So… It has been a while again. Every now and then it is important to come back to Mexico and recharge the batteries a bit. I arrived in Oaxaca late friday night with my compadre Max. Yesterday we spent most of the day in the historical center, a couple of markets and a few Mezcalerias. A lot of impressions in this beautifully colorful city.
The main reason we are here this time, part from the obvious love for Mezcal, is to research artesian Mezcal production. We are doing a presentation on mezcal at Berlin Bar Convent on the 8th of october. The week ahead of us is jam packed with palenque visits. I will try to do a few shorter post, but now it is time for comida!!
Amigos y Amigas,
For a long time now i have lost the faith a little bit in the world of agave. for some reason I had a feeling that everything was working against my beliefs and that the industry was turning evil. For that reason I have been particularly active on this blog. The inspiration have been on a record low and all my energy I have spent at The Barking Dog. Which is fair enough, I expected it to be a lot of work opening a bar, but not to drown in it, but luckily I escaped just as my nose was going under the surface. I felt that I got stuck again, not sure where this leads me, what my role in all of this was, it even got to the point where I could spend a whole day without having a little Mezcal. Mental I know. I felt it was time to leave. Last time I was on holidays was in Mexico two and a half years ago and with all the hard work this industry brings with it, newly acquired knowledge taught me that it is needed more often than that. So the last three weeks I have spent on the beach with my girlfriend and a lot of Mezcal. Drinking Mezcal on the beach many days in a row made it much easier for me to put things in to perspective, and I came back a more relaxed man than before.
Upon my arrival back home a little bird had told me there was a surprise or two waiting for me in the bar and for the first time in a long while I was actually truly excited about trying a new product, butterflies in the belly kind of feeling, you know what I mean. The main attraction was the latest addition to the Ocho portfolio, but there was also a new Mezcal on the Danish market, Illegal. I have heard and read a lot about this, but never gotten around to try it sober, which is the first thing I will do after finishing this post. The basic range of Don Fulano is now available and Herencia Mexicana is if not right now in the basement of Juuls, it will be very soon. So much more about this later. The thing I have missed in Tequila lately is the power of the agave when it is un diluted. My favourite Tequilas have always been from the more traditional distilleries, and now I know why. They do not dilute the Tequila after distillation. It gives the Tequila a completely different character and power in flavour. Almost like the alcohol disappears and what is exposed is purely the flavour of the Tequila. However after drinking a lot of Mezcal which is usually at a higher abv, it is a little bit hard to go back to the 40% Tequilas. The become almost too delicate. Then I found Don Fulano 50% which has much more power in its flavour, richer notes of cooked agave, wild green plants and dusty roads. Before that the only one I knew was Herradura Blanco 46% which was far better that the export strength. And now the christmas present of the year, Ocho Anejo Cask Strength. Aged 18 months and 24 days and served at 54.4% abv this goddess of Anejo Tequilas explodes in your mouth and gives you the full expression of the agaves. This time from Rancho Los Corrales. This fills me with new hope and belief that the true agave industry will survive. The Tequila boom will most likely explode at some point and sales and promotion will go down. But we will see more and more aficionados within the category of agave.
This blog post was sponsored by a decent sized Del Maguey Minero. Salud!
Lately there have been a lot of focus on tastings and master classes about Tequila and Mezcal here in Denmark. Which of course is very positive from my point of wiev. It is how ever very easy when promoting alcohol that taste that good, by itself, to forget to mix it, and a mixed drink is actually most people’s rediscovery of this beautiful spirits. As a result of this conclusion, I got invited to Juuls Vinhandel to do a cocktail follow-up session of the recent Tequila events. I thought to mix a few very simple drinks that anyone can recreate at home. First up was variations of the Paloma, probably the most mixed Tequila drink in Mexico. My first introduction to this drink was while working in Green & Red, where we used Reposado Tequila, fresh pink grapefruit, dash of sugar and sparkling water with a squeezed lime wedge on top, served in a highball glass with a salted rim, while on my first trip to Mexico I found out that it was simply Tequila with a grapefruit soda called Squirt, served with a pinch of salt inside the drink. Yet an other twist on this great drink is the Batanga, which is Tequila with coke and half a lime squeezed in, served in a highball with a salted rim. One of my favourite drinks for the moment is Tequila and Tonic, so I added a bit of fresh pink grapefruit juice to it, a squeeze of lime, added a salt rim and ended up with Paloma No 19. Showcasing these four drinks in the shop was great fun, and the customers found it interesting to try such simple twists on the same drink, with a very big difference in taste. The last drink on the menu for the day is one I am very proud of, it is called Bienvenidos and is a mix(4:2:2) of Del Maguey’s Vida, Kahlua and fresh lime juice, served straight up with a lime zest, which apparently appeals a lot to scotch drinkers. It was really a good experience standing in the middle of a busy liquor store on a friday afternoon talking about the booze that I love and mixing good drinks with it. Thanks to everybody who came down and supported, karma will credit you for that, I am sure.
