Vinos Por Todo
After a day of distilling Pechuga, eating Dehlia’s incredible food and harvesting agave, we returned to Morelia to explore the night life. Like every other experience in Michoacán it was filled with contrast. We started at a swanky mezcal bar with an extensive collection of unusual agave spirits from all over Mexico. We finished at a dirty pulque bar that was blaring trance music. Pulque isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it’s not the worst night cap accompanied by good friends and a shot of mezcal.
The next morning, after the requisite Chilaquiles, we headed back to the distillery to taste the final blend of Pechuga. The distillery was filling the roasting pit when we arrived. The fire had been lit the night before and was finally at the perfect temperature to begin filling the agave. After the agave was carefully stacked a plastic tarp is draped over the pit and covered in dirt.
Oliviero and Emilio pulled equal parts from each section of the run, still separated for CRM testing, and batch out an approximation of our final products. Immediately, the deep savory smokey aromas explode from the copita in a way that they hadn’t on the flores we’d been tasting the day before. The layers of complex flavor from each part of the distillation run work in perfect harmony.
It’s clear that we’ve created something extremely unique, surpassing even my wildest expectations. Not withstanding any issues with the testing, this batch should go as is into Emilio’s underground cellars for a minimum of 6 months of aging in glass. Only a few liters of heads and tails discarded thanks to the extremely high quality of the batch. It will not have any adjustments or filtration performed before bottling and should clock in upwards of 100 proof.
It wasn’t easy saying goodbye to the Vieyra family. In only two days, it already felt like we were leaving behind our closest friends. Quick camaraderie the result of such natural and genuine hospitality. His final gift to us, a magical walk up to the natural spring that feeds his distillery.
We finally reached a plateau filled with gorgeous old growth pines. Here the Vieyras has been celebrating their most important milestones for the last 150 years. The significance of our presence there a symbol of the changes that mezcal is experiencing.
There’s no questions the Don Mateo represents the best of what Pino Bonito has to offer, they might be considered the very top distiller in Michoacán and in that respect had adopted certain modern techniques that many traditional producers wouldn’t use. We didn’t realize that comparatively Emilio has one of the cleanest most well organized vinatas in the region until we visitors another legend of mezcal michoacanio.
We packed in the van and headed about 75 kilometers to the east to a village called Rio de Parras. Here the agave Alto is king, the large floppy pencas strikingly different from Cupreatas thick hardy leaves. Also known as Inaequidens, Alto is a very slow growing varietal that’s endemic to Michoacán and can take between 8-30 years to mature.
The master of Inaequidens is Don Jorge Perez. The an assuming gentleman has become famous locally for his brand Mezcalante. He doesn’t commercialize it beyond his vinata and typical sells to friends and family only, but his good name has reach far and wide.
In fact, it is so well regarded that the label is regularly bootlegged by less skilled distillers. Many of his expressions were available in bars and restaurants throughout Morelia likely muled in by residents of Rio de Parras. No formal distribution of his products is in place.
Jorge is not only a master of the traditional arts, but a technical wizard willing to experiment at any opportunity. We tried a number of aromatized mezcals distilled with local flora and fauna. Throughout the afternoon we tasted no less than 10 different expressions including orange, lime, anis, guava, turkey, rattlesnake, coyote and more. Most flavors are distilled like Pechuga, suspended in the still wrapped in cheese cloth, but others are introduced directly into the spirit and left to steep.
While Don Jorge’s wild experiments are fun, it is his exquisit Alto Naturale that shines brightest. His outrageous looking stills, carved from the sacred Oyamel, do something magical to this special plant. Roasted in the tiny pit behind the distillery in ultra small batches, Alto has even lower sugar levels than Cupreata. Some batches are as small as 50 liters. The agaves are hand crushed in wooden canoes before being fermented in stone pits.
Alto Naturale of the highest order is what Pedro Ximinez of Mezonte is bottling for his first US export from Michoacán. Here Don Jorge stands at his distillery with the very bottle that we will be selling in the coming months. Pedro’s insight into the process is crucial to understanding the cultural and spiritual significance of this sacred spirit. His technical knowledge is vast, but it is the lessons of his heart that resonate with me.
Pedro has devoted his life to these people. Humble and deferential, he takes no credit for the incredible organization that he’s created. I hesitate to refer to him as mezcal Jesus, cause I know he’s hate the comparison, but nobody in this industry shows as much compassions and purity of intention than this man.
He’s not only curated a line of some of the finest spirits in the world, but he’s given these incredibly hard working people a hope. Children of mezcaleros, who once searched for a better life to the north, are returning to communities to build a better future. Families reunited and thriving by creating joy for us, a real life miracle. The result of one man’s commitment to these people and the spirit that has sustained them for centuries. Now that’s a profit I can get behind.