Friday, July 1, 2011

Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal

The agave nursery in San Luis del Rio
In 1970, Ron Cooper, renowned artist and founder of Del Maguey, embarked on a road trip to discover the full Pan-American Highway. He stopped in the Oaxaca region of Southwest Mexico, and immersed himself in the history and traditions of the Zapotec and Miztec people who inhabit the area. Their fascinating culture greatly influenced Cooper's artwork, and he incorporated many of their ancient folklore into his creations. In 1990, he returned to Oaxaca to research a new project he was working on - creating a series of 50 hand-blown glass bottles to depict the infinite forms of intoxication and ecstasy of the Aztec god Ometotchli. Each one of these bottles was to be filled with mezcal, a traditional spirit distilled from the region's sacred agave plant. He continued traveling through the remote villages of the region, and discovered that each village in Oaxaca produces mezcal traditionally, but each one has a distinctive flavor profile. This is due to the varying topography of the land, which produces endless microclimates and numerous species of agave that greatly influence the characteristics of the finished mezcal. Determined to share these unique spirits with the world, Cooper created an importing company based from his home in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, as well as a cooperative of the best mezcal producers of Oaxaca.

Mezcal is such an important part of Zapotec culture that every member of the village contributes to its production. Each person plants their own agave plants in their small gardens and diligently cares for the plant until it is about two years old. The plant is then uprooted and transferred to the hills, where it matures for another four to ten years until it is ready to be harvested. After the agave is harvested, the hearts, or "piñas" are placed over hot rocks in an eight foot pit and covered with moist fiber from the plant, followed by woven palm-fiber mats and a layer of earth. They bake this way for three to five days, absorbing flavors from the earth and wood smoke and oils on the rocks. Each producer leaves the roasted hearts buried for different lengths of time - the producer of Del Maguey Tobala leaves them buried for a month! 
The mill at Chichicapa
The piñas are then removed and covered by palm mats in the shade for a week where they begin to ferment naturally with airborne microbes, then placed on the ground inside a ring of stone. In the center is a vertical post connecting an axle to a huge vertical, circular millstone. This stone wheel is pulled around the circle by a horse to crush the maguey. The only exception is Del Maguey Minero, where the maguey is ground in a stone trough by men wielding oak bats.

The crushed maguey is then placed in wooden vats that hold about three hundred gallons, and village water is added. The mash is covered with palm-fiber mats and ferments naturally with its own yeasts and microbes for four to thirty days. The mash is then transferred to a seventy-five gallon copper still (introduced by the Spanish settlers), or a thirty gallon ceramic still, which was introduced by Chinese visitors to the area (long before the Spanish conquest era). A copper "sombrero" is placed on the top and the mix is slowly heated by wood fire for twenty four hours, which allows it to vaporize and condense without "burning" the flavor. The fiber is cleared out of the still and the alcohol from the first distillation is placed back into the still and the distillation process is repeated. The resulting mezcal is unlike any spirit you have experienced before. Every Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal is created in extremely small quantities following these traditional production methods which were developed in the 16th century, allowing the mezcals to be certified organic by COMERCAM - The Mexican Regulatory Council For The Quality Of Mezcal.

The still at Santa Catarina Minas
Aside from working directly with the producers of their fine mezcal, Del Maguey also work with two villages of weavers. Every bottle of Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal is encased in its own unique handwoven palm fiber basket. The women of Oaxaca has been weaving these baskets for thousands of years and each of their designs are of Zapotec or Mixtec origin. It takes one woman half a day to weave each cover for a bottle of Del Maguey Mezcal, and the result is a true expression of their culture, art and dedication.

Del Maguey currently has eight releases from the villages of Chichicapa, San Luis Del Rio, Santa Catarina Minas and Santo Domingo Albarradas. They are currently working on a few new projects, although they are highly allocated. Created by the same distiller who produces Tobala, the Espadín Especial is an exceptional mezcal created from the Espadín agave. It is currently only available on-premise, but we hope to see it imported to the United States in the near future. Del Maguey is experimenting with barrel-aged products as well, which will be released in limited quantities when they have earned the distillers approval!

Santo Domingo Albarradas
Whether you prefer your mezcal neat, on the rocks, or in cocktails, raise your glass and proclaim "Stigibeau!" (pronounced stee-gee-bay-oo), the Zapotec toast to the life and health of each other and the earth.

Stigibeau from DrinkUpNY!

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