We all know these are weird times we are living in. I live in NYC, and there is an unsettling calm to our lives; no traffic, relatively few people out and about, everything closed, no Naked Cowboy in Times Square, and a million other oddities. Yes, this is largely true everywhere, but perhaps the contrast to our normal cacophony is more striking here. This is the epicenter and IT is swirling all around us, yet when you walk out the door, you simply feel out of sorts and know something’s just not right.
In this environment, there are many great causes to support and my wife and I and our friends have been doing just that. We are all doing what we can for the healthcare workers, the restaurants and bars, the local businesses, the essential workers, plenty of charities and many more. So when an effort popped up on FaceBook the other night with a plan to help mezcaleros in Santa Catarina Minas (SCM), I thought, “Now that’s a great idea too!”.
SCM is a storied mezcal making town less than an hour south of Oaxaca, and I go there with great enthusiasm every year! As soon as my plane lands, I’m like Trump running for a Big Mac. I can’t wait to get there! SCM is known for their handcrafted, very small batch, clay pot distilled mezcals. A few well-known brands like Real Minero and Lalocura are there, but so are dozens of others who have no brand. I’ve bought many AMAZING mezcals in that town! Most of the producers in SCM make a living by selling mezcal to the tourists, and with no tourists, guess what? They are suffering economically. Again, they are not alone – a lot of people all over the world are. But if you love mezcal, and love Oaxaca, this is a fantastic way to support this community.
Lou Bank, founder of S.A.C.R.E.D. put this together. What is SACRED? From their website:
SACRED is a USA-based, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation that helps improve lives in the rural Mexican communities where heirloom agave spirits are made. We host educational tastings and develop other forms of fundraising to underwrite programs that help replant agave, build libraries, ensure water security, and repair damage done by earthquakes.
However, if you want to buy some mezcal, do not go to the SACRED site. You need to go to THIS SITE.
UPDATE: Lou has added another set of mezcaleros and you can buy mezcal from them on THIS SITE.
The second site has my main man Felix Angeles on it. Anyone who follows me knows I worship him (though not in a weird way).
Lou is a great guy and a mezcal evangelist. So he found a creative way to support this community, and he calls it Mezcal Futures. In a nutshell (or perhaps, small copita), you buy mezcal today and pick it up later in Oaxaca. Certainly, for those of us who are lucky enough to go to Oaxaca regularly, this is an easy trade – great mezcal at prices that are 50%-75% less than what you would pay in the U.S. for something similar. And maybe if you have never been to Oaxaca and are aspiring to go, this will be an impetus to book that flight. But yes, the trick here is they cannot ship it, so you have to go get it.
Right now, Lou has four producers selling mezcal on hisSITE. He put it up quickly, and it is not the prettiest website you’ve ever seen, but it gets the job done. And you can pay with PayPal. I’ve been to two of the featured palenques: Lalocura and that of Don Pablo Arellanes Ramirez, and their mezcals are incredible. I do not know the other producers, but I trust Lou not to lead me, or you, astray.
Of course, I bought too many bottles – I am very enthusiastic about mezcal (did you know?). I actually bought more bottles than I can realistically bring back in one trip. And I look forward to my SCM scavenger hunt, showing up with my PayPal receipt in hand, and asking these mezcaleros to unearth my bottles (apparently 3 of the 4 producers are going to bury the purchased bottles, which is supposed to help the mellowing process of the mezcal). Will they look at me like I am fucking nuts, or embrace me and appreciate that I chipped in? I am betting on the latter. As they say in Philly, “Trust the Process.”
I know of another storied mezcal family that is trying to put together something similar to what Lou has done with this effort, and there are probably others too. They are all likely to be “pick up in Oaxaca” type offers, but don’t let that discourage you! If you know of other efforts, let me know and I can add them to this post. In the meantime, be safe out there, and Drink Mezcal!
People are always asking me where I drink mezcal in NYC, so it is odd that I have never done a full blown blog post on this topic. A lot of things are odd though. For instance, a treadmill has a warning sticker that you should stop if you feel faint or dizzy. But isn’t that the whole point of a treadmill? So that is odd. Now I do have a link in the menu bar on my home page which lists mezcal joints around the U.S (and the world), but this is a more in-depth look at my mezcal backyard – NYC!
Of course, the BEST place to drink mezcal is my apartment – topping 400 bottles now – but I cannot invite everyone. I wish I could. The Mezcal Muse will kill me! So let’s set that option aside and see what else I can come up with.
The best places feature quality over quantity, but as luck would have it, anyone with quality usually has a fair amount of quantity too. Why is that? It’s because the range is flavors to be found in mezcal is so vast, and the number of outstanding mezcal producers is quite plentiful, so if a bar has a quality mezcal selection, they almost certainly have a line-up of substantial depth as well!
Certainly, I come across restaurants or bars with a handful of nice bottles, and I love it when I see it. But such a place is probably not going to be where I send people who are looking for a great mezcal joint.
So where am I going to direct you? Well, first I have to preface this with the fact that I live in lower Manhattan. So pretty much anywhere north of 23rd street is like going to Canada for me – bring the passport. Yes, there are some places to be found uptown, but most of my mezcal drinking gets done downtown. But still, I do not know of any super mezcal-y joints uptown (I am happy to be educated if you know any!). In conclusion, while my list is downtown-centic, this is where the best mezcal can be found anyway!
Also, there are now a lot of great mezcal joints to be found in Brooklyn, but those are also not my strong suit – too far, not necessarily subway convenient, too many bridges and tunnels. You get the picture. I have been to most of these, but they are not in my steady rotation. Yet, I will mention them below. So without further ado, this is where to find mezcal in NYC!
