Sometimes, there’s nothing better than having something new in your life.
Something you can explore and get to know on all sides. Like a new song that, maybe, you replay just shy of one too many times. I can’t help myself. I splash around in every new discovery, lost in the depths of its novelty…
Until I overdo it and burn out, which leaves me wanting for another discovery.
Trends in wine and spirits run in a similar course. Vodka was all the rage in the 80’s (much to whisk(e)y’s detriment.) And while plenty of diehard vodka martini drinkers can still be found on barstools, the spirit does not have the same cache it once did. Heavily oaked Chardonnay had a heyday in the 90’s through the 00’s. However, now I hear hisses at the mere mention of the grape. Today, Mezcal is ablaze with popularity, bringing together adventurous drinkers from faraway camps like tequila and whisky. The fact that Mezcal can make a stellar Negroni doesn’t hurt either.
With such demand, bars, importers, and retailers have been making room for more Mezcal. The fervor has also birthed a premium level within the category in a flash. What was usually a spirit crafted from a blend of agaves is now touting single variety iterations, using more exotic agave to show the diversity of the plant, as well as the caliber of the Mezcalero capable of capturing these delicate nuances in a bottle… and what drinker doesn’t love “single” this and “batch 1” that?
While it’s great to see the industry and culture of Mezcal get its overdue moment in the sun, let’s not forget about a burnout, and a potentially disastrous one at that.
Espadín, the larger “bread and butter” agave of the industry, while abundantly farmed, still requires six to eight years in the ground before it is ready to be harvested. The smaller, exotic varieties, often used to make more premium Mezcal need even more patience, as they can require anywhere from 10 – 30 years in the ground before they can be harvested.
Not to mention that these varieties have to be foraged in the wild. They aren’t sitting in neat rows behind a fence. If any of you remember when most of the older rye (a grain which grows like a weed) whiskies evaporated off retail shelves because of its spike in popularity, it is easy to see what could be on the horizon for mezcal.
Happily, many producers and importers have acted fast in the face of possibly decimating demand. Whether it is educating consumers, reforesting agave, or forming cooperatives to make production easier and less costly, the people who live and breathe mezcal want its production to continue safely and indefinitely.
Sanzekan Tinemi, meaning “Onward Together”, is a 30+ year old cooperative formed by native mezcaleros of Guerrero, Mexico. Organizing like this allows them to sell their product directly, leaving profits to those who toil to make it. In fact, the mezcal this cooperative bottles are sold only through “solidarity bonds,” and is not distributed on retail shelves.
Today’s mezcal is made with Agave Cupreata by Tomás, one of the many members of “Onward Together.” Cupreata thrives in high elevations and can take up to 15 years to mature. This was distilled in 2016 and bottled at 48% ABV.
Sanzekan “Tomás” Agave Cupreata Mezcal 2016
On the nose: After a few seconds of cupping the glencairn the aroma leaps out of the glass. It is a green and inviting bouquet. Agave sap, spearmint, and charcoal are the primary aromatics. This combination quickly made my mouth water (always a good sign). Underneath there are notes of verbena and pinewood.
In the mouth: A rich, oily texture, and a taste of green bananas to start. The mid-palate is juicy with flavors of mint syrup, charred meat, and underripe pears. The finish turns to subtle smoke, with aromatics that hit the roof of your mouth and remind you of the aroma. The flavors have a lot of staying power. The more you sip, the sweeter it tastes.
This walks a line between the everyday tipple and the “back of the liquor cabinet” bottle. There aren’t many layers to peel back. However, the clarity and longevity of the flavors really give the mezcal impact, like when an experienced chef makes a simple dish.
Getting your hands on this stuff is not simple as pulling it off a shelf. You have to buy at least 3.75 “Solidarity Bonds.” This is because the cooperative ages their mezcal in glass carboys, the smallest of which is 3.75 liters. So the smallest purchase you can make with this cooperative is $150. That said, you do walk away with 3.75 liters of mezcal. Which shakes out to $40 a liter. A fantastic price, but you do have to buy a bit deeper.
Then there’s the issue of picking it up from Mexico City. The distance may be shorter for some but it is still a sizable hurtle to get your hands on quality mezcal. Perhaps it’s time for a holiday in Mexico?
The mezcal is definitely above average. The price per liter is stellar. However, the investment and rigamarole to obtain it are sizable and should be factored in as well.
I know almost anything you want to buy is just a few clicks away these days. But maybe, some things shouldn’t be, because that may be how we keep them around for those after us.