Tag Archives: mezcal

Harvesting Espadin Agave for Mezcal in My Front Yard: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Mezcaleros Hilario and Emmanuel loading agave espadin piñas

Only in Oaxaca do you wake up to find a guy cutting down agave cactus for mezcal in your front yard, Kalisa Wells told me yesterday morning.  Kalisa is house-sitting for me in Teotitlan del Valle while I’m sojourning in Durham, North Carolina.

First, cut off the sharp, spiny leaves

Kalisa is really there to puppy sit until Luz and Sombra come of age, ready to adopt out. It should be soon. Then, she’ll be taking care of Mamacita and Tia until I get back.

Kalisa Wells took all these photos! Thank you!

There has been espadin agave on the land where I live among the maize fields ever since I can remember. When I first arrived, twelve years ago, these were tiny immature plants. Omar, youngest Chavez Santiago family son, tells me these agave were planted seventeen years ago! Now, some are sending up reproductive shoots, topped with baby agaves. Bees swarm and give up agave honey. After a few months, the mother plant dies. Topples over. The dead stalk can be used for fire wood or home construction.

Farmers want to harvest the agave when it is ripe and before it sends up the stalk, when the sugar energy is concentrated in the piña, perfect for making mezcal.

When Teotitlan del Valle mezcalero Hilario and his son Emmanuel showed up to cut and dig out the piña, Kalisa took photos and a video to send to me. She keeps me informed about life around the casita. Don Federico supervised. It’s his land, his agave, and this is his cash crop.

Niss Gubaa Dau mezcal brand, Teotitlan del Valle

Seems Kalisa has been buying local mezcal from them for a while. They make the distilled brew in their patio, behind the molina (mill) across from the church and market.

Almost ready to dig out. See the video for how they do it.

They are working hard on all the agave, writes Kalisa. I hear the sound of primitive and very effective tools. I hear the Zapotec language and the smell of fresh cut agave drifting into the casita. 

Teotitlan del Valle mezcal brand contact information

Demand for artisanal mezcal has skyrocketed around the world. There are now more than 300 brands. There is worry and big buzz about whether there will be enough agave to satisfy the demand. Every food and beverage writer weighs in on this as they come to Oaxaca to sample the offerings.

What’s left — only the remains of leaves and a piña to be loaded.

Small operations, like those of Hilario and Emmanuel, are still producing home grown, home distilled mezcal for local consumption just as they have been doing for hundreds of years. Fiestas in Teotitlan del Valle are fueled by mezcal. It is de rigueur to bring a bottle as a host gift.

(Here in North Carolina, we call this beverage, moonshine, made the same way in a shiny, copper still.)

Some mezcal facts and tips:

I see by the photos that the landscape of my front yard has changed, denuded of espadin. The agave in my front yard and along the fence line is no more. Last year, I planted rows of immature espadin plants in anticipation that someday Don Federico might harvest these treasures.

Before the cutting, my garden decor.

I’ve expanded my cactus garden to include tobala, tepeztate and cuixe.  It will take them many more years to mature and offer me unlimited high desert beauty. They may certainly outlast my lifetime!

The tipsy glass of liquid gold — Pineapple Lime Mezcalita

 

 

Oaxaca to Durham–Pineapple-Lime Mezcal Cocktail Recipe: Serves Two

Is it a Mezcalini or a Mezcalita?

First you need tasty espadin joven mezcal. My limited stash in NC.

Most of the weight in my checked baggage from Oaxaca, Mexico to Durham, North Carolina, USA was attributed to three bottles of Gracias a Dios mezcal — two of Gin Mezcal and one of Cuixe (also spelled Cuishe, pronounced KWI-SHAY). I had four bottles packed and couldn’t move the luggage, so I reluctantly removed one.

(I buy my Gracias a Dios mezcal directly from Oscar Hernandez, the mezcalero, at his palenque in Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca, the world capital of mezcal making.) He blends the Gin Mezcal with 32 aromatics including lavendar and juniper berries, ginger and rosemary.

The first pour!

Since I’ve gotten here, I’ve experimented with mixed drinks in addition to loving the aroma and taste of mezcal straight with no flavor additives. A little sip goes a long way! Never throw back a mezcal shot. It’s not done that way.

Start with ripe pineapple (more yellow than this one) and squeezable limes.

For the uninitiated, a Mezcalini is like a Martini in appearance only. Mezcal and pulverized fresh fruit with a bit of simple sugar syrup, are shaken together with ice and strained. Then, the bartender pours the aromatic liquid into a stemmed cocktail glass. Sometimes herbs and spices are added, like rosemary or ginger, in the shaken (not stirred) motif. Serve it straight up.

The Tipsy Glass of liquid gold — Pineapple Lime Mezcalita

But, for my version of a Mezcalini, I prefer to adapt the Margarita, substituting mezcal for the more lowly (IMHO) tequila. In restaurants, I order this as a Mezcal Margarita so no one makes a mistake. I like it over the rocks with a salted rim, garnished with worm salt.