Any place that says “Mezcaleria” on an exterior sign gets my attention. I was psyched when Anejo came to the neighborhood in August 2014. I needed a local haunt with some mezcal and great Mexican food and they have not disappointed! They have a sister property in Hell’s Kitchen with a similarly fantastic mezcal selection.
In Tribeca, Angel Mejia and Raul Palacios run the bar, and it hums with friendly efficiency, flowing mezcal, and a knowledgable and deep appreciation for my favorite beverage. While they have an excellent cocktail and margarita selection, mezcal is my focus (if you can imagine?). They have all the high end stuff: El Jolgorio, Real Minero, Del Maguey, Rey Campero, Vago, Pierde Almas, Derrumbes, and many more. And they also keep it super fresh by bringing in new offerings all the time. Finally, I also greatly appreciate that what’s on the mezcal menu also squares fairly well with what’s on the shelves – this is not always the case. They stay on point.
It’s a great place with excellent mezcals, a lively and aesthetically pleasing atmosphere, and yummy food. I hope to see you there – just don’t take my seat on the corner of the bar!
Anejo Tribeca. 301 Church St. (Church and Walker), NY NY
This is the more casual sister restaurant of the very upscale Cosme, which is further uptown. A beautiful space on the corner of Lafayette and Great Jones, it practically screams “Come drink here”! They take their cocktails seriously, and while I usually want to drink mezcal while there (and everywhere), I always start with a cocktail at Atla. They are delicious, creative, and oh so mezcal-y.
And their mezcal list is on point too. While the selection is perhaps not quite as large as Anejo, they have carefully chosen every bottle. So when you want to experience mezcal, and taste a wide array of brands and varietals, Atla will not disappoint!
Atla. 372 Lafayette St (Lafayette and Great Jones), NY NY
This is a pair of restaurants serving excellent Mexican food, nice cocktails and a well rounded mezcal list in two fun spaces. The original La Contenta on the Lower East Side is teeny tiny – maybe seating for 20 – and it can be packed and a bit raucous (in a good way!). La Contenta Oeste is on 6th Avenue and is probably 5 times larger than the original, and you can actually make a reservation on Open Table!
The original location is more of an experience given it’s less gentrified neighborhood and small footprint. While you may have to wait for a table, it’s worth it. The 6th avenue location is certainly more refined, more convenient and plenty of fun too! I will happily take either.
La Contenta. 102 Norfolk St (just north of Delancey), NY NY La Contenta Oeste. 78 W 11th (at 6th Avenue), NY NY
I don’t know how they came up with the name, but I like the result! This is a very funky bar on Bleeker Street near Bowery. It has become so well known they opened an offshoot in Las Vegas. This is another place which merges a high-end cocktail bar with an agave spirit focused menu. They also have a a food menu which is not much more than small bites but is fantastic.
Ghost Donkey. 4 Bleeker St (just east of Bowery), NY NY
From celebrity chef and serious mezcal aficionado Alex Stupak, we have a pair of high end mezcal joints with serious Mexican food. Both have outstanding mezcal programs that will not leave you wanting.
Empellon Taqueria in the West Village was the original outpost, and Empellon Midtown (2017) thankfully opened just off Madison on 53rd Street and brought some much needed mezcal culture to that area. Both are exceptional. Empellon also has two dive taco joints: one in the East Village and one on E 39th St. – both are called Empellon Al Pastor. The East Village location is a personal favorite. Unlike Taqueria and Midtown, the mezcal selection at the Al Pastors are basic but the tacos and the vibe kill.
Empellon Taqueria. 230 W 4th Street (corner of W 10th), NY NY Empellon Midtown. 510 Madison Ave (on 53rd just east of Madison), NY NY Empellon Al Pastor. 145 E 39th St (between Lex and 3rd), NY NY Empellon Al Pastor, 132 St Marks Place (at Ave A), NY NY
Casa Mezcal is a very cool, funky mezcaleria on the Lower East Side. It was one of the first in NYC dedicated to our fine spirit, and they have an extensive mezcal selection with great food too.
While the mezcal selection is deep, their mezcal menu is usually disconnected from what they actually have in stock. So you really have to go with what your eyes see behind the bar and order accordingly. Of course that can be a challenge if you are new to mezcal and cannot identify brands and labels. I love this place but they could really elevate their stature if they straighten this out!
As mentioned above, Cosme is the mother ship and more upscale version of Atla. Cosme is very high end dining (with the associated prices) opened by Mexico City acclaimed celebrity chefs Enrique Olvera and Daniela Soto-Innes. The food is amazing, and they have a mezcal list to match. Here, you are likely to find the mezcal prices have been elevated as well and are higher than most of the other places on this list. But whether at the restaurant or the bar, the experience is also elevated so you probably won’t mind paying a little more for this sleek and elegant dining and bar scene.
Cosme. 35 E 21st Street (between Park Avenue South and Broadway)
El Vez has a long and lively bar, but is also very family friendly. While their mezcal selection is not as extensive as some of the others on this list, it is still quite good. Plus there food is fantastic so it is always a go-to for me.
El Vez. 259 Vesey Street (just north of Brookfield Place), NY NY
Rosa Mexicana has been a staple of the NYC Mexican Food scene for as long as I can remember. While their other outposts seem to be a bit hit and miss with their mezcal selections, the Tribeca location has it right! They have an outstanding mezcal collection with all the good stuff and more. And downstairs, they have a cool speakeasy vibe in a bar they call Masa y Agave.
Rosa Mexicano. 41 Murray St (between Church and W. Broadway), NY NY.
