Buenas Noches Compadres!
This has been a great week for a Tequila geek in snow land. The winter has hit Copenhagen very early this year, but it is in a good way, no rain and stormy weather, instead we have had snow falling for a week (short of one day) and it is beautiful outside. If it keeps on like this, I think I might be able to make it this winter. Mexican at heart I do keep longing for the sun though. Now to the good stuff. Last week I had two good friends coming back to Denmark from a few weeks in Mexico. While one of them was following the Tequila trail the other was enjoying the good company of friends and family. And I was soon to find out that it takes good local knowledge to get hold of good Raicilla. I did my research from here and came up with pretty much nothing, part from a long trip to the mountains, but I thought I was a bit much to ask from a friend visiting her family. Ana however found out pretty much the same and managed to get a friend of hers to visit a village called San Sebastian del Oeste, where he knew a producer. And the bottle made it back alive. Racilla Juan Dueñas is nothing like the one I drank from a plastic bottle with a skull and cross-bones on it. This is a good distillate full of flavour, very different to anything I have tried before. But Raicilla is definitely not for everyone, though it is more reminiscent of Mezcal than Tequila. But if you run in to a bottle definately give it a chance, and it does not get much more local than Raicilla. This fine produced bottle comes with and home printed label telling you nothing but what it is, which village it is from and the percentage of 36%abv.
The other good surprise was my good friend Perth who found his way back to Copenhagen, on his way to Japan funny enough. Beeing a big Tequila enthusiast, and a well-traveled ski bum, he had nothing but a bag of tequila with him. Unfortunately half of the good stuff did not make it, due to many factors, not having any clothes to wrap the tequila in being one of them, but six bottles or so did make it, and made for a few great nights of tasting. The ones that survived the rough trip to snow land was Clase Azul Blanco, El Ultimo Agave Reposado, Pratida Blanco, El Tequileño Gran Reserva Especial & El Tesoro de Don Felipe Reposado and of course a few bottles of Cholula hot sauce!
This little interest of mine started in may this year when i was sitting in a beautiful little Tequila bar in Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico. Sayulita Fish Taco had everything to offer, Mark Albert Holt as a great host, Miguel as my bartender and 330 something different types of Tequila. After a couple of days drinking together Miguel thought it was time for me to try the real deal, Raicilla. That was not the first time i heard the name, but it sure was the first time i came to try this beautiful agave distillate. Considering this was a real mexican moon-shine, it was quite delicate in flavour and behind the slightly poorly distillate, there was a lot of very nice, really fruity, fresh agave notes, a light smoke, but not even near most of the mezcal i have tried.
I felt it was time to look a little bit more in to whar differs Raicilla from Mezcal & Tequila. The first noticeable difference is probably that Raicilla is commonly sold by the vendors on the back streets of Puerto Vallarta. Packaging is usually a plastic coke bottle or similar recloseable container pimped up with a permanent marker. Raicilla just recently got ”legitimized”, and a Raicilla festival is from now on held in Puerto Vallarta every spring where producers show off and sell their products, professionally bottled and labeled!
A combination of reddish-brown soil, sun, and rain in this part of western Jalisco created the perfect environment for the growth of the Agave Lechuguilla which is the sugar source for Raicilla. This agave is a member of the botanical Group Crenatae and is identified as Agave Inaequidens or Agave Maximiliana, commonly known as “Pata de Mula” (Mules Foot). Agave Lechugilla is somewhat smaller than the agaves that pulque and tequila are made from. The towns producing Raicillaare Atenguillo, Etzatlan, Guachinango, Hostotipaquillo, Mazcota, San Sebastian del Oeste and Talpa.
As the agave matures it begins to put up a flowering stalk (quiote); this is cut off so that all of the plants sugars are directed to the heart. About the 8th to 10th year the plant matures and is harvested by “Jimadores” who cut away the spiny outer leaves with long-handled knives (coas). The heart of the plant that remains looks like a pineapple and in fact is called a “piña”. These piñas, weighing about one hundred pounds, are taken from the fields to the “taberna” where Raicilla processing takes place. Every step of this process is done completely by hand. The piñas are placed in large wood fired brick ovens (hornos) where they are cooked for 24 hours. After cooking they are chopped into chunks with machetes and beaten into a pulp with large wooden mallets (mazos) in a wooden tray called a”batea”. The crushed agave and juice is placed in 100 liter wooden vats with copper bottoms (perols) where it ferments with the natural plant yeasts for 7 to 9 days. After fermentation is complete a cap is placed on the vat and sealed with adobe mud, this is connected to a copper distillation coil and the vat heated. After distilling for about 8 hours, the resulting distillate is a high quality, 100% natural Raicilla known as “Las Raicillas del Real”. Tradition says that the first few drops of the distillate are thrown up in the air, if they evaporate before they hit the floor, it is a good batch.
Raicilla can be served in a caballito (typical shot glass for Tequila), but is more traditionally served chilled in a wine glass, on the rocks or mixed with Squirt or other grapefruit soda. Hopefully i have a bottle on its way over here in a couple of weeks, so check back for tasting session.