Since this is my first Mezcal review, I thought it would be a great opportunity to review a Del Maguey Mezcal, as a gesture of honor. After all, not talking about Del Maguey—and in turn not talking about Ron Cooper when discussing Mezcal—seems wrong.
Who is Ron Cooper, you ask? I say, try to buy a copy of his book Finding Mezcal to find out. Without going into too much detail, Ron Cooper is the man responsible for Del Maguey. He is the reason why the world knows Mezcal today. Ron Cooper started Del Maguey in the ’90s, but before being known as the man who brought Mezcal to the world, he was (and still is) an artist. He spent a lot of time in Mexico, and he fell in love with Mezcal during his travels, so much so that he traveled from village to village to find a good producer. He’d bottle the Mezcal and take them back to the US to preach the way of the Maguey.
Another great thing about him is that he wasn’t selling them to get rich. He’d sell enough to get by, but also made sure he gave back to the communities of the palenqueros (Mezcal distillery owners) and/or Mezcaleros (Mezcal distillers). He’d help them build better palenque and would even help the Mezcal producers send their kids to college.
Mezcal seems like the inverse of whisky to me. Whisky is seen as the most premium and sexiest drink, for the most cultured of drinkers; it’s drunk by royalty, nobility and the wealthy, even in the old days. It is currently and mostly made in the richest of economies, starting its life from grain that’s harvested yearly. After fermentation and distillation, all that’s left is to wait for the preferred time as the distillate ages in casks.
On the other hand, Mezcal is still mainly seen as a hipster’s drink or something the geeky bartenders gravitate toward. Why should one pay for this expensive white spirit, one might ask? All white spirits should be cheap! To whomever has those thoughts, you are wrong. So very wrong. Let me tell you why.
It is drunk or used as a form of currency by the poor villagers in the struggling economy of Mexico. To give you an idea, most Mezcal distillery sites, called palanques, exist in backwater areas. Don’t let mention of the word distillery make you think of concrete buildings with modern equipment. Most palanques, before the Mezcal boom, were more like thatched huts or clay walls. They’re made in underdeveloped towns where the harshness of life is the only constant. Mezcal producers have to wait for an agave plant to age, to mature. Imagine what the agave farmers feel as the plant endures the weather, insects and diseases, caring for plots of land, waiting years for a harvest that may never come. Once fully mature, the plant is killed upon harvest.
The production process is often done by hand. The Espadin variety, which takes at least 7 years to mature, grows up to 5 or 6 feet and weigh at around 100kg. They are then chopped to smaller sizes and put in a pit dug in the ground to be roasted. Mezcal, after all, means “cooked agave.” They are roasted underground along with hot stones or charred wood for days. This is where the smoky flavor comes from. After roasting, the cooked agave is crushed, usually with a tahona powered donkey, to extract the juice. Then the juice is fermented for days along with some agave fibers and/or leaves. The fermentation usually occurs in open vat wooden vessels in the outdoors. Only then it is distilled.
After all that work, it is sad that what the majority of drinkers usually only see is a “dirty” white spirit. A spirit whose inner unpretentious beauty is ignored by those ignorant of what truly contributes to flavor in spirits. The years of waiting for this plant to mature and die for this liquid diamond are worth the time it takes to get there.
According to Jay Schroeder’s Understanding Mezcal, Wild Tepextate is a slow-maturing variety of agave that takes 15 to 35 years to mature. Emphasis on the wild part, because some agave are like truffles. They can’t be cultivated, unlike the commonly used Espadin, which comprises 90% of the agave used for Mezcal production. On a side note, Espadin is also called Blue Webber agave— the only agave that can be used for Tequila production. I’ve heard of attempts to cultivate some variety of this agave, but they didn’t mature as well as the wild ones. As for the maturation span required:15 to 35 years?! Imagine what can happen in that long span of time! That’s four to nine presidential terms!
The weather is not well-suited to the agave. Bugs eat agave. Some sorts of agave sickness exist. Imagine: how many agave of this kind needs to be harvested to produce a few hundred bottles? Why don’t spirits like these, that have nothing to hide behind but the distiller’s talent and raw materials, cost more again? Ask the marketing people.
Del Maguey Wild Tepextate – review
Color: Liquid diamond.
On the nose: Strong and lingering scents of smoke, agave, jalapeno and earthiness, followed by alternating scents of peppers, bell peppers, lime and lemon peel; hints of cinnamon, pineapple skin, pineapple pulp, lemon and lime juice; charred wood, sugarcane syrup, and end in a floral note similar to strawberries and honey.
In the mouth: Floral agave notes with a buttery texture are followed by a light, yet lingering bell pepper and jalapeno flavor, sugarcane syrup, pineapple juice, diluted watermelon juice, and cinnamon syrup.
It’s unfortunate that the “smokey tequila” selling point is what sticks and sells whisky drinkers who try Mezcal. It just has so much more to offer. The nose is super complex. It alternates from earthy to citrusy to floral sweetness. Moving the glass one foot away from me allows me to smell only the floral notes. I can smell this all day. This is one of the few 45% ABV spirits that don’t give off ethanol in the nose. The nose takes up all the glory, sadly. The bright spot with the lackluster flavor is the difference in taste the Tepextate agave gives versus an Espadin agave.
One of the better Mezcal I’ve had, coming from Del Maguey or not. I’d say this is worth the $100 I paid for in Hi-Time Wine, just because it’s my first Wild Tepextate mezcal. This release is available via Master of Malt for £110.
The increased demand in Mezcal is causing a supply scare for cultivated, and even more so for wild, agave. As a result, I’m trying to support brands that ensure sustainability.
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