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Mezcaleros: Oaxaca, April, 2017

Mezcaleros: Oaxaca, April, 2017
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  • Mezcaleros: Oaxaca, April, 2017

    Post #1 - April 23rd, 2017, 9:54 am
    Post #1 - April 23rd, 2017, 9:54 am Post #1 - April 23rd, 2017, 9:54 am
    Mezcaleros: Oaxaca, April, 2017

    Last week, three of us – Lou Bank, me and Pigmon – traveled through several mezcal-producing communities in Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s most biodiverse states. There are a few other mezcal DO (denomination of origin) regions outside Oaxaca (e.g., Michoacán, Guerrero, Puebla), but Oaxaca is the state where most mezcal is produced.

    Traditionally, the key markers of an artisanal mezcal are that it’s made from the heart, or pina, of any agave (not just blue agave, required for tequila). Traditionally, the pina is cooked in a pit, crushed with mallets or in a tahona (big stone wheel grinder), fermented in wood through natural fermentation using airborne yeasts, and finally distilled in a clay or copper pot.

    Stateside, mezcal is having a moment, hot at hipster bars and established Mexican restaurants, inspiring many to ask, “Where the hell have you been all my life?” Of course, mezcal has been part of Mexican life for centuries; to hear Bank tell it, agave-based distilled spirits were perhaps sipped by indigenous peoples even before Cortez came a-knocking at Montezuma’s golden door.

    Mezcal, like wine, tastes powerfully of place. Agaves live in the ground for years, sometimes decades, before harvesting, and mezcal conveys the herbaceousness of local plants, the dry heat of Mexican sunlight, and the unique flavors of specific agave species (e.g. Espadin, Arroqueno, etc.).

    Though mezcal can be purchased in the States for upwards of $80 for a good 750ml bottle, those bottles have to be certified by Mexican authorities. Certification costs money, so a lot of the price for certified mezcal is not going back to the people who make this spirit. It’s going toward the cost of doing business. The mezcal we bought was considerably less expensive; the makers are not certified, they don’t advertise, and most of their beverages seem crafted for a tightly local market, neighbors and others, who sip it on many occasions, including family celebrations like quinceañeras and religious holidays.

    Traveling through Oaxaca, I shot photos of mezcaleros: agaveros who tend the plants, palenqueros who roast, smash and ferment the pina, and the maestro, the master of this time-honored ceremony of taking a plant that flourishes in a hostile environment and then transmuting it into a spirit that reflects the land from which it came and the people who brought it forth. Here are some of the people who are making it possible for all of us to taste Mexico, the soon-to-be-walled-off republic that continues to fascinate with foods and spirits that make us very happy to be eating and drinking and alive.

    Maestro Felipe Cortes, early in the morning, in his palenque, flames going, pots distilling..jpg Maestro Felipe Cortes, early in the morning, in his palenque, flames going, pots distilling.


    Maestro Felix Angeles invites us to admire the bubble structure of his excellent mezcal..jpg Maestro Felix Angeles invites us to admire the bubble structure of his excellent mezcal.


    Agavero -- who tends the spiky agave and eventually harvests the cumbersome and bulbous pina -- has one of the hardest jobs in the palenque..jpg Agavero -- who tends the spiky agave and eventually harvests the cumbersome and bulbous pina -- has one of the hardest jobs in the palenque.


    Graciela Angeles of Real Minero works to propagate and nurture many species of agave that could disappear if attention is not paid to them. .jpg Graciela Angeles of Real Minero works to propagate and nurture many species of agave that could disappear if attention is not paid to them.


    Agavero, tending hijuelos, baby agaves,  shows us organic pesticide made of chiles and herbs. It's spread outside the plant and sometimes injected into the heart..jpg Agavero, tending hijuelos, baby agaves, shows us organic pesticide made of chiles and herbs. It's spread outside the plant and sometimes injected into the heart.


    Maestro Eduardo Angeles, a successful mezcalero, explains to me how they sometimes make a kind of coffee from parched corn. Behind him is a field replanted with funds generated by LTHForum.com..jpg Maestro Eduardo Angeles, a successful mezcalero, explains to me how they sometimes make a kind of coffee from parched corn. Behind him is a field replanted with funds generated by LTHForum.com.