If you want more detailed recipies drop me a line, Buen Domingo!
So what that means in reality is that about a month ago I got a text past midnight sometime. Jaime Muñoz from Los Danzantes is in town hosting a last-minute Mezcal masterclass. Whit such short notice the turn up was great, we got about 20 people together, which is a good number for an intimate masterclass. Quite naturally after the masterclass we got to talking. Talking lead to drinking. Drinking led to dancing, and just like that, another great night was over. Trying to scribble a little something together after that was not really fair to my memory, and lucky for me Jaime was in town for another couple of days, for the Copenhagen Cooking festival. As we all know Mexican food is best served with a glass of Mezcal on the side. Backed by the Mexican embassy Jand his crew from Los Danzantes were delivering just this, food and Mezcal. As well as making 22.000 liters of artisanal Mezcal every year, Danzantes also own three restaurants around Mexcio. I have been writing about production of Mezcal a few time already, so I wont bother you with that this time, but more about one of the men behind Danzantes. I do remember a few things that we spoke about on our night out, and after emailing back and for it is now all clear. Jaime said that we do not choose to work with the maguey (agave), but the maguey chooses us. ” The people who in the last few years got involved with Mezcal have been chosen by Mezcal, to spread the word. It’s an information from the soil that wants to be liberated. Through the agave/mezcal he will find his way and is chosen by the people to find the objective. We get chosen like you, Axel and me did. We just taste the Mezcal and make Mezcal a lifestyle. Without knowing how we get involved in the business, we will find each other.” The name Danzantes comes from a ancient spiritual dance named Los Danzantes Concheros and in the ancient dance of Concheros exist the NAHUAL, that is the soul of an animal that take care of you in this life, and everybody has one, which explains the label on the Danzantes bottle, Jaime and his two brothers.
Danzantes has another brand called Alipus, which is produced in different villages bu different distillers. We have had Alipus in Denmark for a while now, but Jaime had an ace up his sleeve. Alipus Sta. Ana Del Rio, one of the most interesting Mezcals I have tried in a long time. Unfortunately this is only avalible in Oaxaca, probably only in the village of Santa Ana Del Rio. ” The producer Eduardo Hernandez Melchor is an indigenous from the mountains of Oaxaca and he only speck his indigenous dialect and for a Mezcal can be export have to be certificate by COMERCAM that is the organisation that takes care of the quality of Mezcal, and they only speak Spanish, so in a few words it’s a communication problem.” Jaime Thank you very much for this bottle. It has been tasted by many, and will be tasted by more, but not too many, ought a have some for myself.
As for Jaimes impression of Copenhagen. ” Well is very different from where I come, is very organized, elegant and sophisticated. The design is very impressive and the architecture, old and new are very nice.But the best thing is the women, they are beautiful! “
It is very easy to forget what is happening behind the scenes some times. On the one hand I am very happy that the world gets to see more of Tequila and Mezcal, and especially in Europe. The more the merrier as long as the quality is good that is. Lately I have been working a lot with Mezcal, which is a bit of a new world for me, and I have yet to go to Mezcal country, yet there is a lot to find out on the internet. I stumbled over a blog post a while ago which I will post some bits and pieces of here. Just as I am falling in love with this beautiful spirit, I find reasons to get upset about it. I hope this will make sense for everybody.