The Brooklyn Mezcal Scene
As I mentioned, Brooklyn is not my strength, though there are some excellent mezcal joints to be found there. Here is a quick list:
Claro. Opened to critical acclaim in 2018, Claro has an outstanding mezcal scene and intriguing Oaxacan cuisine. 284 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Leyenda. One of the more creative and thriving agave-focused cocktails scenes you can find. It’s rare that I find a place with a great mezcal selection where I might actually prefer a cocktail. They are that good. Worth the trip. 221 Smith Street, Brooklyn, NY
A few months ago Dalton Kreiss from Maguey Melate found me. I did not know him and had not heard of Maguey Melate, but then again, new mezcal brands are coming to the U.S. every day so this was not unusual. But as I read what he had to say and looked at their website, I realized there was something different going on here.
Maguey Melate is more of a project than a brand. As I learned, Dalton is working with both certified and uncertified producers to pay them fairly and bring their products to the U.S. in the most cost-effective fashion. For simplicity, I will use the word “mezcal” to describe his offerings throughout this post, but since each batch is uncertified (even if working with a ceritifed producer), Maguey Malate will not be sending you anything with the word “mezcal” on the label. These are Aguardiente de Agave distillates – commonly known as Destilados.
In case your time is limited (or my post is boring), I wanted to highlight what you are going to get for your dollars:
I like a lot of things about it, by here are my highlights:
Without question, some of the best mezcals I have are not associated with any brand. Every year I go to Oaxaca and bring back 20 bottles or so. Most of these have been sourced directly at palenques outside of Oaxaca – exactly the types of places Maguey Melate is sourcing from (sometimes the same places I have been).
If these were brought to the U.S. with a brand, they would retail for $100-$200 per 750ml bottle. So Maguey Malate is sourcing beautiful mezcals, and sending you two 375ml bottles (total 750ml if the math is challenging!) for about $100 (shipping is included in the price above). It is a pretty good value and saves you the cost of flying to Oaxaca every month!
Maguey Melate is paying fair prices to these mezcaleros, developing relationships with their families, and telling their stories with every shipment.
The mission is to support these mezcaleros and deliver brilliant mezcals you can only otherwise get if you travel to Oaxaca.
I also like that they are working with both certified and uncertified producers. In fact, Dalton tells me more of the producers are certified rather than not. When they work with certified producers, they do not certify that particular batch with the CRM (the mezcal regulatory agency), which keeps the costs down for everybody. However, sometimes certified producers have batches where the chemical composition of the mezcal lies “juuuussst a bit outside” (do you know the reference?) of the limits of the CRM. So perhaps there is a bit too much methanol to be certified, for instance. If the composition strays too far, it certainly evidences itself in the taste, so Maguey Melate will have to choose wisely.
What Commitment Are You Signing Up For If You Subscribe?
This is another thing I like about this club: you are really only signing up for one shipment at a time. Yes, they will take your payment information, but after you receive any shipment, you can cancel within 6 days of that shipment to kill your membership. If you choose to do that, you are out. If you do not cancel, the shipments will keep coming and you will be charged for each one.
How Often Will I Receive A Shipment?
Well obviously, it IS a Mezcal of the Month Club, so you get a shipment every month, right? Oh wait, not exactly. You actually will receive a shipment every two months which will contain two bottles. Why? It is a good idea from Dalton because he saves the shipping cost, which keeps the price down for all of us. And really, you can only drink about one bottle a month….or maybe a day.
What Will the First Shipment Contain?
First up is a Barrill from Antonio Carlos Martínez in the renowned clay-pot still town of Santa Catarina Minas. Antonio is a 4th generation producer, and this batch was a total of only 40 liters made from 12yr old wild barrill (A. Karwinskii if you are scoring at home). Dalton tells me it is “incredibly explosive with flavor”! Can you just send this thirsty blogger one now please???
Second in line (but first in my heart) is a Tepeztate from Luis Enrique & Sergio Juárez from Ejutla. Dalton says it is “a beautiful tepeztate and probably the smoothest 48% spirit” he has ever had. You had me at tepeztate. I love teps and I cannot wait to try this one!
In sum, I have subscribed and I think you should too! If the mezcals turn out to be not so good, I will cancel. I’ve emphatically told Dalton he has to focus on the quality of the juice or this will fail. He fully agrees, and I expect he is going to be bringing us some great mezcals thru this venture. To date, he has visited almost 100 palenques (much respect!) so he is doing his homework and selecting the Maguey Melate mezcals with great care. For me, it is certainly worth the price of entry at $100. Sign up HERE.
Finally, Dalton has not paid me for this write-up or given me any product. I even bought the Signature Box after he offered to send me one for free (I declined). The Signature Box was a great leading indicator of the quality of mezcals he will likely be bringing to us. Now Dalton, in the future, if people join the club because of this post, feel free to give me a month free or something! New York has a high cost of living you know?
All in all, it is a cause worth supporting until proven otherwise. And as always, drink mezcal my friends!
Many of you may know the storied tequila brand, Porfidio. While Patron may have been the first widely-marketed premium tequila sold in the US, there was nothing like Porfidio in the late ’90s to early 2000s. You might not remember the name, but you certainly remember the “Cactus Bottle”. It captured the imagination then and still brings a smile to my face today. It is a beautiful hand-blown glass bottle with a small, green, 2-inch tall, glass cactus sitting inside the bottle on the bottom. The cactus is like a little green guy waving “Hi. Come drink me.”
Initially, only the anejo existed so you had the gorgeous amber anejo working wonderfully in the clear bottle with the green cactus. I cannot believe I never saved even one empty bottle – what an idiot!
And this was a premium tequila because it cost about $100 even then. I first discovered it on a trip to Cozumel in the late ’90s. I was with the crew that still travels with me to Oaxaca every year, and we had just arrived at the Hotel Intercontinental in Cozumel. We saw the bottle behind the bar and knew we had to try it – and it was transcendent! We were already tequila drinkers but this was a new ballgame. Definitely a WTF moment.