Cut off crown, then bottom, and whack the sides off.

Let’s all now rightfully call this a MEZCALITA.

The classic will be fresh squeezed lime juice, mezcal and Cointreau (in Mexico, look for Controy).

It will look like this when you trimmed off the spines.

In Mexico City, I ordered such a drink on the rooftop terrace of the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico, overlooking the Zocalo. So good, I returned again. And then, once more. It was blended with fresh pineapple and lime juice.

Section into quarters, then cut out the core.

I’ve been working on perfecting the recipe here in Durham, making it for every at-home occasion I can plan. I think I finally have it down, and I’m passing it along to you.  No cheating. You can’t use tequila.

Here’s how you cut out the core. No mess.

Cut into 1″ cubes. Get your lime squeezer ready.

Pineapple-Lime Mezcalita Cocktail — Serves 2

In a blender, add together:

4 ounces of Joven mezcal distilled from the Espadin cactus

2 ounces of Cointreau

2 T. simple syrup (dissolve 2 T. sugar in 4 T. boiling water until liquid is clear)

1 C. fresh ripe pineapple, cut into 1″ cubes

2 ounces of freshly squeeze lime juice

6-8  ice cubes, or more for a slushier consistency

Add all ingredients to your blender.

Pulse your blender a few times to mix the ingredients. Then, add the ice cubes and turn speed to LIQUIFY. In seconds, your drink will be ready.

Add your ice cubes, and then …

I have two wonderful, clear, Tipsy Glasses, hand-blown by Asheville glass artist Ben Greene-Colonnese. You can order them online. Not sure where you can find mezcal where you live but definitely worth the search!

Blend on LIQUIFY, pour and enjoy.

We use this lime squeezer throughout Mexico. It’s a part of every kitchen. Mine is the cheapest and totally functional, all aluminum. I’ve had it for years. Where to buy in the USA? Amazon, of course.

At home in Teotitlan del Valle, I have a collection of many favorite brands made from wild agaves like tepeztate and tobala. Some, I bought from the distiller and they are unlabeled and not available for export.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gossip and Morning Refreshment: Following the Abuelitas

This morning I arrive at the daily market early, by 9 a.m. I had chicken soup on my mind and want to make some, so I first stop at a stall where I know that cooking teacher Reyna Mendoza buys her pollo. Criollo, advises the woman standing next to me in the aisle as she points to the small whole, white chicken, saying pollo, es pollo, (chicken, it’s chicken) a Spanish lesson for the güera. I smile and nod.

Buying roses, $2.50 a dozen . I always have fresh flowers.

Buying roses, $2.50 a dozen . I always have fresh flowers.

Criollo means natural or wild or organic. They eat maize, she says. She then points to the big, plump yellow chickens sitting with their big breasts, proud birds, twice the size of the criollos, and says, these came from Oaxaca and they eat commercial grain (in Spanish, of course). Then, the vendor and the shopper move into Zapotec, a language I don’t understand. Some chismes (gossip), I’m sure.

Mango vendor with an abundant supply.

Mango vendor with an abundant supply.

I love following the little grandmothers, the abuelitas, through the market, with their wool checked faldas (skirts) folded around their waist and tied with a handwoven red wool cinturon (belt) with tassle ends. In the old days, these belts were dyed with cochineal. Some still are.

Plaid wool skirt tied with a cummberbund, floral top, shawl for sun protection, basket to hold market goodies.

Plaid wool skirt, floral top, shawl for sun protection, basket for market shopping.

Plaid skirts, flowered blouses, sometimes aprons, always a traditional handwoven reed shopping basket balanced on the crook of the left arm, long hair braided with colored ribbons and tied together at the end or piled on top of the head like a crown, a rebozo (shawl) covering shoulders or head, sometimes the shopping basket. This is a passing generation.

Village tuk-tuk carries shoppers who don't carry baskets on their heads.

Village tuk-tuk carries shoppers who don’t carry baskets on their heads.

This was not meant to be a long shopping trip. I left the house gate open because I intended to return immediately.  A quick pass through the market for organic chicken, chard, a dozen fresh long-stem roses (40 pesos a dozen, that’s about $2.50 USD), criollo eggs from the gallina (hen), a couple of squash and mangos (it’s the season).

Following the abuelitas as they take a respite

Following the abuelitas as they take a respite

As I was loading my car I noticed a stream of abuelitas entering the doorway of the convenience store across the street. Such a good picture, so I decided to hang out. A few more entered, one at a time.

Inside, a congregation of about six grandmothers. Good for the stomach, they say.

Inside the inner sanctum, a congregation of about six grandmothers.

More than coca-cola inside

More than coca-cola here. Time for a chat and refreshment.

