I am just back from an unbelievable Mezcal Fest (Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle) that was put on this weekend in San Francisco by my friends at Mezcalistas. They are likely to make this an annual event so pay attention next year and do what you have to do to get there! It was of the finest collection of mezcals you will ever see (unless you come to my apartment!) with most of the top brands and many many offerings that can only be found in Mexico. The event has me dreaming of wild agaves and beautiful mezcals with luscious flavors swirling down my throat. So it seems appropriate to put up this post on arroqueños, which has been lingering in my draft file for too long!
If you are a regular reader of this blog or have read my book Holy Smoke! It’s Mezcal!, you are likely aware of the ongoing lovefest I have with mezcals made from Agave americana var. oaxacensis, sub-varietal arroqueño (say that ten times fast!). Or simply known as an arroqueño. Arroqueños are HUGE agaves and known to be the genetic mother of the Agave espadin (A. angustifolia), the most common type of agave from which mezcal is made.
So arroqueño is related to espadin and the taste profile is consistent with their respective genetics. However, my palate finds an arroqueño to be like a turbo-charged version of an espadin – powerful fruit and roasted agave surging upfront with great viscosity and a long lovely finish. And unlike some other wild agave varietals, an arroqueño has nothing polarizing in the flavor. My golf analogy would be that an arroqueño is a beautiful 325 yard drive right down the middle of the fairway – while I am not a golfer, that is one long drive. While it is smack down the middle, an arroqueño surpasses almost all others. You taste a great arroqueño and you instantly understand why people like me are nuts about mezcal (Me? Nuts about mezcal? Well OK, a tiny bit…).
As you may guess, I search out every bottle and brand of arroqueño I can find, and happily that are now several brands available in the U.S. Also, I have collected a few others in my travels that cannot yet be found stateside. So as I was surveying my mezcal collection, I realized that I now have eight unique bottles of arroqueño. What a gift from the agave gods! Here is what I have:
- Mezcalero Release #9
- Mezcal Vago
- El Jolgorio
- Del Maguey
- Siete Misterios
- Destileria Tlacolula, Special Bottling
- MarcaNegra (a late addition to the post)
So I’ve been drinking these with my friends and fellow mezcal junkies, and also shipping multiple vials back and forth (don’t tell the Feds!) with my friend Mario who lives on the West Coast to share impressions on this handful of great mezcals. But due to random comings and goings of my friends, and varied acquisition times of bottles, we were unfortunately unable to do a full scale side-by-side tasting of these arroqueños. Still, some favorites emerged from our machinations and what follows is a collection of our opinions.
Key contributors were my friend John who has a mezcal palate that far exceeds mine (not hard to do) so he is a real asset to have around a bottle of mezcal – which he always seems to have with him! And my afore mentioned friend Mario, who if you read my book, you would know has undergone a Faceoff-like transformation from mezcal doubter to mezcal evangelist (and who’s with me on the Faceoff reference??!!).
A few comments on the bottles. Of the eight listed, five can be found in the U.S.: Mezcalero, Vago, Jolgorio, Del Maguey, and MarcaNegra. You probably have to buy them online unless you have a very good local liquor store. On Mezcalero, all other Mezcalero releases (two through eight – I never did see Release #1 and am not sure it ever existed) are ensembles and most are excellent. So I was psyched when Release #9 came out as a single expression arroqueño. Siete Misterios was the first arroqueño available in the U.S. and it wows, but sadly can no longer be found – let’s hope it does a Lebron and returns to Cleveland….er….uh….the U.S. MarcaNegra has just released three new offerings to complement their fine espadin and tobala – they now have this arroqueño, a dobadan, and a yummy ensemble.
Vago and Jolgorio are relative newcomers to the scene (both arrived in 2013) and they each have several amazing mezcals. You see the Nizabisahio brand regularly in the Oaxaca area and it means “spiritual water of kindness” in Zapotec….very calming. And I obtained a specially bottled arroqueño at the Destileria Tlacolula which is where Ilegal is produced. The producer had made a batch of mezcal with arroqueños and he was not sure what he was going to do with it. I thought giving a bottle to me was a great idea! OK, I paid for it, and gladly.
That all said, here are our collective impressions.
- Mezcalero Release #9. It is fruit-forward as I find most arroqueños to be, though this one seemed to have a bit more smoke than we would like – overpowering the flavor a tad. Also, I get a bit more alcohol here than some of the others though it is has a lower ABV than most of these. My friend John found it to be “rougher” which could be due to the perceived stronger presence of alcohol. And he also tasted a bit of tar, which fortunately was absent for me.