    Silvia Philion Muñoz runs Mezcaloteca Ranch, nurturing rare and indigenous agave species and supporting small-batch mezcaleros..jpg Silvia Philion Muñoz runs Mezcaloteca Ranch, nurturing rare and indigenous agave species and supporting small-batch mezcaleros.


    Maestro Victor Ramos works hard, growing agave, roasting pinas, and distilling the spirit..jpg Maestro Victor Ramos works hard, growing agave, roasting pinas, and distilling the spirit.


    Buying mezcal from Victor Ramos and son. Gallons acquired..jpg Buying mezcal from Victor Ramos and son. Gallons acquired.


    Reminds me of the Arlo tune, Coming into Los Angeles, bringing in a couple of keys. But it's Chicago, it's more than just a couple, it's liters, not keys, and it's not weed..jpg Reminds me of the Arlo tune, Coming into Los Angeles, bringing in a couple of keys. But it's Chicago, it's more than just a couple, it's liters, not keys, and it's not weed.
    “We all have to stand before the kitchen gods.” Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni
  • Post #2 - April 23rd, 2017, 11:25 pm
    Post #2 - April 23rd, 2017, 11:25 pm Post #2 - April 23rd, 2017, 11:25 pm
    Terrific photo narrative, thank you. When I saw a photo of hand labeled bottles posted elsewhere I knew someone had been traveling south with Lou Bank. Thanks for providing some faces to match with the craft.
    Objects in mirror appear to be losing.
  • Post #3 - April 25th, 2017, 6:58 am
    Post #3 - April 25th, 2017, 6:58 am Post #3 - April 25th, 2017, 6:58 am
    Kman wrote:Terrific photo narrative, thank you. When I saw a photo of hand labeled bottles posted elsewhere I knew someone had been traveling south with Lou Bank. Thanks for providing some faces to match with the craft.


    Thanks, Kman, I was hoping that people who might have heard of Cortes, Ramos and others would like to see what these people actually look like.
    “We all have to stand before the kitchen gods.” Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni
  • Post #4 - April 25th, 2017, 2:51 pm
    Post #4 - April 25th, 2017, 2:51 pm Post #4 - April 25th, 2017, 2:51 pm
    David,
    I truly enjoyed this piece. Great writing and photos.
    Mezcal, like wine, tastes powerfully of place. Agaves live in the ground for years, sometimes decades, before harvesting, and mezcal conveys the herbaceousness of local plants, the dry heat of Mexican sunlight, and the unique flavors of specific agave species

    Your description makes me think mezcal is something I would enjoy and appreciate. I loved seeing the beautiful, hardworking people behind this craft.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your experience.
  • Post #5 - April 25th, 2017, 3:45 pm
    Post #5 - April 25th, 2017, 3:45 pm Post #5 - April 25th, 2017, 3:45 pm
    Wonderful stuff, David. Thank you so much.
    Man : I can't understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.
    T. S. Eliot: Ah, but you're not a poet.
  • Post #6 - April 25th, 2017, 5:50 pm
    Post #6 - April 25th, 2017, 5:50 pm Post #6 - April 25th, 2017, 5:50 pm
    I was introduced to mezcal during my first trip to Oaxaca, in 2003. Fascinating watching the process. Didn't know they called the heart a piña, but it's easy to see why, as it does look just like a pineapple once all the leaves are cut off. The intensely smokey taste was not necessarily my favorite discovery in Oaxaca, but it was good enough that I enjoy having you take me back there with your story, and tell me so much more.

    And I was particularly interested in the fact that LTHforum.com has contributed to replanting agave there. Very cool.
    "All great change in America begins at the dinner table." Ronald Reagan

    http://midwestmaize.wordpress.com
  • Post #7 - April 26th, 2017, 12:19 am
    Post #7 - April 26th, 2017, 12:19 am Post #7 - April 26th, 2017, 12:19 am
    Cynthia wrote:The intensely smokey taste was not necessarily my favorite discovery in Oaxaca, but it was good enough that I enjoy having you take me back there with your story, and tell me so much more.


