Take Me to the Source: Gin Mezcal in Matatlan, Oaxaca

Last Thursday was pretty depressing. Not because of Oaxaca safety concerns or traffic or the zocalo encamped by teachers. I got around Oaxaca easily by foot last week.

Aye, que borracho! That's what happens after too many!

Aye, que borracho! Don’t blame the mezcal for making me stupid.

I was depressed because when I got to La Mezcalillera, the purveyor of artesanal mezcal on Calle Murguia in the historic center of Oaxaca in the early afternoon, they were out of my favorite Gracias a Dios Gin Mezcal. I wanted to buy a few bottles to bring back to the U.S. with me to give as gifts. Of course, once the bottles were open, I could have a nip or two.

Copper still for processing mezcal, just like moonshine but more refined.

Copper still for processing mezcal, just like moonshine but more refined.

Despite the attempts of the barkeep to help me find something else that would equal, and after numerous tastings (sips, please), I just couldn’t bring myself to buy anything else and walked out empty handed.

Dreams of juniper berries and orange peel dancing in my head.

Agave Gin: Dreams of juniper berries and orange peel dancing in my head.

My head hung for the rest of the afternoon as I tried to divert my mood, concentrating on the shopping list: a 5-year old aged añejo mezcal for my sister (her favorite), special order Oaxaca blouses for friends, Oaxaca chocolate, and a much needed haircut.

Cuixe wild agave cactus, pronounced Kwee-shay.

Cuixe wild agave cactus, pronounced Kwee-shay.

When I woke up on Friday morning, still feeling let down, I decided it was time to research where Gracias a Dios is distilled. After a 30-minute Internet search I came up with a location, website and contact form.

Tobala, another wild agave cactus, yields a distinctive herby aroma and taste.

Tobala, another wild agave cactus, yields a distinctive herby aroma and taste.

I got a reply back from Emmy Hernandez within minutes via email and then a phone call. It was about 11:30 a.m. She was willing to drive three bottles to the city from Santiago Matatlan at the tail end of the Tlacolula Valley and world capital of mezcal.

Horse driven stone wheel used to crush roasted agave pineapple

Horse driven stone wheel used to crush roasted agave pineapple

I said, No, I’ll go there! I wanted to see the palenque and find a regular, reliable source for what I have come to consider an amazing spirit. I want to go where it’s made, I mumbled to no one in particular as I was standing on the cobblestone street in the historic center. I arrived an hour later.

Vintage, well-used copper vessel for distillation

Vintage, well-used copper vessel for distillation

Emmy Hernandez is the daughter of master mezcalero (distiller) Oscar Hernandez Santiago. He is the person who creates the distillation process to ensure he gets the best flavor from each of the varietals during roasting, pressing and aging. He’s the mezcal equivalent to a winemaker.

Espadin is the most common agave and the base for gin mezcal

Espadin is the most common agave varietal and the base for gin mezcal

The family lives where they work: On the far side of Matatlan as the Federal Highway 190 disappears from view over the rise on the way to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

Distilled in copper, aged in oak, 45% alcohol by volume, 90 proof, ground by horse-driven stone, organic.

Contact Gracias a Dios

Thank God for Mezcal. I believe it. So do Zapotecs. A great medicinal.

Thank God for Mezcal. I believe it. So do Zapotecs. A great medicinal.

The palenque is more than where Gin Mezcal is made. It is an event destination and there’s going to be a big mezcal, food and music festival there in mid-July. If you are around, don’t miss it.

Fiestas, festivals, parties, weddings, a great event space.

Fiestas, festivals, parties, weddings, a great event space.

Ok, so there’s a commercial edge to what’s going on here. It’s not like going to the rural agave farms in San Dionisio or San Baltazar Chichicapam or Santa Catarina Minas. That’s okay, because they sure do make an excellent Gin Mezcal (organic, triple distillation, flavored with 32 herbs including juniper berries, rosemary, orange peel and cinnamon, 45% alcohol by volume). And, they have distribution in the USA and Europe.

Gracias a Dios Gin Mezcal, boxed and ready to go!

Gracias a Dios Gin Mezcal, boxed and ready to go!

Salud. I now have three bottles to pack and take!

Ready to plant tobala cactus starts. I bought three. Ants hate cactus.

Ready to plant tobala cactus for my garden. I bought three. Ants hate cactus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 Responses to Take Me to the Source: Gin Mezcal in Matatlan, Oaxaca

  1. Catherine Ljungquist

    Hi Norma,
    I too really enjoy your blogs. My husband & I have been on a short trip to Oaxaca, but hope to return in January for a longer stay.
    Did I read that you are going to be in San Francisco?

    • Hi, Catherine, Thanks for the testimonial! I really appreciate that you take the time to read what I write. And, yes, I’ll be in San Francisco the last week of July. My sister lives in Santa Cruz and works in The City!

  2. 3, why not 4 bottles?
    Margie and bob

  3. Cool, Norma. Great information. Wish I were here now having a “gin” martini! Ha Sounds just delicious.

  4. Such a wealth of information! Thanks for all the hot tips!

  5. This was so interesting, Norma. And I love the way you’ve informed me about so many places outside the city. I’ve been exploring a bit more lately, although I’m limited by my reactions to the altitude, which never affected me 20-odd years ago, but my lungs and heart now don’t like it. However, I’m usually able after the first few days to do a bit more. I do love the discoveries of new places and people — and yes, new mezcal!

    Kate

  6. Norma – thanks for the link back to our story! We recently had an event in NYC and Gracias a Dios mezcal was one of the participating brands – pretty tasty stuff!

  7. Hello Norma

    You provide so much wonderful information, have you ever published a guide?
    It would wonderful… You have a great writing style and deep knowledge!!
    Best regards

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