- Mezcal Vago. Decidedly less fruit forward than the rest of the group, and by far the most complex. I find most of the Mezcal Vago line to be fairly complex and inconsistently wonderful with the rest of the mezcal world. Trust me, that’s a compliment. Here, the roasted agave and earthiness jump out more so than the fruit, and the finish has a bit of alcohol. Overall, it feels dark: dark fruit, brown sugar, cooked agave, ash. John found it to be “alive” and changing with each sip. No doubt this is a great mezcal, and I will drink it happily, but I would never guess it is an arroqueño. It is truly a mezcal lover’s mezcal due to its deep complexity with a bit of roughness.
- El Jolgorio. On the nose, this is rich with the smell of ripe bananas. For me, it screams bananas but my friends did not find this as pronounced as I did. I can literally smell it from three feet away. The fruitiness carries over to the palate with full citrus. I get a bit of alcohol on the finish, but man is this a great arroqueño, and a great mezcal in general. At the time we did the tasting, I only had a sample bottle, but it is so good, I now have the big boy (which can run $150+ depending on where you buy it).
- Del Maguey. For me, Del Maguey keeps it right down the middle – and gloriously at that. This is from their Vino de Mezcal series – they have a release of a limited batch varietal and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Their arroqueño is the quintessential arroqueño – fruit forward with roasted agave, citrus, a bit of smoke, and a velvety texture with a great finish. Soooo good.
- Siete Misterios. This is my first arroqueño love so it will be hard to knock it off the top of the mountain. Just like in sports, you are still the champion until someone beats you. And while I am not certain it is still the champ, it’s really good. Siete has a wine-like viscosity – smooth and creamy. It bursts with fruitiness upfront with a bit of heat, yet it is floral as well. Floral and heat are not usually found together in a mezcal, and it works very well here. It has a little more earthiness to it than the others in the tasting and finishes cleanly. That said, this was a fresh bottle of Siete (having gone through many others previously), and maybe my memory is faulty, but this seemed a step below previous bottles. Unfortunately, I cannot confirm whether they are different lots. Either way, it is really good.
Nizabisahio. This is a very interesting mezcal. It is quite herbal, both on the nose and on the tongue. It has a bit of fruit and roasted agave but that herbal quality is ever present. When I taste herbal, I think tepeztate. So to me, this is closer to an arroqueño and tepeztate blend than a pure arroqueno. None of us were very interested in this. It is OK, but like the Vago, I would never guess that it is an arroqueño, and it is not in the Vago’s league as a mezcal.
- Destileria Tlacolula. As I mentioned, this is from the producer of Ilegal who makes a lovely, light smoke, approachable espadin. I find that this arroqueño follows that pattern. It does not overpower you with its fruitiness or smoke. We found it to be lightly floral with hints of butterscotch. It is very well-balanced, yet has that robustness that I love in an arroqueño.
- Mezcal MarcaNegra. This bottle arrived long after this post was mostly finished (yet still unpublished), so I was the only one to try to it. The nose is brilliant – bursting with fresh fruit of citrus, mango,, and banana! My mouth was watering before my first taste. It is a classic arroqueño in both smell and taste – robust and fruity and yummy. At almost 49% ABV I did get a bit of alcohol on the finish, which was not as elegant as the body. But overall, really excellent.
So where does that leave us? Well, the two underperformers were the Mezcalero and Nizabisahio. I was the only one who tried the Niza and I would put it at the bottom of the list, though let’s be clear it is still a fine mezcal just not as good as the rest. The Mezcalero was good but both John and Mario had it at the bottom of their final list (they each only tried four of the eight). But to tell you how good all of these are, Mario initially thought the Mezcalero was one of the best, but once revisited, he moved it down. The things you taste in a mezcal change based on who you are drinking with, the time of day, what you are eating, and many other factors. There are few absolutes so I always try to revisit bottles even if my initial impressions were not favorable.
The Vago was John’s top choice (among his four of Vago, Tlacolula, Siete and Mezcalero) with the Tlacolula a close second. As I said he is a true mezcal lover and this is made for someone like him. Mario found the Vago to be excellent but he was looking for more true arroqueño, which is not the strength of this bottle. Me? I love it. It is dark and mysterious and wonderfully complex as described above, but I would never guess it is an arroqueño.
