Monday 25 July 2011

International Mezcal Festival Round-Up

One week ago today Clive's Classic Lounge In Victoria B.C. held a small Mezcal tasting night to commemorate the International Mezcal Festival.  Held Yearly in The State of Oaxaca (pronouced wa-hah-ka), Mexico, the International Mezcal Festival brings in over 50 000 people and 4 Million Pesos to the states Capital.

Although some similarities exist between mezcal and tequila, mezcal differs drastically in tastes and production.  While true tequila may only be made from the weber blue agave(also commonly referred to as Maguey in the Mezcal world), mezcal may be made from several different agave varieties.  Once the maguey has been harvested and the heart or "pina" is left, it is cut into smaller proportions and pit roasted over a pill of scorching hot stones before being buried with agave leaves and soil.  The cooking of the maguey takes between 3 to 5 days to successfully convert the once present carbohydrates into fermentable sugars.  Like tradition methods of making tequila the maguey is then placed in the mill ring to be mashed by a giant stone wheel pulled only by a horse.  The mashed maguey is then left to ferment naturally by air born microorganisms in rustic wooden fermentation vats.  Because of the absence of added yeast, fermentation time may take up to 7 days to achieve completion.  The distillation process is also far from state of the art.  Asides from the modern cooper pot still, clay is a widely used material in the distillation process.  After being twice distilled the mezcal is then married without the addition of any water with previous distillations to achieve a desired flavor profile unique to the particular brand or village producing this elixir of gods.

At Clive's Classic lounges an array of Del Maguey Mezcal was featured in flights, cocktails and paired with sublime Mexican cuisine.
Mezcal Monday's Menu.  *Property of "Clive's Classic Lounge"*
Opting for an aerial tour I began my journey of the single village mezcals with Minero, Santa Domingo and Chichicapa.  In the village of Santa Catarina Minas, Minero is distilled in a clay pot still constructed with bamboo tubing.  Floral, earthy, fruity with a long mild smoky finish define this mezcal.  Santa Domingo comes from a small village located south of Oaxaca in the region of Mixe (pronounced Mee-Hay).  Santa Domingo is a very fruit and floral forward mezcal with a reminiscent taste of dragon fruit.  All transportation of raw materials to make this mezcal are done by either horse or donkey, making it a very limited product.  Last in my first round of flights was Chichicapa.  Located 4 hours outside of Oaxaca the mezcal of Chicicapa is a true balancing act of sweet and smoke.  While three half ounce pours may not seem like much, the intense flavor and the enduring finish of these fine artisan spirits ensured that they may be savored for long after your jarrito is empty.
Traditional clay Jarritos used for drinking mezcal.
To conclude my round trip of Oaxaca I finished with Mezcal from the Village of San Luis Del Rio as well as two of Del Maguey's rarest offerings, Tobala and Perchuga.  The mezcal of San Luis Del Rio is intensely smoking with a definitive citrus oil note. Second was the extremely rare Tobala. What makes this mezcal so rare is the particular species of maguey used in the production.  Harvested from small Tobala agave grown in elevated canyons of 8 200 feet, Tobala is extremely difficult and expensive to produce.  Everything tasted previously in the evening was contained in this bottle of mezcal.  Floral, sweet, fruity, earthy and slightly smokey all of which stand on equal ground to one another.  Although a though act to follow, from the village of Santa Catarina Minas comes the last stop in this journey, Pechuga.  Not only the most unique mezcal of the night but of any spirit I have ever encountered.  Both the ritual of production and the final flavor characteristics are unlike any spirit I am aware of.  The process of Pechuga starts where Minero left off.  Minero is prepared for a triple distillation.  To 75 litres of mezcal 25 pounds of wild plums, apples, red plantains, pineapple, almond and a few pounds of uncooked white rice is added to the clay still.  Finally a skinned and deboned chicken breast is suspended in the still for a 24 hour distillation.  The resulting product demonstrates a nose of smoked tomatoes, orange and jerked meat all of which can also be found in the taste along side various herbal notes, pepper and an earthy smoke.

The marvelous selection of Del Maguey mezcal at Clive's Classic Lounge 

While the Pechuga was the most memorable mezcal of the night due to it's peculiar nature.  It was the Tobala that for me stood above all other mezcals in terms of balance and quality.  I would consider the quality of the mezcal offered by Del Maguey to rival any single malt scotch or Cognac I have ever tasted.  If I am fortunate enough to come across one I will not hesitate to buy a bottle, especially if it happens to be the Tobala, San Luis Del Rio or Chichichapa of which where my favorites of the night.

A big thanks to Del Maguey Mezcal and all the hard working individuals that put there sweat and blood into this product.  As well, thanks to the hardest working bartender in the industry, Shawn Soole of Clive's Classic lounge for taking the time to organize the event and for providing the opportunity to taste such amazing mezcal.


  1. I'm glad you liked mezcal. Currently in NYC, there are at least 10 different brands of mezcal. I find most of them very amazing. It is definitely my one of the best kind of spirits now available in the US.

    My two favorite mezcal brands are Mezcales de Leyenda and Los Nahuales.

  2. Thanks you for your comment Pedro. I was very impressed with mezcal DEl maguey has to offer. While scotch is still my favorite spirit I would consider Mezcal to be second on that list.

  3. To drink the best mezcal, you really need to visit the very small villages in Oaxaca. I recently returned with 2 bottles purchased from roadside stores. One bottle is the distillers reserve. They said it was 5 years old.