It was by now 10 o’clock in the morning. I waited for them to emerge but they didn’t. And, I remember that this is the ladies’ social hour and the convenience store is where they congregate before going back home to work, prepare meals, do laundry and take care of the grandchildren. So, I decided I was done waiting and would join them!

It's dark inside with obscure lighting. In the shadows I can barely see faces.

It’s dark inside with obscure lighting. In the shadows I can barely see faces.

Believe me! A shot of mezcal at 10:30 a.m. can really get you moving. As I sidle up to the counter cum bar to join the ladies, they welcome me with warm smiles, ask where I live, how long I’ve been here, and admire my filigree Zapotec-style earrings and embroidered apron, sign that I am surely one of them. Or at least a trying hard wannabe. Then, invite me to take photos.

I get a Zapotec lesson, Xa-Yu (how are you?) and chichi-bay-oh (salud) as we raise the cup. I already know Zakchi! (hello, good afternoon). This is really a foreign language.

A convenient stop across the street from the market

A convenient stop across the street from the market

Rosa, as she introduced herself, buys my first drink. Good for the panza, she says, patting her belly. I agree. Mezcal is a medicinal when not abused! She offers me another. I smile and decline, realizing I need to drive home without bumping into any burros.

Next time, my turn to buy.

And, that’s village life in Oaxaca.

For sale, fresh cornhusks for tamales, anyone?

This is, too. Fresh native corn and husks for tamales, anyone?

Norma’s Simple Chicken Soup Recipe

  • 1 small, white organic chicken, cut up, skin removed
  • include neck and gizzards and egg sack
  • 1-2 chicken feet (just like grandma used to make)
  • 4-6 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • 1 serrano pepper, dried
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 whole onions, peeled
  • 1/2″ fresh turmeric, peeled

Add chicken and all other ingredients to 6 qt. stockpot. Bring to simmer on stovetop, cover and cook for 4-6 hours*. Chill. Remove fat. Muy rico.

These local, skinny free-range chickens are pretty tough, so to get the meat very tender, it needs to good for a really long time! It’ the feet that give the flavor.

Gracias a Dios! Have You Heard of Gin Mezcal?

We hadn’t heard of gin mezcal until the other night at Oaxaca’s Origen restaurant. Our very competent waiter suggested we taste it which was on the menu as a mixed drink. What was it like unadulterated? How could mezcal be gin? Hollie asked.

Gin Mezcal with 32 different herbs including lavender

Gin Mezcal with 32 different herbs including lavender

Gracias a Dios is the mezcal brand. That means Thank God. They produce several different varieties. This one, our waiter told us, has 32 different herbs including a very aromatic lavender. I guess it’s the aroma that gives the name GIN instead of the juniper berries. It was so good, we each ordered a little sipping cup and drank it along with our dinner instead of wine.

Gracias a Dios bottles espadin, plus the wild mezcales cuixe and tepeztate.

Gracias a Dios bottles aged espadin, plus the wild mezcales cuixe and tepeztate.

Next question: Can we buy it here? No, he said, and directed us to local La Mezcaloteca on Calle Reforma that sells bottles and dispenses tastings at the bar. They didn’t have it. Can we help you with something else they asked? No thanks.

Big selection, handpainted boxes at the ultimate gallery Mezcalillera

Big selection, handpainted boxes at the ultimate gallery Mezcalillera

Do you know where we can buy it? The barkeeper referred us to a vague place at the corner of Benito Juarez and Murguia. Lots of directions here are vague. One needs to be persistent. Along the way, we asked at the retail mezcal shop two doors down. No luck. Then, we stopped in a couple of mezcal bars along the way. No luck.

Map with contact information for Mezcalillera

Map with contact information for Mezcalillera

At the corner of Murguia and Juarez, there was no evidence of anything resembling the sale of mezcal. I asked a young man with an ice cream cone in his hand. He sported a beard. He appeared as if he might know.

Hard to find brands, artesanal and delicious.

Hard to find brands, artesanal and delicious.

And he did, pointing us to the middle of the next block on Murguia between Benito Juarez and Pino Suarez. Hallellujah. We found it. And bought the only two bottles of Gin Mezcal. So sorry! Maybe by the time you read this they will have stocked more.

7 Mysteries, with a look like a boutique California wine label.

7 Mysteries, with a look like a boutique California wine label.

Mezcal provisioners are cropping up all over town. Most mezcal bars will also sell bottles. Mezcal is the hot commodity all over the USA and Europe. Some of the bottles for sale have been certified for export. If you go out to the palenques and find the taste you love, you can often buy 750 liters of uncertified mezcal for 200 pesos, a real bargain and fraction of what a Oaxaca retail store will charge.

And, now for the Meteor!

And, now for the Meteor!

La Mezcalillera, Murguia 403A, Centro Historico, Oaxaca. Tel. (951) 514-1757. Facebook: mezcalillera  Enjoy!