90 Percent Of Animals Appeared At The Same Time Mezcal From Oaxaca: If It’s Traditionally Made, No Two Batches Can Be Equal

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Mezcal From Oaxaca: If It’s Traditionally Made, No Two Batches Can Be Equal

The state of Oaxaca, where roughly 85% of Mexican mezcal is made, is my bailiwick. I have spent the past quarter century promoting, teaching, and yes, continuing to learn about agave distillate. And while my knowledge continues to grow, one aspect of mezcal production which I am convinced of, and often demonstrate to students of the spirit, is that no two batches of mezcal traditionally made can possibly be the same. . By “traditional” I refer to small-scale production distilled in clay pots no larger than 90 liters (referred to by the national mezcal regulation board as “father”), or distilled in copper alembics with an average of 300 liters ( “artisanal”). The process is much more complex, but that’s the broad strokes.

Not that the mezcal aficionado, or the novice for that matter, jumps blind whenever he buys, without knowing exactly what is in the bottle because each batch is different. Despite the fact of the uniqueness of every distilled level, there is a consistency, a predictability if you will, based on the broad character of the type of agave used to produce mezcal, the region where it is grown and distilled, and perhaps most importantly. the reputation of the palenquero (traditional distiller). But each and every one of these maestro mezcaleros knows that he cannot create the same mezcal twice in a row. Contrast this with a distiller making an industrial product; His aim is to ensure that every bottle of every batch produced from the same taste as before. It has production methods and business tools that enable it to do so.

Distilling in a 70 – 90 liter clay pot inevitably results in a greater level of conversion than in a 300 liter copper alembic. This is because of the nature of the clay pot and its housing. It is not to suggest that imbibers should avoid clay. If not; Many mezcal drinkers “in the know” appear to prefer their agave drink distilled in clay. However, while they differ widely, one is not better than the other.

But let’s start at the beginning, with maguey (a local word for agave) in place. Oaxaca has a greater diversity of climatic zones than any other state in Mexico. While each agave has a preferred micro-climate, some species are very variable (like espadin). Within a small area we see great differences in soil, from red clay containing oxygen, to fertile soil, to high rocky mountains. Each lends itself to a different agave development, which is reflected in the differences in the superior flavor of the resulting mezcal. And more recently, with the ever-increasing demand for raw materials, palenqueros are getting their agave from further away from their palenques (small scale distilleries); from anywhere that can be sourced in a “reasonable” price per kilo.

The farmers from whom most palenqueros buy their agave are often subsistence farmers. Most of these campesinos cannot afford to wait the better part of a decade to turn their land into money. Between the rows of maguey they grow corn, beans, squash, garbanzo, alfalfa, to feed their families and farm animals, and to sell in local soap markets. Each plant affects the soil differently, which affects the growth of the agave, which affects the flavor of the mezcal. Also, people often meet goats and sheep grazing on the weeds between the agave rows, and they are slow. By contrast, our high distiller’s money will rarely if ever get agriculture, weed or farm animals within it rows of gold; for him, maguey which ten years ago brought only 1,200 pesos for a three ton truck, now Agave is worth 60,000. He wants to increase the profit, so he wants to plant his crops as big and as soon as possible, he doesn’t want weeds or seeds to take away the food.

Such business operations prepare their Agave in brick steam ovens or autoclaves, or diffusers, using exacting electronics to control temperature and doneness. Traditional palenqueros on the other hand, bake their maguey on in-ground kü pits that contain firewood and rocks. Despite the best efforts to evenly bake and thus caramelize the raw material, typically insulating the pinyas (carbohydrate rich agave hearts) from hot rocks using bagazo (waste fiber from the distillation process), even working in the elusive; no two batches of agave are ever capable of being roasted to the same extent, with the best effort and skillset; some piñas always have more fire than others, so they taste different. The temperature is never controlled, or even verified.

In addition, if you cook anything at all in a sealed chamber over firewood for five days, the type of wood you use will affect the flavor of what is prepared. Palenqueros usually cook their agave on hardwood. But the type of log often varies from bake to bake. Sometimes it is oak, other times mesquite, or eucalyptus, or from a combination of different trees. Of course the mezcal sold by the brand owners can be roasted on wood ordered by the merchant; but if you don’t have palenque to take care of the process, really, there is no guarantee.

Likewise, the type of vessel used to ferment the carmelized then crushed maguey affects the flavor of the higher distillate. Mezcal fermented in the zoo makes it available for sampling in some of Oaxaca’s mezcalerias, as a way of showing how mezcal’s flavor (and aroma) can change significantly depending on the fermentation medium. Usually in and around the central valleys of the state, wooden slats are used, but sometimes the palenquero uses brick and concrete baths, clay pots, plastic bags, drums of oil that have been taken, stone that is below the floor, and even old washing machines. Palenqueros do not always use the same type of equipment. If it’s a big batch, and the distiller doesn’t have slatted staves left for fermentation, he’ll use something else.

