I know how this movie ends.
When I first visited the Mexican seaside town of Tulum in the year 2000, there was little in the way of development. The exquisitely manicured Mayan ruins perched atop an oceanfront bluff were the main draw; the rest of Tulum consisted of palapas with palm thatched roofs dotting the beach. What then passed for restaurants were unassuming little shacks on the roadside with a handful of local women working the grill and oven. Hiding behind this unpretentious presentation was some of the most delicious food I have ever tasted, featuring fish, shrimp, and octopus pulled fresh from the sea.
Returning in 2010 with my then-fiancée-now-wife, I noticed only small, incremental signs of change. Overall, the place retained a lot of its unspoiled charm. Air conditioning was still limited to whatever breeze blew in off the sea; we slept under a mosquito net. Water was available only a few hours a day, and then almost always cold. Still, what Tulum lacked in creature comforts it more than made up for in natural beauty and relative seclusion. Busloads of tourists from Cancun, a few hours’ drive north, would descend on the ruins around midday and then make their way back to the all-inclusive resorts in the late afternoon, leaving us on a deserted, pitch-black beach to enjoy a view of the galaxy.
Change seemed to accelerate in the years following that visit. Our favorite restaurant – one of the aforementioned shacks – was first upgraded with working bathrooms and proper tables, then redesigned completely to accommodate the growing crowds swarming the town. The demographics of the tourists changed as well; old hippies made way for young hipsters, fresh from gentrifying Brooklyn and eager to bring their hot yoga and kale smoothies to the Yucatan peninsula. Handfuls of palapas that previously passed for hotels were sold and demolished; the “eco-chic” resorts that sprung up in their place offer A/C and mini-fridges full of bottled water. Previously tranquil nighttime strolls on the beach are now accented by the pulsing drumbeats of EDM, as beach clubs transition to nightclubs at sundown.
Ironically, the influx of nominally environmentally minded tourists set into motion an ecological catastrophe that is still unfolding. This has been written about in detail, and I’d strongly recommend an attentive reading of that piece. In short: no provision was made for the infrastructure needed to accommodate the growing number of visitors. This was particularly the case for waste disposal; each bottle of water consumed poolside was hauled across the beachfront road and tossed into the jungle opposite, eventually creating a literal mountain of trash.
I reflected on the deterioration of Tulum during a recent trip to Isla Holbox, off the Yucatan peninsula’s north coast. During my first visit in 2019, I felt as though I had been transported back in time to the Tulum I loved so well during the early years. The island is accessible by ferry and has no cars; transportation options are limited to golf carts and shoe leather. The majority of the island is a federally protected wildlife preserve, with its avian and aquatic denizens periodically venturing into view. The beach is a long, flat sandbar, with placid calf-deep water extending out a hundred yards.
My joy at arriving was tinged with fatalism, given my prior experience with Tulum. Though the ubiquity of travel content on social media meant that this highly Instagram-able location was already starting to become known, I hoped for a few years of relative calm before the transformation of Holbox was complete.
These hopes were dashed last week during a somber return to the island. Development has continued, with smaller restaurants shuttered and new, shiny ones popping up. There are more hotels and resorts, not that I begrudge anyone the opportunity to make a peso. Rather, my sadness stemmed from the piles of trash that accumulated all over town, visible as soon as you turn your eyes away from the beach. In the mad rush to accommodate selfie-takers and vacationing families, environmental stewardship has once again been pushed to the side.
Look, I get it: tourism is a mixed blessing at the best of times. Even places with relatively well-off populations, functioning governments, and strong preservationist movements struggle to find a proper balance. In emerging markets like Mexico – where people survive at the level of subsistence, corruption is rampant, and the exigencies of ahora supersede the concerns of mañana – it’s hard to reasonably expect anything better than tragedy.
These concerns echoed in my head as I considered mezcal, which is no less popular (and growing no less rapidly) than Tulum and Holbox. Though I have been reassured that measures are in place to preserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable cultivation of maguey, I feel a small, gnawing guilt each time I consider ordering a drink of Tobalá or purchasing a bottle of Tepeztate. I am aware of the paradox that, individually, my choices cannot do anything to save mezcal, but – acting in uncoordinated concert with millions of others – I am potentially contributing to the degradation of those things about which I profess to care.
If my melancholic musings haven’t yet driven you to click away from this review, then won’t you join me for a taste of mezcal? I snagged this bottle in a gas station on the side of the road that had a surprisingly broad selection of bottles (these things happen in Mexico). This is from Bruxo; I previously reviewed their No. 4 and No. 5 expressions in this space.
As is their custom, Bruxo provide us with an abundance of information about the ingredients and production of this mezcal. Their tearsheet can be found below; I will not reproduce all the data therein but will highlight a few particulars:
This is an ensamble of Espadín (50-80%) and Barril (20-50%) agaves. The mezcal is produced by Pablo Velazquez and Herminio Coronado, in Agua del Espino, Oaxaca. Bruxo informs us that Pablo and Hermino harvest the agave with a horse, rather than a more capacious and efficient truck. The color of this mezcal is said to come from the production method, in which the agave heart is added to the distillation
This comes bottled at a strength of 46% ABV. I paid MXN $650 (about US $33) for 750 ml. Local price here in the U.S. appears closer to $60 currently.
Bruxo No. 2 – Review
Color: Off-clear; a slightly yellowish tinge of pale straw.
On the nose: At first, I am struck by how creamy, juicy, and luscious the nose is. I actually get a distinctive whiff of Wrigley’s Juicyfruit chewing gum. Lime wedges impart a sour citric scent, while there is a stoniness married to a powdery sweetness reminiscent of confectioners’ sugar. There’s a smokiness to this that is subtly integrated and very, very clean.
In the mouth: Cleanliness is again the initial impression, as this enters the mouth with a lean and elegant texture. The body rounds out a bit at midpalate, where this presents more fruitiness, as well as a pretty floral note. Shifting back towards more thick vegetal flavors, there’s another subtle hint of smoke as this moves toward the finish. As the mezcal recedes, this takes on a drying, chalky texture. A slight heat radiates around the mouth, with a dilute aftertaste of maguey lingering around the molars.
This is totally adequate mezcal, delivering the expected aromas and flavors in a balanced way. Mentally, I’m comparing it – perhaps unfavorably – to the intensely flavorful (and more expensive) Tobalá and Tepeztate mezcals I had the pleasure of sampling during my trip. This doesn’t come anywhere close to the intensity and diversity of flavors delivered by those bottles, but that’s not really the expectation when sipping a majority-Espadín ensamble.
To make a more direct comparison: at the price I paid in Mexico, this costs close to what a bottle of Del Maguey Vida runs stateside, a matchup that favors this Bruxo. However, scoring is complicated here by the fact that the domestic price here is double what I paid. I guess the conclusion is: if you’re in Mexico and are looking for a solid (if unspectacular) and reasonably-priced bottle to bring home, this will do the job nicely.
If, however, you’re looking to be mentally transported away from tourists, influencers, and those willing to degrade the natural environment for a buck, it will take a lot more than this No. 2 to get you there.