    Cynthia, I didn't taste smoke so much in the agaves we tried in (and brought home from) Oaxaca. Maybe I don't taste it anymore, or maybe it's played down, or maybe in some of the mezcals I've had in the States, the smoke is more overt or (heaven forfend) added to the distillate because people expect mezcal to be smoky. I'm not saying there's no flavor of smoke in the mezcals we had on this trip, but that flavor is way less pronounced than the earthy, vegetal, briny flavors.
    “We all have to stand before the kitchen gods.” Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni
  • Post #8 - April 27th, 2017, 6:00 pm
    Post #8 - April 27th, 2017, 6:00 pm Post #8 - April 27th, 2017, 6:00 pm
    Love me some mezcal. Any recs for a decent retailer in the area that's not a Binny's?
  • Post #9 - April 27th, 2017, 6:22 pm
    Post #9 - April 27th, 2017, 6:22 pm Post #9 - April 27th, 2017, 6:22 pm
    Moreno's Liquors
    “We all have to stand before the kitchen gods.” Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni
  • Post #10 - April 27th, 2017, 9:40 pm
    Post #10 - April 27th, 2017, 9:40 pm Post #10 - April 27th, 2017, 9:40 pm
    David Hammond wrote:
    Cynthia wrote:The intensely smokey taste was not necessarily my favorite discovery in Oaxaca, but it was good enough that I enjoy having you take me back there with your story, and tell me so much more.


    Cynthia, I didn't taste smoke so much in the agaves we tried in (and brought home from) Oaxaca. Maybe I don't taste it anymore, or maybe it's played down, or maybe in some of the mezcals I've had in the States, the smoke is more overt or (heaven forfend) added to the distillate because people expect mezcal to be smoky. I'm not saying there's no flavor of smoke in the mezcals we had on this trip, but that flavor is way less pronounced than the earthy, vegetal, briny flavors.


    As I noted, I suspect you were being shown higher-end mescals. Of course, it might be because we were standing near the pit where the piñas were being burned, before being ground and processed. And perhaps it was just mediocre mescal. They had one flavored with apple, and the trick was picking the one with the fewest fruit flies. So not the highest end operation, I suspect. :)
    "All great change in America begins at the dinner table." Ronald Reagan

    http://midwestmaize.wordpress.com
  • Post #11 - May 7th, 2017, 7:55 am
    Post #11 - May 7th, 2017, 7:55 am Post #11 - May 7th, 2017, 7:55 am
    Reminds me of the Arlo tune, Coming into Los Angeles, bringing in a couple of keys. But it's Chicago, it's more than just a couple, it's liters, not keys, and it's not weed.

    Dave- so glad that you can now add- to your Business Card, another "Occupation"- Mescal Importer....travelling w/the always charming, equally suave- Lou Bank to visit his favorite "Craft (Mezcaleros) Distillers" in Oaxaca musta been a trip.

    Lou shared with me there's a limited number of volume/bottles you are allowed to carry into the US- and he & Connie usually are maxed out- so with the other compadres-
    you all musta done pretty well. :wink:
  • Post #12 - May 7th, 2017, 10:36 am
    Post #12 - May 7th, 2017, 10:36 am Post #12 - May 7th, 2017, 10:36 am
    Hombre de Acero wrote:
    Reminds me of the Arlo tune, Coming into Los Angeles, bringing in a couple of keys. But it's Chicago, it's more than just a couple, it's liters, not keys, and it's not weed.

    Dave- so glad that you can now add- to your Business Card, another "Occupation"- Mescal Importer....travelling w/the always charming, equally suave- Lou Bank to visit his favorite "Craft (Mezcaleros) Distillers" in Oaxaca musta been a trip.

    Lou shared with me there's a limited number of volume/bottles you are allowed to carry into the US- and he & Connie usually are maxed out- so with the other compadres-
    you all musta done pretty well. :wink:


    I believe once when Lou was coming home with over 100 liters, he was relieved of some (like 40 liters or so) because it was allegedly a "fire hazard," so apparently 60 liters of mezcal is non-flammable. It was bullshit, of course, and my understanding is that as long as you don't push it too far (and maybe 100 liters is pushing it just a wee bit), you can bring back a great deal. If there's an official, objective limit to the number, I'm not aware of it, and certainly 20, 30 liters or more is no problem. The customs man did not bother to look at my customs declaration, so I guess I could have brought in much more.
    “We all have to stand before the kitchen gods.” Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni
  • Post #13 - May 9th, 2017, 8:31 pm
    Post #13 - May 9th, 2017, 8:31 pm Post #13 - May 9th, 2017, 8:31 pm
    David Hammond wrote:
    I believe once when Lou was coming home with over 100 liters, he was relieved of some (like 40 liters or so) because it was allegedly a "fire hazard," so apparently 60 liters of mezcal is non-flammable. It was bullshit, of course, and my understanding is that as long as you don't push it too far (and maybe 100 liters is pushing it just a wee bit), you can bring back a great deal. If there's an official, objective limit to the number, I'm not aware of it, and certainly 20, 30 liters or more is no problem. The customs man did not bother to look at my customs declaration, so I guess I could have brought in much more.