Over the years, as more premium tequilas poured into the U.S. – and poured down our throats – Porfidio remained the standard bearer for us. Even though tequila drifted away for me and mezcal began to dominate my agave spirits consumption over 10 years ago, I’ve always known Porfido was my first love. Also, as I’ve met more people in the agave spirits world over the past ten years, I have come to learn there is a bit of controversy around my beloved Porfidio.
In the late ’90s and into the 2000s, there was a thread in the spirits industry questioning the provenance of Porfidio. Was it really tequila? Was it made in Jalisco? Speaking to Tequila.net, the founder of Porfidio, an Austrian named Martin Grassl, fueled the mystery as he spoke of European production techniques (“new world school”) and said he did not necessarily use highlands or lowlands agaves, but based his agave selection on “objective analytical quality” of the agaves – sounds fishy, right? So people were suspicious.
Happily, my friends and I knew nothing about this – we just loved the juice! Now, I really have not thought much about Porfidio over the past 10+ years, and I rarely drink tequila anymore. And you can still buy Porfidio – it’s expensive, though they’ve cheapened the look of that beautiful bottle, and I have no idea how it tastes anymore. But trust me when I tell you, 20 years ago, there was pure magic in that bottle.
Here is where my story comes back to mezcal (I am not sure I have ever written a story that does not start, finish, or come back to mezcal so I am not going to break my streak now). I go to Oaxaca with the boys every January, and we were there a few weeks ago. We had the good fortune of joining Asis Cortes at his family palenque in Santiago Matatlan on a Sunday afternoon. Asis is the face of El Jolgorio, Agave de Cortes, Nuestra Soledad and the 2018 release of Origen Raiz – an A. cenizo made in Durango. I’ve written a lot about Jolgorio as it is one of my favorite brands. Asis tells me that people suspect he is paying me! Not a chance. Early on, they gave me small 2oz samples of their mezcals, but other than that there has been no remuneration for Mezcal PhD. I simply love what they do. Back to the story….
We were at the family palenque and Asis’ father, Valentin, was working the palenque. The tahona (big stone wheel) was mashing cooked madrecuishe and Valentin was loading the mashed fibers
into a wheelbarrow and then lifting it into a fermentation vat. It is always amazing to see the time, effort and amount of physical exertion that goes into each step of mezcal making – this is hard work.
When Valentin had finished this part of the process, he sat down with Asis and all of us, and we started tasting mezcal. Going to a palenque is frequently filled with highlights, but it rarely gets better than an unhurried sit-down and tasting with the master mezcalero and his son. Here, the stories come out. The rich history of the family’s mezcal making past. The cultural significance of what mezcal means to them – in this case, they are Zapotec and, among many other things, mezcal is the way for them to connect with their ancestors. And the challenging times, which were not so long ago, when nobody wanted to buy mezcal. As the story turned to this difficult time for mezcal commerce, Valentin told us of an Austrian entrepreneur who came knocking in the late ’90s.
This gentleman had heard of the outstanding mezcals made by Valentin and his extended family in Matatlan, so he tracked down Valentin and his brother-in-law, Oscar Hernandez. He tasted the family products and wanted to strike a deal. Keep in mind, during this time, they did not have a well-known brand (no one really did then), and there was no certification process for mezcal yet either – that started in 2005. What little they did sell was largely for the immediate community. So an outsider who wanted to buy a lot of mezcal was a rare find.
But this fellow had a strange request: he only wanted to buy what was produced after the first distillation – he did not want the finished product. In this case, he wanted to buy a roughly 30% ABV espadin joven (an unaged mezcal made with agave espadin). While Valentin and Oscar, found this odd, they asked no questions and had the first batch ready in about a month. Over the first year or so, he regularly came to Oaxaca from his unknown origination point, and left with his mezcal in stainless steel containers, on his way to an unknown destination.
The second year, he had a different request: could they cook the pinas in aboveground ovens and remove the smokiness from the mezcal. Valentin and Oscar said they could accommodate this, but they had to build the oven. So they build an aboveground brick oven, which as you may know, is how artisanal tequila makers cook their pinas. This went on for a while longer and it was a good commercial relationship for Valentin and Oscar. But in the early 2000s, this gentlemen stopped coming, and they never heard from him again. While they were selling to him, the Cortes and Hernandez families never knew what he was doing with his once-distilled mezcal.
Some years later the mystery unraveled as they figured out what was going on through friends of friends. It was really pretty simple. This gentleman was taking the Cortes and Hernandez family mezcals to Jalisco, distilling it for a second and third time, and bottling it as a tequila. Apparently, he could not get the quality of spirit he wanted for his brand by using the blue agave from Jalisco, so he found his way down to Oaxaca to the palenques of Valentin and Oscar and bought their mezcal. But to halfway comply (though not really) with the tequila regulations, he had to distill it a second time in Jalisco and have the appearance of making his tequila there. Tequila was not regulated as tightly 20 years ago, so he could get away with it. Oh yeah, and did I mention the name of his tequila? You know it: Porfidio!
So Porfidio was actually a mezcal from Oaxaca, made from agave espadin, bottled as a tequila. The second distillation, which was done in Jalisco, did not change the provenance of the spirit – this was a mezcal made in Oaxaca. As Valentin told us this story over an amazing mezcal tasting at the family palenque, we could not believe what we were hearing. The tequila we were drinking in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Porfidio, which we worshipped, was actually made by the mezcalero sitting across from us in 2019, and it was not a tequila at all – it was mezcal!
I was stunned. Porfidio was my first love, and we had a difficult break-up as my love for mezcal grew. But in reality, I had never left her. She was a mezcal all along! Baby, I have come home!!
Maybe this was a “you had to be there moment” for you, but I hope not. When we first tasted Porfidio in the late ’90s, it was if we had discovered a Mayan treasure – it was pure gold! And to learn that it was actually being made at the time by one of the best mezcal producers in the world was a mind-blowing revelation!
