Mother Of The Blue Agave
As I mentioned before I met Axel Huhn (from http://www.mezcaleria.de ) on my trip to bar convent in Berlin. Axel had a big bag of goodies that day that he sent home with me, and as if that was not enough, the following week I received yet another package. More Mezcal. One thing led to another and a week later I sat down to taste the good selection with my two good friends and fellow bartenders Terkel Kleist and Mikael Nilsson. Both working at the much respected bar Salon 39 in Copenhagen. But more about that later.
As it is right now high-end Tequila is getting very big while quality Mezcal only started making appearances very few years ago. Dont get me wrong, this is very positive both ways. Tequila opened up a whole world for agave spirits. It was hard pushing Tequila 5 years ago, but now people gladly taste if you ask them. Ones we have led our guest on to Tequila, how about we taste some Mezcal, and most of them are up for it. Some like it, some don’t. If you have the time taste them back and forth. I find it that if I explain a little about what we are drinking, they are actually quite likely to recommend Mezcal to a friend.
It is very easy to state that a main difference between Tequila and Mezcal is the agave plant and that you produce Mezcal in Oaxaca. This is true, however there is much more to it as I am sure most of you know. Agave Espadín, the genetic mother to the blue agave grows locally in Oaxaca and is used for 90% of Mezcal production. Espadín grows relatively large and yields a high grade of convertible sugars. It also reproduce faster than other species.
While some smaller producers focus on wild agave, such as Agave Potatorum (Tobalá), Agave Rodacantha (Agave Mexicano), Agave Karwinskii (Tobaziche). The most popular being Tobalá which lives in remote places in the forest of Oaxaca. Making the job for the Magueyeros (harvesters) an awful lot harder.
The agave is as well as Tequila cooked in a stone oven, but slightly different engineering. Instead of building a little house you fill with agave and steam cook it, think digging a big hole in the ground and cover the sides with stone. Kind of a huge stone bowl. Light a great fire for about 24 hours to heat up the stone. Remove and cover stone with moist agave fiber from previous production, fill with raw agave, insulate with more moist agave fiber and cover with soil. Let cook for 5 days or so. After a little go in a classic tahona (stone mill) the sweet juices are ready for fermentation. Though some smaller producers use canoe-shaped wooden troughs and big mallets to crush the agaves.
Traditionally the fermentation vat was made from cowhide, but has since upgraded to dug-out trunks, stone pits and tubs. But most commonly big wooden vats. Traditional Mezcal producers depend on the natural bond between the airborne yeasts and the ones on the agave. Some times chunks of roasted agave is added for extra flavour. This process kan take as little as 5 days a warm summer and up to three weeks a cold one. You really can’t stress the magic in the air.
Towards the end of fermentation you will have decreasing sounds inside the vat. You can see it on the shape of the openings in the pulp floating on top of the vat (both caused by the expulsion of CO2), the smell and temperature of the mash, as well as the taste of samples taken on different levels of the container. The result is Tepache, a low alcohol juice with pulp in it. Similar to pulque.
Mezcal stils are seen built from everything, agaves, bamboo, mud, clay, copper you name it. Distilled twice, usually. I have seen a few triple distilled Mezcals, and drank them too. One very particular one was a Pechuga.
This particular way of making Mezcal can only be made towards the end of the year, when it is local fruit season. A Mezcal is chosen and added back in to the still in fairly small amounts (75liters, for Del Maguey). Appels, plums, pineapple, bananas, almonds and rice are added for maceration. A whole chicken (some say turkey), skin removed and washed from greased is suspended by springs inside the still, and third distillation can start. The chicken is to balance out the flavours of the fruit. The Pechuga (chicken) is then traditionally hung up in the families altar room.
This really shows the hard work that goes in to Mezcal. Very likely a lot of the products made on hillsides of Oaxaca would not do most of us very good, unless you have been born with the stuff. But it shows the pride to make it. You start somewhere and get better as your situation gets better. Mezcal is just around the corner. Coca Cola just bought a brand!
Back to the tasting we did last week, here comes some product information and tasting notes. I will only list the top 5 out of the 15 Mezcals from the tasting. Mezcals I proudly recommend to have a good taste or two.
Alipus San Juan, Batch 5757
Made from the Espadin Agave by master distiller Don Joel Antonio Cruz, double distilled in copper pot.
On the nose it has bubble gummy red fruit flavours, light agave and a bit of yoghurt creamyness and on the tounge its is creamy light with smokey red berry flavours balanced with a full-bodied agave.
Piedre Almas Tobaziche, Batch 01-TC
Made from the Tobazitche agave by master distiller Don Alfonso Sanchez, double distilled in copper pot.
Very floral nose on this very particular Mezcal, like wet grass smell in the morning when its been raining and fresh flowers. Nutty long smoke finnish with butter and honeycomb finished of with a long mild aftertaste of smoke and bitter coffee. This being the favourite of the three of us.
Piedre Almas Espadin, Batch 05-E
Made from the Espadin Agave by master distiller Don Alfonso Sanchez, double distilled in copper pot.
Very straight forward nose of ethanol and vanilla and a taste som simple and clean, full-bodied agave, dry but gentle.
Real Minero Mezcala del 3, Batch 001-2005
Made from a mix of Espadin, Largo and Tripon Agaves by master distiller Don Lorenzo Angeles, double distilled in 160l clay pot.
A very hearby nose with loads of agave and damp soil with a complementing taste of ripe strawberries, banana and vanilla and a long mellow smoke finnish filled with agave.
Real Minero Tobalá, Batch 001-2008
Made from Tobalá Agave by master distiller Don Lorenzo Angeles, double distilled in 160l clay pot.
A beautiful nose of perfectly cooked agave and honey like black pepper. This very balanced Mezcal mostly tastes of sweet cooked agave with hints of sweet liquorice and sour dough.
”Fine Mezcal, made naturally from 100% agave, is probably the purest, most traditional spirit available on planet earth. Mezcal smells like history. It tastes like wonder and superstition. It finishes with ancestral connections to the past and mystical visions of the future. Love it or hate it, no one remains ambivalent after tasting mezcal”
Lance Cutler, Tequila Lovers Guide to Mexico (and Mezcal), Wine Patrol Press 2000