” About half an hour from Oaxaca City on Cristobal Colón highway, is a fairly new distillery, Casa Armando Guillermo Prieto (casa AGP). When little Earl (Earl Fish, Mezcal enthusiast) entered Casa AGP, whose security little Earl describes as “tough as any airport”, they waived their metal detecting wand over him and discovered his digital camera. “No sir,” the security guard said. “It is the policy of Coca-Cola to not allow photographs.” Coca- Cola? Who knew? His cell phone in the other pocket suffered the same temporary confiscation. ”
Already here I feel that something is wrong. No Tequila distillery I have been to has ever had this type of security. Only a couple of times have I been asked not to take photos, but only in certain areas, which I think is fair enough. The vibe has however never been hostile, more likely to be the other way around, I find Mexicans to be very friendly and generous when I come to visit. However I will cut straight to the chase.
” S.A. de C.V. stands for “Sociedad Anónima de Capital Variable”. It describes a company whose capital partners are anonymous and of variable investment. Most foreign investments in Mexico are designated S.A. de C.V. CIMSA S.A. de C.V.-Coca Cola, a consortium of businesses “100% Mexican” produces Casa AGP Mezcal. I also saw it written in inverse order, as Coca-Cola-CIMSA.
CIMSA was founded in 1925 and currently operates through three self-described “Strategic Business Units”: Soft drinks; BEDLA (Bebidas de los Angeles) which sells purified water; and Casa AGP, the newest unit, oriented toward commercialization of Mezcal, to sell inside Mexico about 20% of product, with 80% destined for foreign consumption. To put the enterprise in perspective, the same Group that bottles Coke in Cuernavaca built the Mezcal plant in Oaxaca. It also built the international airport in Cuernavaca.
Casa AGP inaugurated its Oaxaca distillery in August, 2008 in a village named Lanacci. Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, Senator Adolfo Toledo Infanzón, Secretary of Tourism Beatriz Rodríguez Casasnovas, and Secretary of Economy Enrique Sada Fernández among other officials, all carefully pre-selected, attended. Head honcho Colombo Álvarez asserted then, that in five years Oaxaca Mezcal would be positioned in the international European and Asian markets. In the first year the product would arrive in Spain, the USA, China, Korea and Thailand. Subsequently, they would sell in Germany, Russia and Italy. He was right on. ”
This “mafia-like” setup might not sound as scary to the world of Mezcal as it might do to Mexico in general, but it gets worse. And this is a textbook example of capitalism. Coca-Cola is looking to produce 45.000 liters of Mezcal daily, while the artisan producers ar running max capacity at 2-3000 liters a week. What does this mean?
” A distillery producing thousands of liters of liquor uses water not only for cooking and distilling, but also for necessary wash-up and cleaning in a large industrial plant. Casa AGP claims it uses high-tech treatment of residual waste water. More than one contractor was contemplated, and the ultimate winner was IGR Ambiental. Their wastewater treatment facility for the distillery, finally certified as environmentally sound by the UN in 2010 (not in 2008 when the plant went into production), supposedly will handle 90,000 liters of waste-water per week, and recover methane gas to produce steam, cooking the Mezcal in something like a double boiler process. Selling back carbon credits offers Casa AGP a financial bonus; another international environmental fraud. Little Earl saw a very large wastewater storage tank on the property; there are photos, but thus far no indication that the water is being processed.
Wastewater treatment does not explain where the clean water comes from in the first place, or how much must be consumed for a Mezcal production of 45,000 liters. According to the website oaxacalibre.com on September 11, 2007, Governor Ulises Ruiz made an agreement with Coca-Cola to exploit water in exchange for money for political PRI campaigns. Allegedly, Coke was given permission to drill wells in the Central Valley. Interviewing APPO activist Florentino Lopez, the site reported:
Interviewer: “On the internet you circulate statements in which you indicate an unhealthy relationship between the governor Ulises Ruiz and the soft drink business Coca-Cola. Are such assertions true?”
Lopez: – “It seems to us that Ulises has, in the first place, sought the backing of businesses and primarily the transnationals, because that has a basis in development of Plan Puebla Panama in Oaxaca, with development of diverse projects such as the urban megaproject, the tourist corridor, the trans-isthmus corridor, and the Dominican [tourist] route. Then, after that comes commercialization of all the state resources, including the cultural ones.
