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Fabrica La Alteña, located in the "Golden Triangle of Tequila," in the highland town of Arandas, has been crafting some of the most interesting tequilas for close to a hundred years. As one of their most cherished brands, Tapatio has been extremely popular in Mexico, but only recently available in the United States. Made using very traditional methods, the agave is crushed by tahona, with distillation in copper alembic stills, distilling not just the juice but also the fiber of the agave. Tapatio has a rich flavor and definite presence on the palate. The 110 proof intrigued us as being one of very few over-proof tequilas on the market. The nose leads with eucalyptus, mint, chalk, rainwater and honeysuckle. The palate is intense in flavor, but drinks more smoothly than its proof would have you believe. The herbaceousness of the nose follows through on the palate, more eucalyptus, tea tree oil, aloe. Notes of melon rind and raw honey, a viscous, oily texture and very long finish. With a few drops of water more sweetness emerges, along with citrus zest. We don't hesitate drinking this neat, but it also makes one of the best Paloma cocktails we've ever had. Oskar Kostecki
Tapatio Reposado is how aged tequila should be. The notes of spice and pepper coming from oak aging integrate wonderfully with the natural sweetness and tropical fruit quality of the Blue Weber agave. As you take more time with this tequila, it reveals hints of caramel, cacao, toasted coconut and floral perfume. A grassy undertone leads to a crisp and mineral finish. Great as a sipper, this finds a perfect home in cocktails,from Margaritas and Palomas to a Tequila Old-Fashioned. Oskar Kostecki
Alberto Martinez's palenque is located in the high elevation town of Santa Catarina Albarradas, Oaxaca. A mix of Sierra Negra (A. americana) and Tobalá (A. potatorum), the piñas are roasted in an earthen oven with Encino oak (hardwood) and river rocks for seven days. The roasted piñas are broken down by Alberto and his son-in-law Reynaldo with very heavy mallets. At around 6500 feet above sea level, nights get so cool that fermentation can slow or become stuck. To help bolster the natural microbiome of enzymes and yeast, Alberto adds the mashed up bark of the Tepehuaje tree to the stone fermentation tank along with spring water (they also ferment some batches in cowhide). Distillation is twice through clay pot stills also cooled by spring water from the mountain. Alcohol is 47%ABV and batch size is 90L (~120 btls).* I'm already a big fan of Alberto's Sierra Negra (made both in stone tank and cowhide), so it was really fun to try this expression. I expected more richness from the Tobalá, but this spirit has some really nice high tones, kiwi skin and lemongrass, pickled watermelon rind, bright green plum, mint and roses on the palate. Cari Bernard *tech notes courtesy of Cinco Sentidos website
'Tío' Pedro Hernandez Arellanes is a maestro mezcalero, with over fifty years of distilling under his belt. After many of those years working for other distilleries, he was able to build his own palenque 'La Esperanza' adjacent to his house in Santa Catarina Minas. His clay pot stills are lined with shaggy 'bagasse' (post-distillation agave fiber); opposite to the stills are his open-top pine fermentation tinas. Near where the roasted piñas rest, a trough (known as a canoe) is carved into the floor, to hold the piñas as they are crushed by large, very heavy, mallets. Pedro does have a tiny mechanical shredder, but prefers not to use it because he isn't impressed by the resulting spirit. Cultivated Espadín (A. angustafolia) is hand-harvested and cut down to roast in earthen oven. After roasting, the piñas are crushed by mallet and the fibers are mixed with well water to ferment in the tina. Distillation is twice through clay pot still. Proofed to 49% with tails, this batch of Espadín yielded 66L (~88 btls). We were able to taste a recently distilled batch of Espadín when we visited Pedro and his wife Andrea in September of this year and were impressed by the already complex (if a bit rowdy) spirit and could tell it had a bright future ahead. The batch in NY has had time to settle into this complexity. Banana skin and nut brittle, chilis in vinegar, banana, dark chocolate, balanced by a green grass and bright minerality. Fantastic! Cari Bernard
Produced from the wild agave Selmiana in the high altitude Central Mexican Plateau in the state of San Luis Potosi, this is a beautiful foil to traditional Oaxacan mezcal. The agave is not roasted, but cooked (similar to Tequila) resulting in a spirit that is not smokey, but instead bursts on the palate with a crazy array of flavors. Herbal and mineral tones weave their way through a bright citrus and floral character. There's a slight sourness, a funk that I associate with cheese rind, and noticeable acidity, which is quite shocking for a distillate. The wilder side of mezcal. What I also notice with my bottle of Selmiana is that it changes quite remarkably once open. When I first popped the cork, it felt slightly muted and withdrawn, but within 20 minutes all the exuberance I remembered from previous bottles was there again. It is fascinating watching the bottle change and evolve over a period of weeks. Oskar Kostecki
