Friday, February 25, 2011

The Mezcal Dude

This morning, as I was engaged in my daily struggle with the new litho process I've been working on, the mezcal dude showed up at the print studio. I'd been told that he comes on Tuesdays and Fridays, but until now I hadn't seen him. He had a big white sack over his shoulder, kinda like Santa Claus, with a large plastic container and a length of plastic tubing inside. Mezcal is 70 pesos a liter (approximately a quart), bring your own bottle. Total cost--$5.83 at the current exchange rate.

I didn't have a bottle with me, but Julian (one of the studio gang) emptied a Ciel water bottle into the pan they use to make coffee and handed it to me. I gave my 70 pesos to the mezcal man and he siphoned a liter of clear liquid into the bottle. I tucked it into my bag, thanked him, and he went on his way. Julian says it's good mezcal, and having just tasted it we agree. The last time we bought mezcal it was 30 pesos a liter (including the container) in the Oaxaca region, so the price has gone up, at least around here--though this includes delivery.

That's not water in the bottle
 Mezcal is similar to tequila but is made from a different type of agave, and because it's distilled over a wood fire in small batches it tastes smokey. We bought our mezcal in Oaxaca from a family with small production, one fermentation vat, and a crude copper still. Those little places were everywhere in the countryside, mostly on back roads. If you went from one to another, with each one eager for you to sample their product, you would probably be unsafe to drive.

Many people prefer mezcal to tequila because they say it's more "natural" and less "chemical." I don't get that because the way I understand how tequila is made (and we've visited distilleries in Tequila), there are no chemicals added to the mixture. The agave is roasted or steamed, crushed, fermented in large vats, and then distilled one or more times. It's sold as blanco (white) or plata (silver) which is bottled immediately after distillation and which tastes most strongly of the cooked agave; resposado (rested), which is aged for up to a year in oak casks; and añejo, which is aged up to five years. The longer the tequila stays in the oak, the less it tastes of the agave and the smoother it is. We personally prefer the peppery sweetness of the blanco.

The next step--mezcal margaritas, in honor of the late, great Bob Howell of Rincon de Guayabitos, Nayarit.  Although he was a tequila man, his margaritas and love of Mexico inspired a generation of folks with similar passions, including us.

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