Back to Porfidio
The founder of Porfidio referenced in this story is Martin Grassl. I have traded emails in the past with Martin, and he is a deeply passionate and educated producer of tequila. I am guessing he would dispute some or all of my story, and say that Porfidio was always made in Jalisco and never sourced in Oaxaca. Maybe not.
Porfidio can still be found today, though the packaging is not as elegant as it once was. As for the quality of the tequila, I really have no idea anymore. It’s still quite expensive, and I suspect it is still very good given the detailed exchanges I have had with Martin about his process, but I just don’t know. Next time I see it, I will certainly try it. Maybe I will even buy a bottle for old times sake (it might be the first bottle of tequila I’ve bought for myself in 10+ years).
That’s all I’ve got this time, and I hope you made it to the end. If you have a chance to drink El Jolgorio, Agave de Cortes, Nuestra Soledad or Origen Raiz, they are all made or orchestrated by the Cortes family and you cannot go wrong! As always, DRINK MEZCAL my friends.
I definitely have not posted many cocktail recipes to the blog. This is a personal failing as I have learned over the years mezcal cocktails are a fantastic way to introduce people to the wonderful world of mezcal. And as I am all about spreading the gospel and mezcal education, I should be more proactive about relaying amazing cocktails. While I’d like to think this will be a new trend, the reality is that it probably will not be! But know my heart is in the right place….
So with that, I bring you an amazing mezcal cocktail which I discovered this summer at Matsuhisa in Vail, CO. Well, it was actually on the cocktail menu made with Hendrick’s Gin. But after chatting with Andreas Harl, the Beverage Director, I ordered it with Ilegal Mezcal instead of Hendrick’s. Andreas, who I have known a number of years, is not a huge mezcal fan, but he does have a particular affection for Ilegal, and it is the only mezcal he carries. Good choice.
Andreas gave me this recipe and I’ve been making it ever since. Everyone I know who has tried it is simply floored. It is that good. I had a friend over a few weeks ago, who is quite adept on the NYC cocktail scene, and he declared it the best cocktail he’d ever had! So here it is, and Andreas informs me that his colleague Jeff Woods is the original architect of this masterpiece (albeit with gin!). Cheers, Jeff.
Start by making this puree:
60 grams cilantro (basically one bunch but you should weigh it)
25 grams peeled ginger
12 grams serrano pepper
25 ounces simple syrup (half sugar, half water)
Put this all in a blender and fire it up to puree consistency. Then strain it with a fine strainer. I know this sounds like a lot of effort, and you’re right. But this makes a lot of syrup and you can freeze it and use it for months. Once you have the puree, the cocktail is super simple.
2 oz Ilegal Joven
1 oz fresh limejuice
1 oz puree
Put it in a shaker and serve it straight up in a coupe or martini glass.
There you have it. Suck it up and take the time to make the puree. It will be the gift that keeps on giving for months as you work through 30 ounces of this special puree. And as always, drink mezcal!
If you are a long time reader of my blog, you are likely aware that I have great respect for the El Jolgorio brand, the family behind it, and how highly they value the tradition and culture of mezcal. The face of the brand is Asis Cortes, and he is well known in mezcal circles for his knowledge, passion and spiritual-like belief in the wonders of mezcal.
Over the past few years, Asis has become a good friend. But I am not writing this post in any way, shape, or form just because he is a friend, or because he asked to me to put something up – he would never do that if you know him. I am writing this because there is a super cool story behind the creation of Origin Raiz Mezcal, and I am seriously floored by how good it is!
The story starts with Bildo Saravia. He is from a Mexican farming and ranching family from Durango. In his twenties, wanderlust and love led him to Sydney. OK, it was probably just the love part – isn’t it always? Once there, and being a mezcal lover, Bildo decided to open a Mexican restaurant, Mr. Moustache. Somehow he got his hands on El Jolgorio, started carrying it at his bar, and fell deeply in love with it (see, it’s not just me). He met the Cortes family, they hit it off, and became the distributor for them in Australia. After a few years, Bildo’s personal situation changed, and he decided to move back home to the mountainous and forested state of Durango, where his family has a sizable cattle ranch.
So here is Bildo, mezcal lover extraordinaire, living in a state that is in the mezcal denomination of origin, on the family ranch, surrounded by land and a lot of agave cenizo. What would you do? What would I do? Well, I am trying to figure out how to make mezcal in Tribeca, so I know what I’d do! But what did Bildo do? He decided to pursue a career in accounting! OK, maybe not. No. Bildo, got in touch with Asis Cortes from El Jolgorio.
Bildo loved mezcal but did not know how to produce it, but he did know people who produced some of the best – the Cortes family. He proposed a partnership. I bring the land and agave and you bring the mezcal expertise. Asis was intrigued, so he, his father and Master Mezcalero Valentine, and fellow Master Mezcalero Rolando (Asis’ uncle), made the trip up to Durango (two flights and 800+ miles).
As the Cortes family surveyed the land, soil, and prolific agaves, things seemed promising. While Durango has more than a dozen agave varietals in the state, cenizo is the dominant agave, and virtually all the agave on Bildo’s family ranch is cenizo. While the Cortes family had never used cenizo to produce mezcal, they believed it could produce an excellent mezcal. The next day Bildo took them on a tour of a few other palenques in the region, and they began sampling other producers’ cenizo mezcals.
As they tasted mezcals from these other producers, the Cortes family was discouraged. They were not impressed, and in fact, far from it. These were not good mezcals. They were not industrial, and they were being made with traditional methods, but they were just not high quality mezcals. But as they began to look closer, and examine the production methodologies these producers were using, they saw techniques and distillation set-ups which seemed less than optimal. For example, they saw the hearts of the agave placed directly on the fire, stills with vapor collection systems 40 feet away from the stills, and fires that were burning too hot beneath the stills, among other things. After thinking through it all, they became convinced these cenizos, with their rich soil, could produce a great mezcal if produced in a thoughtful way. And so the partnership was on!