The brand Farolito comes from batches selected by Ulises Torrentera, owner of the legendary In Situ Mezcaleria in Oaxaca City. This batch is distilled by mezcalero Virgilio Ramirez in the town of Santa Maria Ixcatlan. The papalometl (agave potatorum) was crushed by hand, fermented in bovine leather vats, and distilled twice in clay stills. The natural sweetness and concentration of sugars from the agave is beautifully contrasted with an underlying savory characteristic. Vivid tropical fruit is coupled with herbs, earthiness and umami. The palate is rich, viscous and mouth-coating. A very intriguing mezcal, and one you want to spend some time with. A great introduction of the In Situ range to the New York market. Oskar Kostecki
Related through marriage to the Ramos family, Felipe and Ageo Cortes also live and work in the town of Mengoli de Morelos, Miahuatlán, Oax. Arroqueño (Agave americana) is (as the name would intuit) a species of maguey that can be found favoring the rocky terrain of and around the sierras. Here they can grow quite large and often past the ripe old age of twenty years before being ready for harvest. They have also been adapted slowly to cultivation, started in nursery before being transplanted to the wild terrain, to be checked on for decades, crossing generations of maestro mezcaleros to the care of their sons and daughters. The Arroqueño piñas are roasted in smaller (5 & 9-ton capacity) earthen pits fueled by a mix of Encino Oak, Alder, and Mesquite wood. After the roast comes a rest of 5-7 days before the piñas are crushed by ox-drawn tahona. Fermentation is spontaneous and lasts 3-8 days in open-topped Cypress tinas. Twice-distilled in a copper alembic still with refrescadera. Proofed with heads and tails to a final ABV of 51.6%. Batch size is 254 bottles, rested in glass since May 2018*. Even though the flavors and smells can vary widely, I've always found a robust intensity to the Arroqueños I've had the pleasure to taste, and this is no exception. A nose of burnt sugar, cooked milk, salted toffee, and a savory dark mineral molasses headiness, with a hint of mesquite wood-smoke, the palate is bold and follows suit with creamy milk chocolate, butterscotch, dried apricots, dates and cinnamon. Cari Bernard *tech info courtesy of Mal/Bien website
Our second offering from father-son duo Felipe and Ageo Cortes is their Tepextate (Agave marmorata). Sometimes spelled 'Tepeztate', this maguey can also grow quite large in size, not unlike Arroqueño it also prefers rocky soils and also can live for upwards of twenty+ years in the wild before reaching maturity. The leaves (pencas) of the plant can have a marbled quality, this being the characteristic from which the species name takes its inspiration. The piñas roast for 8-10 days in earthen pit with the same mix of woods as the Arroqueño (Alder, Encino Oak, Mesquite), but there is no resting of the Tepextate piñas, they are crushed by stone tahona and spontaneously ferment in open-top Cypress tina for 3-8 days mixed with well water. Distillation is also two times, using their copper alembic still w/refrescadera. Proofed to 50.2% ABV with the heads and tails, this batch made 266 bottles and the spirit has been glass-rested since April 2018*. Dark green cucumber skin, a field of tall grasses (fresh and dried) and pine trees, cinnamon bark on the nose, the palate leads with green banana, green peppercorn, green pear skin, leather, cucumber seed, bitter parsnip, and green melon. Cari Bernard *tech info courtesy of Mal/Bien website
The clay pot shows incredibly well in this particular batch, not overbearing but present, and harmoniously integrated. Savory notes of hazelnuts, raw cacao, and barbecue mesh with sweeter hints of dried apricots, raisins, brown sugar, and cocoa butter. I also find mint, dried oregano and wet gravel. During the Real Minero fiesta, in between all the dancing bodies, pounding music, and smell of charred meat, this was the bottle I found myself most often reaching for. Oskar Kostecki
Wild tobalá labeled as Mezcal Ancestral (a designation signifying the mezcal was made using only "traditional" methods; the main thing that sets it apart from Mezcal Artesanal is that Mezcal Ancestral must be hand-crushed, and must be distilled in clay pot stills). A powerhouse of a tobalá, carrying such intensity on the nose and palate, with notes of tropical fruit, pear, smoked cheese, cinnamon, orange, citrus zest, baking spices, and earth. The palate is bright, with a great mineral undercurrent, and offers a lot of complexity. Another beautiful batch from Real Minero. Oskar Kostecki