¡¡¡Un Mezcal, por favor!!!

19.02.2022. A day which changed my life forever. I was driving with my ex-partner – native from Mexico – on the roads of Michoacán, around the wonderful lake of Patzcuaro, searching for an important mezcaleria, but because of a torrential rain storm, ended up in the little village of Napizaro, far away from the tourist tracks. In the middle of nowhere we found the Maestro Mezcalero Miguel Angel Jaramilla Hernandez and his lovely family. They were in the middle of a distillation, the precious liquid dripping from three different small Filipino[1] pot stills in to cleaned and reused five-litre plastic bottles. An ancestral process incredible to watch. The quality of the product was incomparable. And I will have the luck to come back a year later to work with them and learn generations of techniques and mexican tradition.

A mezcal made by hand and from the earth, far away from the industrial process full of autoclaves, diffusers and stainless steel fermentation vessels. We’ve got one such Mezcal at the Oxford Wine Company, the Madre Mezcal Ensamble from Oaxaca!

But first, for those who have lived an eternity in a cave or are strangers to the world of cocktail bars, what’s mezcal? 

Mezcal is a spirit made in Mexico from agave, a plant from succulent family with large leaves that end in pointy tips. There are many varieties, with over 250 species in the agave genus. The word mezcal is hundreds of years old and comes from Nahuatl mexcalli, which means “cooked agave”, from metl and ixcalli. The mexicans called it “Maguey”. Some 26 of Mexico’s 32 states produce spirits from agave. But in recent years, regulations largely carried over from the tequila industry have given just nine states the legal right to certify their product as “Mezcal”, and only if certain production parameters are kept to (Oaxaca, Durango, Puebla, Guerrero, Michoacán, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, and Guanajuato).

How is it made?

During maturation, agave plants produce inulin, a chain of fructose molecules that cannot be directly converted to alcohol. Instead, the plants must first be roasted. This typically happens in pit or stone ovens, filled with volcanic rocks and wood logs, adding the drink’s signature smoky and flinty notes. The hearts are then pressed to release a runoff juice, which is fermented using ambient yeasts, and then finally distilled. An ancestral process similar to the Sotol from Chihuahua that you could discover in my previous article.

The story behind Madre Mezcal Ensamble:

It’s said that some of the best mezcal in Oaxaca can be found in reused plastic bottles bought from palenques on otherwise empty dirt roads. These are the dirt roads Madre’s founders set down when they met José Inés García Morales, Madre’s original and current producer.

True to tradition, plastic bottles of what would become Madre were brought over the border, making their way to bartenders in Brooklyn, who found creative uses for this mezcal that was less smoky than other available options.

In the past years, Madre has graduated from plastic bottles to hand-poured glass and even found its way to our shop shelves in Oxford, something that I’m really proud of.

Only four families of mezcaleros produce the distillate to create this lovely product, the García Morales, the Mendez Blas, the Vasquez and the Martínez Alvarez. They stay true to the traditions of this region known for commitment to the old ways, and produce mezcal using only hand-crushed agaves and distilling in clay pots.

Ensamble meaning blended, this mezcal is a blend of two types of agave unlocking natural flavours often hidden behind the smoke. It is crafted to redefine the perception that all mezcal is overly smoky by balancing the flavors of Espadin[2] and Cuishe[3] agaves. This unique blend allows the true character of mezcal to shine through, offering a beautiful balance of spirit and flavour. A perfect choice for the avid mezcal consumer and an easy entry point for the new mezcal explorer. The artisanal process infuses every drop with the flavours of the earth. To drink Madre is to taste the land where the agaves grow, the minerals from the open air ovens, and the wild yeast that blows in the wind.

Do not shot Madre Mezcal Ensamble! Like with my Michoacán family, use a small glass or ‘copita’ made of terracotta. Pour the mezcal and let it breathe for a minute or two before drinking. Then drink it slow, very slow. Literally just touch the liquid to your lips and tongue, and let the flavour spread back across your palate. Close your eyes, and imagine yourself admiring the outstanding and breathtaking landscapes from the south of Mexico.

¡¡¡Salud!!!

 

[1] Filipino still: A simple still in which evaporation and distillation happen in a single chamber. So-called because of the possibility that the technology was introduced to Mexico by Filipinos in the sixteenth century.

[2] Often described as the “workhorse” variety, Espadín(Agave Angustifolia) accounts for somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of mezcal production. Espadín is less fibrous than other varieties, making it easier to break down after roasting. It also has a relatively high inulin content, allowing for efficient alcohol production. Producers also favor Espadín because of the ease with which it can be cultivated and the relatively short time it takes to reach maturity (six to eight years). It has a real similar profile to Blue Weber agave(Agave Tequilana) used for the Tequilas of Jalisco.

[3] Most commonly found in Oaxaca and Puebla, the Cuishe (Agave Karwinskii) contains a number of important varieties, with Tobaziche perhaps the most notable. Often harvested wild rather than cultivated, Karwinskii varieties are visually distinct, with a thick, baseball-bat-like heart developing over the 10-plus years the plant takes to mature. Karwinskii mezcals often contain herbal, mineral-rich flavor profiles. Kvetko describes them as having a “chalky” texture, akin to a high-cacao-content chocolate bar.