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The drive up to the Mezcal Tosba palenque in San Cristobal Lachirioag is one of the most breathtaking I've ever done. Though only about 160 km from Oaxaca City, it takes between five and six hours (in the case of our little beat-up Ford Fiesta it was definately the latter) to traverse the high mountain passes and deep valleys of the Sierra Norte Mountains. Our journey along the dirt roads revealed the incredible biodiversity of this region; we passed through so many different microclimates, from cool, coniferous forests to subtropical regions with almost oppresive humidity. Here agave grows among coffee, mango, sugarcane, and various wild fruit indigenous to the region. Corn is still a staple crop, but as opposed to the neat, flat fields you see in the central valley of Oaxaca, in the Sierra Norte it grows clinging to the steep mountainsides, perilous parcels hewn from the forest. This dramatic setting si the scene for one of the most inspiring mezcal stories I was able to witness during my trip to Oaxaca, Mexico.
Edgar González and Elisandro González Molina are two cousins from the mountain village of San Cristobal Lachirioag, in the Villa Alta region of the Sierra Norte Mountains. In the past few decades economic turmoil has decimated the population here, to the point where over half the inhabitants of Lachirioag now live in California. Edgar and Elisandro followed this well-trodden path and in the 1990s they both found themselves working in restaurants in Silicon Valley. It was there they first decided to embark on the journey that would result in Mezcal Tosba. Mezcal is not traditionally produced in the villages of Villa Alta, where for the past few hundred years sugarcane has reigned supreme. Agave has always grown wild in the forests here, but when folks distilled something locally, it was aguardiente (cane spirit), not mezcal. When the cousins started noticing the growing interest in mezcal in the early 2000s, they decided that this product might be just the thing that brings economic revival back to Lachiroig, and allows to them to build a future close to their families. Edgar moved back to Lachirioag to start planting agave, building a palenque and apprenticing with different Maestro Mezcaleros, Elisandro stayed in California, working in restaurants, funding the project. Some 15 years after the original idea was born, it was quite amazing to see the resulting success story firsthand.
The Mezcal Tosba palenque is beautiful. It is down in the valley, some 600 meters below the village of Lachirioag, surrounded by the subtropical forest. All the water used in fermentation comes from a mountain spring nearby, and the cousins gather driftwood from the river below the property to use in the roasting process, so as to not contribute to the deforestation of the Sierra Norte. The palenque itself is totally solar-powered. Edgar is commited to farming as naturally as possible, and no chemicals are used whatsoever in the production of Mezcal Tosba. Recently he has become interested in the influence of the moon on agriculture (a form of Sierra Norteña biodynamics?), and has started conditioning his planting and cultivation accordingly. Along with Espadin, they are dedicated to farming the rarer agave species of Tobala, Tepeztate, Warash (more on this below), and others to promote diversity not only in the products they can offer, but also for the general ecology of the region. It is this biodiversity that I believe imbues the disitllates from Mezcal Tosba with such energy.
After more than a decade of hard work, patience, and sacrifice, Mezcal Tosba is finally a sustanainable business, bringing in economic self-sufficience to a tiny town in the mountains of Oaxaca. It is the only product from the Villa Alta region that is exported outside of the country, and has become a beacon to the surrounding villages. Indeed, a few of the younger men who were originally helping Edgar and Elisandro in distilling the first batches of Tosba have now started their own palenques. The mezcal of the mountains is truly beginning to happen! Oskar Kostecki
*We are unable to ship spirits out of state. Today's offer is available for in-store pick-up, delivery in New York City, or shipping within New York State.
The plots for Tosba's Espadin are scattered throughout the valley, ranging in altitude from 1100m close to the village of Lachiroig to about 600m around the palenque. The growing conditions and maturation times vary greatly. Lower down the mountain, due to the more tropical conditions,the Espadin can mature in as little as 6-7 years, while the plots at higher elevations take up to 11 years. At the moment Edgar is co-fermenting and co-distilling plants taken from all the different parcels, but on my visit we talked about the future possibility of separating the Espadin according to terroir. Though currently we are in love with this new release. Higher proof than the earlier batches, it still retains its hallmark vivacity and acidity. The nose is all crushed rock and tropical fruit (banana!), with a faint whiff of aged Parmesan. The palate shows notes of guava and watermelon bubblegum, with a floral element reminiscent of hibiscus. There is a hint of thyme and cardamom, along with a smoky, charcoal note. Viva Mezcal Tosba, this is sensational Espadin! Oskar Kostecki
Mezcal Tosba's Tobala is a wonderful explosion of perfume and flavor. A mélange of floral notes and tropical fruit is backed up a long, lingering evergreen finish. It also carries the hallmark viscosity and brightness of Tosba distillates. Tobala is often revered as the most special of the wild agave, and though we don't necessarily always throw our cap in that ring, without a doubt this bottling is quite extraordinary. Edgar and Elisandro are committed to making Tobala a sustainable crop in Lachiroig, and to that effect have planted tens of thousands of new plants in the past few years, all at varying altitudes. Oskar Kostecki
Tosba's Pechuga is a beautiful example of the category. A bit reticent at first, it really needs a few days open to truly spread its wings. The pechuga is triple distilled with pineapple, wild plums, bananas, apples, rice, and turkey breast suspended in the still on the third run. This celebratory style of mezcal is extremely complex, with tropical fruit notes coupling with the more savory nuances extracted from the rice and meat, and also hints of raw cocoa, thyme, and almonds. Due to the suspended fruits and turkey breast, this mezcal is rich and mouth-coating on the palate, with a very long finish. Oskar Kostecki
The agave that Edgar calls Warash is most likely indigenous to the Sierra Norte Mountains. At least the folks at the Consejo Regulador de Mezcal down in Oaxaca City seem to think so, as they have never seen anything like it anywhere else. Edgar first encountered a solitary plant as he was walking in the mountains and became intrigued. After monitoring this sole agave, he was able to obtain seeds, and propagate it on a wider scale. After a few attempts at distilling it, this year Mezcal Tosba has finally been able to release the first ever commercial batch of Warash! This is a truly knockout mezcal and unlike anything I've ever tasted. Wave after wave of roasted pineapple, red berry fruit, wild raspberries, lime zest and a green, herbal character. Extravagant yet balanced, there is beautiful viscosity on the palate and almost a honeyed edge. To tame the raw distillate, Edgar rested this batch in glass for a year and a half, and only 180 bottles were produced in this first batch. Having tasted it at the palenque and then again in New York, I can safely say it is one of the best mezcals I have tried this year. Oskar Kostecki