobala) from Puebla
Espadilla Pechuga from Puebla (also made with mole)
Sonora Lechugilla
Guerrero Capriatos
Michoacan Capriatos
Puntas from Puebla

Cheese and mezcal oh my!

I am a cheese addict – one could say it is like crack for me. The mere suggestion of doing a cheese and mezcal pairing, well it sent shivers down my spine. It doesn’t seem like an obvious pairing, but when you think about how well whiskey or scotch pairs with cheese, this is really just a natural extension.

We had a chance to crash a casual exploration of this combination last night at Mosto. Raza Zaidi of Wahaka Mezcal provided the mezcal and Kirstin Jackson of Solano Cellars and the blog www.itsnotyouitsbrie.com (she also has a book It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Unwrapping America’s Unique Culture of Cheese,” publishing in November) brought the cheese. We set up shop at the dark, back corner booth, drawing the immediate attention of the very loud (and yes, drunk) birthday party sitting next to us.

Nine cheeses and five mezcals, and a few Victorias were spread across the table.

The cheeses: Creameax de Citeax, Bent River, Mirabelle, Oma, Tomme Bruleé, Pecorino Foglie de Nocci, Bayley Hazen, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Jasper Hill and queso fresco with ate membrillo (generally quince, occasionally guava, paste)

The mezcals: Wahaka’s Joven Espadin, Reposado con Gusano, Tobala, Madrecuishe and the Ensemble (Espadin, Tobala and Madrecuishe blend). Note – we’ll have a full review of the line next week.

We first went through the mezcals to get a sense of their flavors, and then Kirstin went to work to try and pair up the different cheeses with the different mezcals. It was an interesting and tricky work determining which of the tangy, pungent, musky, sweet cheeses contrasted best with the mineral, earthy, hot, smokey flavors of the mezcals.

Not surprisingly, the cheddar and the pecorino paired well with all of the mezcals.  We assumed that the salty pecorino would pair well given the known flavor match of salty and spicy flavors with mezcal but the the big aged cheddar’s performance was a nice surprise.  The strong body brought out the brine and mineral flavors in the mezcal.   I liked the Creamean with the Madrecuishe because there’s something about the tangy triple cream that contrasts with the minerally/green flavor of the mezcal. The Tomme with the Joven totally brought out the heat in the mezcal, and the queso fresco with the ate brought out an amazing caramel flavor in the Resposado.

The tasting sparked quite a few dreams of other pairings.  One conversation decided that Parmeggiano just wouldn’t stand up to mezcal while another affirmed that Manchego and Gruyere would probably pair exceedingly well.  Which is to say that we look forward to expanding the range of the tasting soon.