When fermentation occurs, just before active fermentation, there are at least two other changing effects to agave flavor:

  1. Some palenqueros wait for at least two weeks before offering the Agave karwinskii species (i.e. madrecuixe, barril, tripon, tobasiche, martinyo, and a list of names based on specialty and village), during which different molds. form, each impacting the taste of maguey which will be crushed and more improved.

  2. Some pinyas end up being complete with gusanos (larva referred to as worms). A few years ago a client and I each sampled pieces of agave picked from different espadin pinyas. You see a very different taste than I do. As you can see, one section is full of gusanos in particular, the other is not at all.

The palenquero fabricating artisanal or ancestral mezcal aspires to make every batch as good as possible, knowing that no two batches can be the same. The industrial/commercial distiller wants every batch to be equal to the last, and knows how to achieve that goal. It uses a specific yeast strain, and stainless steel fermentation vats which can be cleaned between uses; and he works in an unclean environment.

Whether you use open air fermentation, or cover your vats, traditional palenquero relies on environmental yeast to turn sweet, roasted, crushed agaves, along with added water, into a cider-vinegar-like product that it is distilled. These airborne yeasts are not only different depending on the climate, but they vary from season to season, month to month, and in theory from day to day. And even if you would otherwise try to control the quality, you cannot control the yeast. Likewise, at different times of the year different insects enter the hives in their attempt to feed off the sugar water. Honey, knats, fruit flies; they all participate in the process at different times of the year in traditional mezcal production, and each gives its own variation to the ultimate flavor.

Water must be added to the fermentation vat. In traditional mezcal production, H2 O comes from a mountain spring, well, or maybe even a river. But regardless of the aforementioned scientific composition of water, the percentages of its chemical components are always different to a certain extent. As with yeasts, the quality of the water is not controlled in culture, and will vary, at least at the time I would suggest, but in advice once again, on a daily basis. The palenquero who makes his favorite mezcal has never dreamed of having his own distillation plant, and even if the brand owner gives him the power to buy one, the maestro is likely to reject the idea.

We arrive at the last stage of production, that is, distillation and the mezcal’s correction to the desired ABV (alcohol by volume) at the end of the second pass through the firewood fueled clay pot or copper alembic. Some of the best mezcals are distilled in copper stills lit by fossil fuels, the temperature and speed of distillation controlled by properly sized equipment. However, the production of many agave distillates from Oaxaca continues to rely on the skill of the palenquero, which has been passed down from generation to generation. The young man learned from his father, who learned from his father. The Palenquero carefully watches the speed at which the mezcal pours into the bag, and the intensity of the burning fire, making adjustments as it is taught, as it is learned. The speed of distillation has the highest effect.

Just as important, the maestro mezcalero must decide how the cuts are made. When the wine is coming out of the stand it is very strong in the beginning, and as the process progresses the percentage goes up. And each level, known as the head first, then the body, and finally the tail, can have a different nature. And so there is usually a combination of the three to achieve the proposed ABV and have the best possible flavor. Even if the palenquero uses an alcohol meter to reach the desired alcohol content as opposed to relying on taste, smell and / or perlas (pearls or bubbles), it is a common sense that is the decision that higher, rather than modern scientific equipment. .

Finally, we return to the idea that when distilling in clay, the phase change is greater than in the case of distilling in copper. At least three reasons:

  1. Clay is porous. Snake is not. Those readers who have seen native destruction have experienced smoke billowing from black burning wood. Once again the wood is usually different, and in this case it is softwood, and dry agave leaves or quote (agave’s flower stalk), or any other type of burning material. The smoke rises up under the earthen pot, then to a certain extent passes through it into the water, and it will rain. This, in the end, affects the taste.

  2. When boiling with copper, at the end of the process the bagazo is outside, and the remaining water is poured by removing the plug from the tube at the bottom of the pot, the remaining residue is rinsed out with clean water . Next the distillation begins with a clean copper alembic. In contrast, with water clay and bazazo is removed little by little, by hand, without washing. So when the next distillation continues, some from the previous inevitably remains, affecting the next pot.

  3. Many palenqueros source their clay pots from the same proven potter. However that is not always the case, especially when the go-to artisan distiller is out of stock. Each of them digs clay from a different hill or ground, and both of them change their pot and burn it in a different way. So each pot may be slightly different in terms of its composition and design. The result of each clay pot mezcal is influenced differently by the particular vessel, the potter has left his mark.

Indeed, each of the aforementioned unique and different factors influence the resulting mezcal in a very small way. However, the highest quality mezcal is slightly different from the last level. These grouped effects are merely illustrative, and are only a few of the many other additional effects that support the curriculum.

For those who are still a little skeptical of the proposition, a friend of a very famous, quality export brand of mezcal distilled by four different palenqueros, both of father and artisanal traditions, calls me periodically, both fun and proud at the same time, shouting, “Alvin, you have to come to the office to try the new batch of Juan’s tobala.”

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