The Jolgorio is outstanding and clearly near the top. Mario found it to be the brightest mezcal he had ever tasted and speculated that the agaves are planted among a lot of citrus trees (Kaj?). Yet, his top pick remains the Siete. Perhaps like me, he holds a special place in his heart (or palate) for his first love, and the Siete arroqueño was in the U.S. before the others, so that positive bias is hard to shake. So he has the Siete at the top with the Jolgorio a close second.
My turn. The bottles in the top five are easy to choose, but ranking them is more challenging. In no particular order yet, Vago, Jolgorio, Tlacolula, Del Maguey, and MarcaNegra. You cannot go wrong with any of these five and don’t hesitate to spend your hard earned cash if you want an awesome mezcal. You will notice that sadly, Siete does not make the top five and has drifted away for me on a comparative basis. Still a great mezcal but these other five get the edge here.
I think for me, the Jolgorio and the Del Maguey are neck and neck for my favorite arroqueño. While I love the Vago, it is just not arroqueño-y enough! The Tlacolula has a bit too much alcohol on the finish so it falls back as does the MarcaNegra for similar reasons. Hmmm…..Jolgorio or Del Maguey……Del Maguey or Jolgorio? Caddyshack or Stripes? How can you choose??
In a photo finish I think I give the nod to the Del Maguey because in my mind it is exactly what an arroqueño should be: robust, fruity, smooth, light smoke and heat, velvety texture, and a lovely long roasted agave finish. The Jolgorio is right there as well, and I am really splitting hairs here with almost all of these great mezcals (I might set the Nizabisahio aside). As suggested, there are no mistakes among MarcaNegra, Del Maguey, Vago, Jolgorio, or Mezcalero (these are the five you can find in the U.S.). With a virtual certainty, I could go through round after round of tasting and reach different conclusions every time – they are all that good!
Arroqueños can take up to 30yrs to grow in the wild, though closer to 15yrs with some maintenance. So who knows what the future will hold with respect to their availability – like all agaves, the resource is not infinite. My recommendation is to buy them now because there is no guaranty you will find them in the future. You can tell your kids about them someday!!
That’s all for now and as always, drink mezcal!
Doc, have you tried the Rey Campero Arroqueno? I think either the US supply is very limited or they are just now starting to bring import it. Hopefully more is on the way. I’m curious how it stacks up to your current lineup.
Tyler, I think they are just now adding it to their US lineup. I did a full tasting of what they had in the US last spring, and I am pretty sure an arroqueno was not among them (given my affection for arroquenos I think I would remember if it was there). So no – I have not tried it. But I will say their Cuixe is outstanding! At that tasting I kept returning to that bottle. But thanks for the tip as now I will be on the look out for their arro……drink mezcal!
Great blog and keep the posts coming!
I recently had a chance to visit Craft Distillers in Ukiah, the guys that are responsible for bringing the Mezcalero series to the US market. They mentioned that there are 3 different bottlings of the 9th release, which I understand to be 9F, 9J and 9L. It is all Arroqueno, but from 3 different distilleries. Here is a little blurb from the Craft Distillers site, which Ted alluded to above:
From three separate distilleries using single clay potstills in El Potrero de Sola de Vega. Agave Arroqueño, intense & spicy, with a soft mouthfeel from the clay stills. 762 bottles at 47-49% abv.
I tried the 9F at a spirits festival here in SF and loved it. A week later, I ended up purchasing 9L thinking it was the same thing and noticed quite a variance between the two (there was a week in between, but tasted much different than I had remembered). I own bottles of the 9F and 9L now and hope to pick up the 9J so I can taste all 3 side-by-side. Will definitely report back on my findings, but wanted to confirm what Ted mentioned.
Great info as well. Look forward to the review of all 3!
Thanks Permalink! While I’ve had the Mezcalero 9L for some time and really enjoyed it, I didn’t know there was a 9J and a 9F, all from the same village and all clay-distilled. Whodathunk? So I went hunting: couldn’t find the 9F but found the 9J at Bounty Hunters and am now comparing the two.
Cutting to the chase, I prefer the 9L. Why? To me the 9L has a softer, richer nose while the J has something a little funky…not acetone or petrol, just something maybe even a little more than funky. As for taste, the L is round, somewhat fruity, fairly complex and downright delicious….the J seems lighter, less fruity and more alcohol-forward…with something else going on that I can’t quite put my finger on.