Team Cortes brought materials and supervised the construction of the entire palenque: the roasting pit (horno), the tahona (grinding mill), the fermentation vats and the stills. And if you are wondering how much cenizo the Sarvia family ranch has, they did a survey. They found they have about 1 million kilos of cenizo plants on the property, all wild of course. 1 million. Wow. While it takes cenizo 12-14 years to mature, they still have pretty much more agave than they can ever use. And even with all that agave, they already have a forestation plan in place. And they have also begun working with sotol, which is plentiful on the property, and they are planning to use other agaves which grow wild in Durango.
So it is a cool to see how it all came together – I hope you agree! But how does it taste? Amazing. It is not often I taste a new mezcal and say “Wow”, but I did this time. They had generously offered to send me a sample, but I heard is was available at Astor Wines in NYC so I just went and bought it. My mezcal-y instincts told me anything the Cortes family was involved with was worth my investment – about $80 in this case. It was a good decision.
Origen Mezcal is rich with tropical fruits (think bananas, mangos, oranges) and roasted agave with gentle smoke and a finish that lingers wonderfully. It also has a great mouth feel with medium viscosity. Man, I am telling you, this is really excellent.
So try to find Origen Raiz, which by the way translates to “Original Roots”. They are just rolling it out, and the only retail store I am aware of that has it is Astro Wines in NYC. But I am sure it will be more widely distributed soon enough. Go find it and always remember to DRINK MEZCAL!
I am excited to have just released the new and improved version of my book: Holy Smoke! It’s Mezcal! The Revised 2nd Edition. I think it is bigger, better, and more in-depth than the 1st edition. In fact, I would venture to say that it goes far deeper than any other mezcal book. It’s 272 pages versus the 1st Edition of Holy Smoke! at 204 pages! This baby is fat. There are other good books on mezcal these days, but I bet you will find Holy Smoke! to be substantially different, wholly entertaining, and uniquely insightful (plus I think a few of the others have borrowed my content without proper citation, but that is for another day).
Just because my book goes deeper, does not mean it is better. Some people may want a fast read that covers the basics. Me? You know I want to know as much as possible about mezcal, which is why I go to Oaxaca regularly, observe, listen, research, and ask a ton of questions. I always marvel at how much I don’t know! And with each new edition of Holy Smoke! I want to bring you with me – to Oaxaca, the palenques, the agave fields. I want to take you inside the minds of the mezcaleros and their nuanced production techniques, and then bring it all back to what’s in your glass. If that’s what you want, then my new book is for you.
Here is what a few people in the industry have said:
I am honored and humbled that these deeply passionate brand owners value my efforts. Bringing you the 2nd edition of Holy Smoke! has been a labor of love for me – it took me all of 2017 to bring it together. So with great pride I now release it.
The full color version is expensive and I want you to understand why. It kills me because I want it to be accessible and price competitive to other mezcal books. As I have come to learn, it is very expensive to self-publish a full color book. Why? Because self-publishing platforms (I use CreateSpace) do not do large print runs of 5,000 or 10,000 books – they print-on-demand (POD). That means the physical manifestation of the book does not exist until you order it on Amazon. And the price differential between POD and large print runs is substantial.
If I had wanted to use a publisher for Holy Smoke!, I would have had to submit many proposals across many publishing companies in the hope that they would accept me. And that is just the start of the lengthy process. So I chose to go my own route, at my own pace, and that means self-publishing. I chose CreateSpace, owned by Amazon, because after much research, they are the cheapest and also seamlessly integrated into Amazon. But the tradeoff is that the retail price, dictated by CreateSpace, is not a bargain for a full color book.
What I am doing to bring down the price? Well, there is nothing I can do for the full color version other than take a tiny royalty – $1 a book. But I have also published a black and white version of Holy Smoke!at about half the price! I thought the black and white pictures would diminish the experience for the reader, but happily I am wrong. I was thrilled (and surprised) when I received the black and white proof copy of the book. It looks great! Of course, we all may prefer color pictures, but this is as close to a zero compromise as you can get. I am psyched because I love the black and white version and I can sell it for $17! At that price, I am practically paying you to take it.
Whichever version you buy, I am confident you will love Holy Smoke! It’s Mezcal! The Revised 2nd Edition! The entire book has been updated with new content, new stories, new pictures, and new information. I’ve touched it all – some areas more than others. For example, I’ve really expanded information on mezcal production and distillation and examined how varying techniques are evidenced in the mezcal you are drinking. Also, I have new chapters on the the updated regulatory environment, pechugas and aged in glass mezcals, expanded insights on the types of agave from which mezcal can be made, new analysis on the sustainability and future of mezcal, a guide to traveling in Oaxaca, and much more. On the other hand, a few sections were only tweaked, like the History of Mezcal chapter – the history is the history, and I like how I wrote it the first time. Overall, there is a ton of new stuff.
Now I turn it over to you. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts – good and bad – just keep it clean! So pour yourself a nice mezcal, settle in, and enjoy it!
In the last few days I have been involved in a FB thread about Kimo Sabe mezcal. This started when the well-regarded mezcal pioneer Erick Rodriquez referenced a story on Medium about Kimo Sabe. The story has this graphic:
The story accompanying this graphic is full of interesting facts – perhaps alternative facts would be more appropriate. But first a quick history of Mezcal PhD’s knowledge of Kimo Sabe.