    It sounds like total bullshit to me. As long as you properly declare it and pay duty on it there shouldn't be a problem. As this Q&A item from CBP notes excessive quantities (obviously subjective) may result in the agent believing it's not for personal use.

    "There is no federal limit on the amount of alcohol a traveler may import into the U.S. for personal use, however, large quantities might raise the suspicion that the importation is for commercial purposes, and a CBP officer could require the importer to obtain an Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) import license (which is required for all commercial importations) before releasing it. A general rule of thumb is that 1 case of alcohol is a personal use quantity - although travelers are still subject to state restrictions which may allow less."
    https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail ... rsonal-use
    Objects in mirror appear to be losing.
  • Post #14 - May 23rd, 2017, 9:58 am
    Post #14 - May 23rd, 2017, 9:58 am Post #14 - May 23rd, 2017, 9:58 am
    adipocere wrote:Love me some mezcal. Any recs for a decent retailer in the area that's not a Binny's?

    David Hammond wrote:Moreno's Liquors

    Another vote for Moreno's. They've been Chicago's agave superstore for a long time. I recommended Moreno's over 16 years ago when I posted a guide to 26th Street / La Villita on chi.eats.

    Rene G wrote:There are a number of liquor stores but the best in the area is Moreno's (3724). An astounding selection of tequilas in all price ranges from well under $10 to almost $500. It puts Sam's (a truly great store) to shame in the tequila category.


    Moreno's, in business over 40 years and among the oldest Mexican shops on 26th, has been the city's best source for tequila for decades. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they were the first in Chicago to have a significant stock of mezcal.

    Moreno's, April 2009
    Image

    Moreno's Casa Tequilera & Liquors
    3724 W 26th St
    Chicago
    773-277-7737
    http://www.morenosliquors.com
  • Post #15 - May 25th, 2017, 8:33 am
    Post #15 - May 25th, 2017, 8:33 am Post #15 - May 25th, 2017, 8:33 am
    Lou Bank- will be talking' bout one of his favorite subjects today-
    Mescal- :P
    on Jerome McDonalds WORLD VIEW- program
    at noon on WBEZ- 91.5FM
  • Post #16 - May 25th, 2017, 4:27 pm
    Post #16 - May 25th, 2017, 4:27 pm Post #16 - May 25th, 2017, 4:27 pm
    Hombre de Acero wrote:Lou Bank- will be talking' bout one of his favorite subjects today-
    Mescal- :P
    on Jerome McDonalds WORLD VIEW- program
    at noon on WBEZ- 91.5FM

    Link

    =R=
    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain

    Another beer before happy hour to put me in the mood for drinkin', uh huh huh, oh, forget thinkin' --Beaver Nelson

    I find it a matter of note that in New York or Terre Haute, school cookies always seem to be oatmeal --Mr. French
  • Post #17 - June 9th, 2017, 11:02 pm
    Post #17 - June 9th, 2017, 11:02 pm Post #17 - June 9th, 2017, 11:02 pm
    A number of years ago my wife worked with Lou Bank at a literacy not-for-profit, after he had moved to Chicago from Oregon, having previously been in marketing for Rogue Ales. A great character and a great guy, and in the intervening years since they've both moved on we've periodically run into him at various places around town and have always have enjoyed the interactions.

    At some point over the last Christmas/New Years holiday break, we ran into Lou at the Whole Foods on Kingsbury. He was gracious notwithstanding the fact that my four boys were acting the way you might expect four boys under the age of ten acting at a grocery store on a late December morning.

    I told him I had been following his mezcal endeavors via LTH and asked him whether he had any recommendations for commercially-available mezcal.

