Following on from Jason’s exploration of mezcal, and my own foray into the spirit, I am today reviewing a pair of mezcals from Bruxo. One of these comes with a bit of controversy; more on that in a minute.
One of my favorite things about writing for MALT is when a reader takes the time to offer a suggestion for a future review. It’s gratifying on so many levels: to know people are reading our work, to guess that they like and value it enough to request more, and to be given the opportunity to write about what people want to read about.
Thus, I was overjoyed when a MALT fan lobbed in some suggestions about mezcals to try. In particular, she noted her preference for Bruxo Nos. 4 and 5. I couldn’t resist when I saw them on the store shelf during a recent trip to Mexico (particularly as they are a bit more expensive when you find them in the U.S.)
I had a chat with Rodrigo Gomez of Bruxo (pronounced “BREW-hoe”), who was generous enough to share his time and tell me their story. Founded in 2010 by a group of friends with professional experience in various parts of the beverage industry, Bruxo is a way to connect the artisanal producers of authentic mezcal with the wider world.
Hearing Rodrigo tell tales of the on-the-ground changes brought about by a partnership with Bruxo is genuinely inspiring. Families that previously had to send sons into the U.S. in order to labor for income are now able to support themselves at home in Mexico, as farmers and producers of mezcal. Maestros mezcaleros from different palenques are encouraged by Bruxo to meet, exchange knowledge, and share best practices. The company is able to guarantee demand and encourage long-term planning, ensuring some stability and fostering sustainability in an industry that has long struggled with inconsistency.
Like Marca Negra, Bruxo’s website seems built with the MALT reader in mind. Each of the company’s six expressions is supported by detailed descriptions of maguey types, production methods, and stories of the families producing each mezcal. As a crash course in mezcal production, it’s worth a read.
The first expression here is Bruxo No. 4, an “ensamble” of three different types of maguey (60% Cuishe, 30% Barril, 10% Espadín). It is produced by Caesario Rodriguez, a third generation maestro mezcalero of Las Salinas, Oaxaca. Continuous distillation in a single still results in production of 500 to 750 liters per month. Blending is done by señor Rodriguez to the specifications of an old family recipe.
This is bottled at 46%; I paid MXN $900 for 750 ml.
Bruxo No. 4 – Taylor’s Review
Color: Clear and colorless.
On the nose: Very vegetal. Green grass, key lime, eucalyptus, bamboo. There’s also the thickly sweet smokiness of candle wax, and another drily smoky scent of fireplace ash.
In the mouth: Round and smooth in texture. More green notes of mint leaf, cucumber. Finishes surprisingly cut and mute; doesn’t really linger save for a faintly bitter green note.
This next expression is pure Tobalá. As previously mentioned in my review of the Los Danzantes Tobalá, this is a wild maguey with a 10-14 year maturation period (compared with 8-10 for the cultivated Espadín). Historically, some of these plants were discovered in the wild and nurtured by a mezcalero until the maguey was ready for harvest. Others were left until flowering occurred, to ensure the continuation of the species. The boom in the popularity of mezcal has resulted in over-foraging for these plants, threatening the survival of wild Tobalá.
Scholarly work has been done on this topic, and the industry has begun its own response in the form of “Projecto Maguey” (Maguey Project). In concert with the Scientific Research Center of Yucatán and the University of Chapingo, Los Danzantes is supporting the study, cultivation, and preservation of wild maguey varietals. However, the artisanal nature of mezcal production means that conservation efforts are difficult to coordinate, with individuals (or, in many cases, families) relying on heretofore abundant supplies of wild maguey for their livelihood.
What’s an environmentally-conscious mezcal enthusiast to do? My dear friend Elsa, herself a traveler to Oaxaca for many decades, acknowledges her preference for Tobalá but has sworn off it in an attempt to do her part. Rodrigo, however, argues that “decrease in demand is not going to be the solution.” Rather, he proposes that only a financially healthy industry can put incentives in place for sustainable cultivation of both farmed and wild maguey.
I’m not yet sufficiently informed to have a strong conclusion, but am calling these issues to the attention of the MALT readership in an attempt to foster awareness and critical discussion. Whereas “shortages” of whisky can be remedied with production capacity and time, there’s not a similar ability to rectify the loss of a species.
This mezcal is produced by maestro Candido Reyes from San Augustin Amatengo. Mashing is done with a traditional horse-drawn stone. Double distillation in copper stills results in 200 liters per month of production. Also bottled at 46%, 750 ml of this ran me MXN $1,600.
Bruxo No. 5 – Taylor’s Review
Color: Again, clear and colorless.
On the nose: Meaty and thick, with beef blood, sal de gusano, mesquite. Some time in the glass releases a dance between citric aromas of lemon and grapefruit with subtly smoky scents of campfire. There’s also the creaminess of salted butter.
In the mouth: Echoes of the smoky and citric fruit flavors, with a bit of saline, and the scorched note of burnt paper. Texturally, the creamy and salty butter note dominates the midpalate.
These two expressions present mezcal in a microcosm. One is an exceedingly delicate, evanescent blend of magueys, which is understated – perhaps to a fault. The other is a pure distillation of Tobalá, a lovely dance between hearty, smoky, tart, and spicy notes, with a lovely smooth dairy texture throughout. I am grateful for the recommendation and, as with Los Danzantes and Marca Negra, would encourage the curious to seek out these bottlings.
In the spirit of cultural exchange, I also provided some samples to our nascent mezcal expert Jason for his consideration. His tasting notes are below:
Bruxo No. 4 – Jason’s Review
Color: Clear as mud.
On the nose: Trampled pine needles underfoot in a forest trail. Freshly squeezed lime juice, sugar cane, white chocolate and lemon oil. Towards the end a mineral note, chalky almost, memories of wiping down an old blackboard in school after writing out punishment lines for the best part of an hour. The trick is not to get caught kids. A vegetative note along the lines of freshly washed cauliflower. Water reveals white pepper, frangipane and green apples.
In the mouth: More restrained. A floral summer, sour apple jelly sweeties, lime again and chocolate mint leaf. A dry finish with grapefruit and a touch of smoke. Also a hint of soapy detergent. Water I felt wasn’t beneficial, which is a shame after that nose.
Bruxo No. 5 – Jason’s Review
Color: Transparency in full bloom.
On the nose: Fruiter than No. 4 by some margin with pears, apples and cinnamon balls. Some aniseed and tablet, with a vanilla ice float in lemonade bringing a creamy aspect. Water reveals a gentle drifting smoke.
In the mouth: Fresh and minty. Kendal mint cake? A citrus note with grapefruit, Kiwi fruit and melon. Cloves appear on the finish with Fenugreek leaves. Water reveals some citrus elements along with apple skin peelings.
Bruxo No. 4 is ok but nothing more. An evocative nose is somewhat undermined by a ropey palate and a sense of fragility. A slight step up comes from No. 5 that by offering less actually offers more. Yeah, utter nonsense on paper but the flavours and aromas have more space to breathe and transmit. Calm and assured, which ultimately delivers a better experience.