I bought a bottle of Kimo Sabe a few years ago when it popped up on a website where I buy a lot of mezcal. It looked legit so I took a $40 flyer and bought a bottle. I probably should have done even a tiny bit of research first because info was readily available, but I didn’t. It arrived a few days later and I enthusiastically poured a copita of what I thought was a new artisanal mezcal. It was so offensive on the first taste that I thought my palate was just being difficult. But after a few more sips, I simply realized that this mezcal is industrial and tastes every bit of it. On the way in it is acidic and chemically, and then it just disappears on the finish like water (actually water is far more enjoyable). Don’t just take my word for it. Check out what my friends at Mezcal Reviews say HERE.
So I hate to pick on a specific brand, but there are just so many things going on with Kimo Sabe that I had to comment. So back to the above graphic and the Medium story.
First, the headline: MEZCAL IS MADE IN 11 SPECIFIC REGIONS OF MEXICO. Ahhh, no it’s not. There are 9 designated regions where mezcal can be made. They have added State of Mexico and Morelos as recently approved, which is simply incorrect. They may be approved in the future but not yet. Second, let’s look at the Medium story. They say they have partnered with the state of Zacatecas to create over 1,000 new jobs, and they are helping over 2,000 independent producers. Wow. Really?
I am all for job creation in Mexico relating to mezcal, and this has factually happened already in many (maybe all) of the mezcal making regions. But your average palenque that exports a brand has maybe 10 employees. And a larger distillery might go to 20 or so. And yes, you also might want to count the farmers who grow the agave, though much agave is purchased by the palenque, not owned by the distiller. But to suggest that one brand is going to create over 1,000 new jobs seems quite audacious (the nicest word I can come up with). And what about the help Kimo Sabe is providing to over 2,000 independent producers? How is THAT possible? Please, show me the math. I am happy to be proven wrong.
If they are creating jobs and helping independent producers, I am all for it. But the extent of their claims is a bit hard to swallow (as is their mezcal so I guess there is symmetry). Still, they probably are creating some jobs, and I am not knocking that.
If you go to the Kimo Sabe website, you can watch this video which plainly shows some of the industrial methodology used to produce their mezcal. This is their choice as to how they want to produce mezcal. But what inflames the mezcal community is when an industrial brand masquerades as artisanal and uses the limited resource which is agave to mass produce their product. They don’t even tell us what agaves they use in their production. There is only so much agave to go around, and no, we don’t want it to be used for industrial purposes.
Kimo Sabe clearly spends a fortune on marketing – a bunch of brand ambassadors, sponsoring South by Southwest, and other projects – so they are apparently well-funded. Why didn’t they use some of that capital to invest in their production process and make a truly artisanal mezcal?
I am a capitalist and know that entrepreneurs make different choices. Kimo Sabe made this one. The problem in the mezcal world is the limited supply of agave and the early stages of the category where consumers are not necessarily well-informed as to what goes into a quality mezcal. So yes, consumers can be conned.
I don’t know if you are excited, but I sure am! I have been working on the 2nd Edition of Holy Smoke! It’s Mezcal! for the better part of 2017, and I am finally getting close to publishing it. While I did not expect it to take this long, it turned out I had a lot to say!
So much has changed since the first printing of Holy Smoke! in the summer of 2014 – new brands, new regulations, new agaves, and I have learned so much as well. As I said then, mezcal cannot be mastered, and as I have continued to pursue this passionate hobby, my accumulated knowledge keeps expanding. I have more to say, more pictures to share, more stories to tell and hopefully a bit more good humor to entertain.
The Revised 2nd Edition is not a complete rewrite, so do not go in expecting that. But I have touched every chapter, written new chapters, combined old ones, and eliminated a few as well. There is more depth and granularity on all things mezcal.
As you may know, the last year or so has brought a few more books on mezcal, and I think a couple of them are very good. I also think one of the better ones took a few key concepts or points from Holy Smoke! without giving me credit, which is too bad. But I have moved on and tried to write the most in-depth book on mezcal that exists. My book is not for everyone – for example, vodka lovers may feel slighted. But if you want to know as much about mezcal as possible, I think The Revised Second Edition is the book for you. Mezcal and agave nerds stand by!
In the first edition, I really dug into the production process. Here, I went even deeper. I also added a new chapter, “Process Trumps Varietal”. In this chapter, I am bringing forth the concept that the process a mezcalero uses to produce his mezcal can almost always make the varietal indistinguishable. He is a sample from that chapter:
Typically, in mezcal production, the mezcalero only keeps the corazon from the first distillation. There may be other uses for the heads and the tails, but they are set aside. Then the heart of the first distillation is put back into the still for the second distillation. The second distillation is further cut into puntas, corazon, and colas, with the middle distillate being the highest quality alcohol, and this is the mezcal which is bottled. But what if the mezcalero makes an early cut on the puntas – meaning, some of the puntas become part of the corazon? Or what if he makes a late cut on the tails, which brings some of the tail into the corazon? Do you think that impacts the taste? You bet. Let’s see why.
All the vapors coming off the still have congeners. Congeners are substances that are produced during fermentation which are released by the heat of distillation. They are impurities, but they have flavor. The positive characteristics of a spirit are usually associated with a class of congeners called esters, which can bring apple, banana, mango, butter, anise, apricot and other tastes and smells to a spirit. The negative characteristics of congeners can bring odors and flavors such as nail polish remover, rubber, and rotten fruit. The names of some of these congeners are a bit scary: acetone, methanol, isobutanol, amyl alcohol, and ethyl butyrate to name a few. Amyl alcohol is often cited as the chief culprit in a hangover. But all these congeners are present in low, non-toxic, doses in almost any alcohol you drink. If you drank all the puntas or all the colas, you’d likely be in bad shape. But slices of either can be very beneficial to the mezcal. The distiller’s magic is to minimize the less desirable congeners and enhance the good ones.
Why am I telling you all this? Why should you care? When you bought a book on mezcal, you probably were not expecting a dissertation on the chemical process of distillation. I know, but stick with me – it’s about to come together.
