THE reason mezcal has become popular and widely available in the US can be traced back to one man: Ron Cooper, who founded Del Maguey, a brilliant line of mezcal producers from a wide range of Mexican villages. I have long been a fan of the entire line, and, in fact, it took years before I found mezcals even worth drinking in comparison.
Once I traveled to the magical state and city of Oaxaca, I found even more to love, visiting mezcal producers hours up in the mountains, in remote places, and sampling rare mezcals in the town of Oaxaca at Mezcaloteca. Since I first fell under the spell of the agave spirit years ago, there are far more mezcals on the US market, most recently in the last 2-3 years.
As the category of the “oven-cooked” agave spirit expands (the “piña”, or heart of the plant, often being cooked underground), it’s news for any mezcal aficionado when Del Maguey releases new product. Lucky us, there are three new Del Maguey releases. Two just came out mid-August, the other releases in November, all at limited quantities around the US.
Here are my brief notes after tasting each.
The rare wild agave, tepextate (agave Marmorata), often takes a full 25 years to grow in high altitudes, making it a rarity as a mezcal varietal. From the same producer who makes Del Maguey’s Tobala and Espadin Especial, Wild Tepextate is “green”, bright with bell pepper and jalapeno notes, with an undercurrent of subtle earthiness and dusty cinnamon/canela (Mexican sugar).
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SAN JOSE RIO MINAS ($99)
A new Del Maguey producer in Oaxaca’s remote Northern Mixteca Alta region produces this floral beauty. San Jose Rio Minas sings to me of wildflowers, apple orchards and peach blossoms, balanced by a sweet smoke. The story of how they found this producer is classic Ron Cooper (read here under San Jose Rio Minas).
WILD PAPALOMETL ($99)
Wild Papalometl migh be my favorite of the three new releases – if forced to choose. It is produced by Fernando Caballero Cruz in San Pedro Teozacoalco, also in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca, hours from anywhere off rocky, dirt roads. Made from the papalome maguey (the Nahuatl name for butterfly), the plant looks similar to Tobala agave but much larger. Made by an ancient distillation process, which I witnessed in remote Oaxacan villages in the mountains, Wild Papalometl is distilled in a stainless pot with a clay condensor and Mexican bamboo tube. The result is earth, smoky, meaty goodness, expressing hints of sweet corn, slate and mushroom.