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!