So guess which part of the distillation primarily contains the esters? That’s rights. It’s the heart, or corazon. And guess which parts are dominated by the less desirable congeners? Right again. The puntas and the colas. So the taste of your mezcal is highly dependent on which congeners sneak in, and that process is controlled by where the mezcalero makes his cuts.
There is much before this excerpt and much after it as well, in this chapter. It is an important concept and maybe controversial too (I don’t mind stirring it up as you know), and a lot to expound upon at any rate. But this is just one small example of what I have tried to bring in the new edition: more depth, more analysis, more research, and more fun!
I have also added to the agave chart in the new version. As you may know, this chart details every unique agave from which mezcal can be made. I am up to 63 agaves now that I believe can make a unique mezcal! Over the years, I have received a lot of feedback from people who appreciate the research that went into that chapter as well as the result – many in the sprits industry tell me they use it as an ongoing reference. I love that, and now it is better and more refined. I even went nutty and alphabetized it.
I wish I could tell you this new version of Holy Smoke! would be out by Christmas, but sadly, it will not. While I have finished writing it, the editing and design process take time. So I hope to have it out in early 2018. I have not figured out to make this available on pre-order via Amazon, but I assure you I will let as many people as possible know when it is ready!
I think the Amazon price will be similar to the first edition, which admittedly is not cheap. But self-publishing a book with color pictures jacks up the publishing costs on every platform I have looked at. I use CreateSpace, because it is Amazon’s platform and they are the most efficient on everything for a self-published author, including price. On other platforms, the book would be priced north of $40, which is nuts. So you know, I make about $5 for every book sold no matter where Amazon chooses to sell it (usually $35). You can rightfully guess this is not really a money-making endeavor for me. On an hourly basis, I am sure Starbucks would be a better wage! But Starbucks is not a passion and mezcal is, so I don’t mind. I just want you to understand why the book costs what it does.
On that point, I am going to convert the first edition of Holy Smoke! into a black and white only version, and sell it at a much cheaper price. I think a lot is lost without color pictures, but at least that price point might be more accessible (the publishing costs fall dramatically when you go with black and white). People will have a choice and make their own decision.
There you have it. I am excited to be nearing the publishing date. If you buy it, I think you will enjoy it, and I will spread the word as soon as it is available. In the meantime, DRINK MEZCAL!
Wow. Whoa. Holy shit. This week saw HUGE news in the mezcal world. Del Maguey Mezcal was acquired (a majority stake) by spirits industry giant Pernod Ricard. It is shocking, exciting, and troublesome to many as well. I’ll take the first two and pass on the third – not troubling to me at all.
First, a little background. Del Maguey, and it’s artist founder Ron Cooper, is the pioneering brand which brought the first premium mezcal to the U.S. in the mid-to-late 1990’s. Prior to the beginning of Ron’s evangelical campaign, mezcal was thought of as this worm-infused, gag-inducing swill only a frat boy could love. Del Maguey was largely alone in this pursuit for as long as ten years. It was not until the late 2000’s when other premium brands like Ilegal, Los Nahuales, Fidencio, and Pierde Almas, among others, began to show up in the U.S.
While certainly those brands, and a few others, have helped drive mezcal to where it is today, Del Maguey clearly got it started, and they are the number one selling mezcal in the U.S as a result. They have an army of industry supporters who prosthelytize the wonders of mezcal and Del Maguey, which has been awesome for the mezcal category. Their leadership, passion, and education-driven approach to mezcal has helped bring it to the forefront of the artisanal world of spirits. Sometimes I find the brand approaches mezcal with a bit too much reverence, but I cannot argue with the results. I too hold mezcal in high regard, but this is still booze after all! If we’re on a mission from god, let’s make it the Blues Brothers version. Mezcal is fun and sexy, cool and exotic, and an amazing tradition-laden spirit, so I don’t get too carried away.
And Del Maguey is REALLY good mezcal, especially their Vinos de Mezcal series and Single Village line-up. Their cocktail-oriented Vida is likely the main driver of their revenue, and no, it is not as good as their single village line-up, but it is also costs $35-$40 a bottle and works well in cocktails.
So that all said, it is a shock to see them sell the brand. The word from Ron is nothing will change in the way they operate the business, and they will continue to support and work with their palenqueros as they always have. And I have no doubt it is true because I know he and his team care so much about mezcal and what it represents. They would not do a deal with someone who did not subscribe to their world view, which is why this is not troubling to me in the least. Plus, I am a capitalist so more power to them. Del Maguey will now have more money and resources, and they will continue to produce their mezcal in an honest, sustainable way. For another take on this move, my friends at Mezcalistas posted THIS.
While Del Maguey is the first brand to be sold to one of the large spirit companies, there has been other action in the category. Bacardi bought a minority stake in Ilegal in February and Diageo has a distribution deal (and likely some equity stake or options) with Mezcal Union. Cuervo also has their own brand Creyente in the U.S. market, which they claim is made in an artisanal way, though I cannot say it tastes like an artisanal mezcal (I am stretching to find the nicest words I can). Nevertheless, the large spirit companies are approaching mezcal in the right way for the most part. They seem to recognize this is an artisanal product which cannot be industrialized.
I have a lot more to say on this subject and what it means for the future of mezcal. So this post is just a preview as spurred on by this huge industry news. You may not care about what else I am thinking, or you may be interested to know that I have already written a chapter on this very subject for my new book, the Revised Second Edition of Holy Smoke! It’s Mezcal!
Yes, I am revising the self-proclaimed best selling mezcal book of all time, Holy Smoke! It’s Mezcal! Is it really the best selling mezcal book of all time? Well, I am not really sure but it’s possible. And there really are not many books on mezcal so it can’t be that far off. I hope to have this ready to bring to market sometime this Fall.
So that’s it for now. Big news for the mezcal category and its continued growth. Thanks for reading and as always, drink mezcal!