Admittedly, I just cracked open the J while my L has been around for a few months as is only about 1/4 full (yes I’ve been a bad boy) and I’ve noticed a freshly opened bottle being “more alcoholic” tasting compared to the well worn, months-old bottle.
I then had my wife and daughter try the two (after I tasted and noted). The two were unanimous in their preference for L and didn’t really like the J…their notes were more divergent between the two than mine.
So that’s it from me….and if anyone know where I can score the elusive F, tighten up your mescal bro please!
Great Blog and your new book is outstanding—a landmark work, and one sorely needed.
A couple of notes on the arroqueños. Taste is certainly subjective, but my taste is generally in accord with your assessments, and very much so with regard to the various silvestres, including the arroqueños I have had. That said, I have never been exceptionally enamored with my bottle of Siete Misterios, which seemed a bit puzzling and I did wonder if it was a batch issue. Interesting that in this recent tasting of yours you found it less than what you had remembered. In looking at your photo on your blog it looks like your bottle may be 385/1950, 48.7% alcohol, and I can’t quite read the date, but is it 2008? My bottle is 024/1950, 48.7%, manufactured in 2008 (which seems like a rather long time ago). So, I am wondering if this batch is different from the one(s) that you found so compelling?
Another note on the Mezcalero 9. The Mezcalero website lists three distillers. My bottle and I think yours only lists Don Leonardo Rojas Garcia. My bottle indicates it is no. 9L., 60 cases 6 x 750 ml, 46.2% alcohol. The Bounty Hunter catalog lists 9J (not L) and indicates it is exclusive to their catalog with only 204 bottles produced, and lists alcohol at 93.4 proof. http://www.bountyhunterwine.com/product.asp?ic=1SMEZNVOS39J
It appears that there may be several sub-batches of release 9, perhaps each of the distillers bottled separately one wonders.
Keep up the great work!
Ted, thanks for all the in-depth commentary! You are clearly in deep, which I respect tremendously of course.
I suspect that all the Siete we are talking about here is from the same 1950 bottle lot from 2008. I would bet they have not imported anything other than that batch. Every bottle I have ever seen, ordered, observed at bars, friends houses, are all from that lot (at least every time I’ve checked). Which makes it even more curious to me that it seems to have a lost a wee bit of its mojo for me. On the other hand, my friend Mario, still thinks it rules the day and he knows his mezcals well. Maybe my palate has changed or maybe the taste has changed a bit in the bottle, which many believe is a regular occurrence (I am less certain about unopened bottles).
I am surprised that you were never in love with it. For years, I thought it was the best joven to be found and everybody I turned onto it pretty much agreed. But as you said, this is all so subjective and you know my saying is drink what YOU like! Doesn’t matter what other people like!
As for the Mezcalero 9, great observation. I might have to buy the BountyHunter bottle and compare – like I need an excuse to buy more mezcal! It would be surprising to me that they would use different producers for a one-off arroqueno offering. But I cannot say I know anything about the way Danzantes works, so just baseless speculation here!
At any rate, thanks so much for contributing!!
Thank you for your additional insight John, and for taking the time to respond.
In the world of wine (though less often these days) a winery might not have a big enough blending tank for all of the fermenting/holding tanks or barrels of a given wine, so a wine of a given vintage, though labeled the same, may have come from different tanks or barrels. Often the differences are minimal, occasionally the differences are quite dramatic.
In the world of Mezcal, the batch of Siete Misterios of 1,950 bottles seems moderately large. One wonders if it may not all have been blended together before bottling and perhaps some vessels might have different distillation fractions than others? In the case of my bottle, it is not so much a matter of pronounced characteristics that I don’t happen to prefer, but rather the character is actually rather modest and restrained—not expansive in aromatics as one would expect from an arroqueño.
In any event, it is one of Siete Misterios mysteries and another enjoyable Mezcal adventure along the journey. All good fun. And again, your book is a wonderful guide for the journey—a spendid match of depth and enthusiasm.
I have been to the producer’s palenque who made these bottles (apparently no longer the producer for the Siete Arroqueno). He has the big plastic storage tanks that all these guys use. I am not sure how many liters they hold but certainly look like they could hold 2000 bottles and more.
