Mezcal Tosba: El Sabor del Sierra Norte

9/25/18 -

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.

They grow agave here?!?! Photo: Oskar Kostecki

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 stills at Tosba. Photo: Oskar Kostecki
Elisandro showing us the water sourse for Tosba. Photo:
Oskar Kostecki

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.

Edgar's book on farming in the tropics. And coffee grown and roasted at the palenque! Photo: Oskar Kostec
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