    "Not exactly commercially available, but do you like coffee?" he said. After informing him I did, indeed, like coffee, he produced (like a street-level dealer of the best sort), a 6-8 oz. vial of something with hand-labeled masking tape stating in a great chicken scratch scrawl something or other about Dark Matter Coffee and Eduardo Angeles. It was a pechuga of Dark Matter Coffee and some Mexican fruit that I forget now. "Small sips, my friend," he said.

    Were I a marketing person, I would call this one (albeit in a very personal manner) "College Night at Kappy's" -- as it tasted of coffee and cigarettes, in the best way.

    So, fast forward to tonight and I'm at a charity event for a charter school with a bunch of wonderful food from great Chicago restaurants/chefs (kind of like an indoor GCM BBQ) and there is a silent auction and one of the auction items is a combo gift certificate for Mi Tocaya plus an in-home or BYOB restaurant-hosted personal mezcal tasting by none other than Lou Bank. Many moons ago, Lou convinced me to bid up and ultimately "win" (at a different charity event for an organization that Lou supported that helped child victims of abuse -- I'm telling you, this guy is a mensch) a Johnny Cash lithograph on wood by Jon Langford (who also, incidentally, did the beer label for Dogfish Head's Burton Baton in the same style). I got into a bidding war for this item tonight and Lou, if you're reading -- you will be coming to my home at some point in the near future for this and can't wait to catch up with you and sample what else you have managed to dig up on your trips to Mexico.
  • Post #18 - June 9th, 2017, 11:58 pm
    Post #18 - June 9th, 2017, 11:58 pm Post #18 - June 9th, 2017, 11:58 pm
    "Mexico in a Bottle," a Lou Bank production, is coming up this fall. 100 sips, some unavailable in the U.S.: bacanora, tuxca, etc.
    “We all have to stand before the kitchen gods.” Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni
  • Post #19 - June 10th, 2017, 9:49 am
    Post #19 - June 10th, 2017, 9:49 am Post #19 - June 10th, 2017, 9:49 am
    Matt wrote:A number of years ago my wife worked with Lou Bank at a literacy not-for-profit, after he had moved to Chicago from Oregon, having previously been in marketing for Rogue Ales. A great character and a great guy, and in the intervening years since they've both moved on we've periodically run into him at various places around town and have always have enjoyed the interactions.

    At some point over the last Christmas/New Years holiday break, we ran into Lou at the Whole Foods on Kingsbury. He was gracious notwithstanding the fact that my four boys were acting the way you might expect four boys under the age of ten acting at a grocery store on a late December morning.

    I told him I had been following his mezcal endeavors via LTH and asked him whether he had any recommendations for commercially-available mezcal.

    "Not exactly commercially available, but do you like coffee?" he said. After informing him I did, indeed, like coffee, he produced (like a street-level dealer of the best sort), a 6-8 oz. vial of something with hand-labeled masking tape stating in a great chicken scratch scrawl something or other about Dark Matter Coffee and Eduardo Angeles. It was a pechuga of Dark Matter Coffee and some Mexican fruit that I forget now. "Small sips, my friend," he said.

    Were I a marketing person, I would call this one (albeit in a very personal manner) "College Night at Kappy's" -- as it tasted of coffee and cigarettes, in the best way.

    So, fast forward to tonight and I'm at a charity event for a charter school with a bunch of wonderful food from great Chicago restaurants/chefs (kind of like an indoor GCM BBQ) and there is a silent auction and one of the auction items is a combo gift certificate for Mi Tocaya plus an in-home or BYOB restaurant-hosted personal mezcal tasting by none other than Lou Bank. Many moons ago, Lou convinced me to bid up and ultimately "win" (at a different charity event for an organization that Lou supported that helped child victims of abuse -- I'm telling you, this guy is a mensch) a Johnny Cash lithograph on wood by Jon Langford (who also, incidentally, did the beer label for Dogfish Head's Burton Baton in the same style). I got into a bidding war for this item tonight and Lou, if you're reading -- you will be coming to my home at some point in the near future for this and can't wait to catch up with you and sample what else you have managed to dig up on your trips to Mexico.


    This post was about as perfect a way to start a lovely Saturday as any I can think of. Thanks Matt & Lou. You're BOTH mensch material in my book.
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington

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