We have denounced the case of Coca Cola which established a series of agreements to exploit the hydraulic resources and which received several objections, for example the case of the neighbors of Viguera, when they were blocking the well located near the Juarez Monument. They informed us that the State Institute for Water and the National Water Commission had contracted with the Coca Cola company to drill wells in this zone of Viguera and in other places like Huitzo, Telixtlahuaca, and Etla, which have below-ground aquifers. And while the neighborhoods and districts have solicited drilling for the benefit of the communities they have not been given permission; Coca Cola has several wells drilled in this zone that have been granted by agreement with the government of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.”
Interviewer: “Does the sale of these permissions to Coca Cola relate to the resources that will be in the electoral process this year?”
Lopez: “It has to do exactly with this situation, or it could be said the political accommodation being developed here in Oaxaca has to do directly with the relationship Ulises Ruiz Ortiz has with transnational corporations, not only Coca Cola, but a series of corporations which directly helps the Ulises Ruiz team to stay in power”
Interviewer: “Have you considered actions against this corporation?”
Lopez: “Up to now we have called for a boycott of Coca Cola products because they are doing damage and commercializing the natural resources of the people of Oaxaca transnationals are taking over the extraction and administration of water in Mexico. Apparently, one or more wells were drilled inside the Casa AGP complex. Purified water for distilling the fermented juices gets trucked in. Most likely the company trucking in purified water is the partner BEDLA, with water coming from parts unknown, but how far can one profitably truck water?“
So to take this topic very far, is the commercialisation of Mezcal killing off the art, craft and culture behind this magical spirit and forcing local producers to work for the big distilleries? Hopefully not, but how much can one make without water? Do yourself and the rest of us a big favour, only drink Mezcal and Tequila if you know where it comes from, stay true to the source and remember why we drink. It is going to cost you a little extra, but damn it tastes good.
Please visit the distilleries webpage: Here
It is sometimes hard to explain with words the process of making Mezcal. A lot of people have a hard time understanding how primitive it can actually be, and still produce some of the worlds best spirits. Here is a very nice little video, you do not have to speak spanish to kind of get the gist of what is going on. The fermentation tank is made from a cow hide! Now go be creative at home, and build yourself a pot-still. Enjoy the video, Salud!
It is a lot happening in Mezcal Denmark right now. About a month ago we received our first shipment of quality Mezcal, and a month later it is all sold out. Not really as I expected though, a few bars, but a lot of private enthusiasts were there early to pick up some of the best Mezcal known to man. The conclusion of this is that we will have to order a lot more! Great news for a dry Denmark.
Yesterday we thought it was about time to put all our brands to the test (Del Maguey, Alipus, Los Danzantes & Piedre Almas). Me and Max (from Juuls) invited a handful of the top bartenders from around town, a few interested waitresses and a couple of booze writers, to a down to earth tasting forum. We wanted to create conversation around the products, tasting back to back and most importantly, get people’s honest opinion about Mezcal. Everybody was welcomed with a cocktail I created especially for this event, a healthy measure of Alipus San Andres, squeeze of lemon, a touch of agave sirup and a sprig of mint, built in a snifter with a few ice cubes. A Mexican take on the classic Ti’Punch, let us call is Juulietta to suit the occasion. After a short introduction to Mezcal we moved down into the cellar where a tasting tabled had been prepared. Before we started tasting, we did a little warm-up exercise for the mouth to be ready for what was to come. This exersise is very simple. Pour yourself a glass of Mezcal / Tequila and follow theese steps. 1. Wet your lips and let them air dry and you will find a lot of flavour on your lips, which is one place we never really think of when it comes to tasting. 2. Take a small sip and rub it around your gums with your tounge, this will burn a little bit, but is well worth it afterwards. 3. Take a small sip and leave it under your tounge for 5-10 seconds. 4. Take a small sip and use your tounge to rub it around your palate. 5. The final step is where you start building your library of Agave spirits. On your tounge. Leave a small sip on top of your tounge and let is massage it for a bit. There will be a bit of burn, and for most people the burn will be in different places, this is how you remember each and every brand. If you are well-trained that is. To have some kind of reference we did the warm-up and first tasting with the most widely available Mezcal in Denmark, Lajita. Then it was onto the heavy artillery. It does not really make any sense for me to put everybody’s tasting notes and thoughts on here, so I wont. Just make sure you come to the next tasting hosted by Tres Mariachis!
Salud Amigos y Amigas, jajajaja!!