Now this is made in clay pot stills which can make maybe 20-30 liters a batch. Then they pour it into the storage tank to bottle. So it is blended from many single batches. They probably would bottle it all at once (i.e. all the same blend of batches) because it can only be bottled after COMERCAM has certified and removed the seal. The producers want to minimize the number of times they get COMERCAM there because it is a hassle and time consuming (not enough COMERCAM guys to go around for ease of scheduling). It is possible these bottles were done from different blends though, so I cannot rule it out. But most likely not.
So how would I account for the different tastes from bottle to bottle (if they exist)? I don’ know!! But it is interesting that you find this not aromatic and restrained because even the current bottle I have (which I may not think is as good as previous) is still bursting with aroma and flavor. But as you said, just one more of mezcal’s mysteries!!
Love it all. Thanks for the shout out on the book and contributing!
I don’t want to overpost, but Julio Mestre S., founder of Siete Misterios, was kind enough to respond to my inquiry. As usual John, you are on the mark—all of the arroqueño was blended together prior to bottling. Also great news that Siete Misterios will be returning to the US.
My inquiry and Julio Mestre’s response follows:
1. When will your excellent Mezcals return to the United States?
2. Your outstanding arroqueño from 2008 batch of 1,950 seems to have differences among the bottles. Did you blend altogether before bottling or were they bottled from separate containers?
Thank you—looking forward to more of your wonderful Mezcals.
First of all, thanks for your kind words. I gladly reply to your questions.
1. We are closing some deals with different distributors as we speak, we hope to be there in no time, probably by the end of this year or the beginning of 2015.
2. We did blend everything before bottling, it is strange that you noticed differences between one and another, can you tell me where did you buy those bottles? was it a totally different product?
Julio Mestre S.
Ted, you are not over-posting when you are bringing this kind of value! Good stuff. But as he says, it IS strange that we seem to notice taste differences. I suspect the bottles are the same and my palate shifted a bit so they just taste a bit differently to me. And I think it just never worked for you in the first place (to meet you arroqueno expectations that is).
All is all, thanks for contributing and creating an excellent thread for this post!
This is a bit out of place, but it follows the conversational thread on Siete Misteriosos availability in the US from my 10/17/14 posting. As Julio Mestre S. of Siete Misterios indicated, the brand is now back in the US.
So far, I have found a copper distilled Agave angustifolia and a clay distilled Tobala at Andrew’s Wine Seller. The Agave angustifolia is a fairly straightforward mezcal at a fairly straightforward price. The clay distilled Tobala is a wallet wrenching 139.99.
I tend to think of Tobalas as having hints of the supple syrupy character of Mexicano but with more complexity. The Siete Misterios version is quite different. It is rather hard edged in comparison, but with some cheese-like funk complexing elements that are quite compelling. This is a different Tobala—but excellent in its own style. The price is getting a bit over the top, unfortunately.
Speaking of cheese-like funk, the Racilla La Venenosa Sierra del tigre de Jalisco (orange label) from the Agave Inaequidens, single distilled, has it in spades–no smoke, but amazing complexity.
Great post John! And yes, you’re spot on with respect to characterizing my tasting impressions. But jeez, Siete Misterios knocked from the top? I understand we’re really splitting hairs here with all these fine mescals, but I’m left stunned….ok, not really stunned but surprised. I last did Arroqueno side by sides with wife and daughter (am I a bad family man?) and while we differed on 2nd, 3rd and 4th place, 7M was the unanimous king. I propose the following: let me know which batch of 7M you have and if mine is different, I’ll send you a vile and you can compare to your 7M…..como lo vez?
Very interesting and mouth watering post! I’m going on line to get some arroqueños.
Glad MarcaNegra made it (just)! We are very happy you liked maestro Alberto’s Arroqueño since for the reasons you stated in your post, he says this batch might be his last of this agave, at least in the foreseeable future. Tip: it’s a freshly made batch and it’s quite potent, so you might want to let it rest in its bottle -preferably in a dark place- for at least 2 to 3 months. You’ll find by then that it attains an incredible, elegant balance and that the slight alcohol finish completely goes away. Please let us know.
Thanks Pedro for the comments and the booze!! I will take you up on your suggestion and put it away for a few months. It really does not need much balancing as it is already excellent, but I look forward to another round during the holidays!
Great post and thank you so much for your information. Are you going to Taste Of Mexico in San Diego the weekend of September 28th? Love your book, Azure
Thanks for reading! I wish I was in SD for that event. But I was just in San Fran this past weekend and two trips out West is just not in the cards….