Del Maguey Tasting!
Yesterday the Norcal USBG put on one of the greatest events I have ever been to. H Ehrmann (owner of Elixir) hosted Ron Cooper (the owner of Del Maguey) to speak and do a tasting at The Boothby Center in downtown San Francisco.
Originally there were only supposed to be 30 people who could attend the event, but knowing us bartenders in the city, we all love Mezcal; so H and Ron allowed 50 people total to come in and hang out. This place was packed! I was lucky enough to get there early and have a seat right in front.
H comes up and sets down a plywood box, stands up and introduces himself and then gets Ron to come on up. You see this gentle-looking man stand up on the box and begin to speak. Everyone stayed glued on this guy the entire time. He speaks with so much passion in his voice about what he does. He’s one of those guys who actually lives where he produces and drinks his products. He’s involved with everyone, included his employees families. He knows what’s going on in each village whose kid is doing what or moving where. It’s quite touching, but maybe that has to do with him being an artist and a down right fantastic human being. One of the most touching stories was at the end of the seminar. He told us that one of his long time distillers was about to send two of his daughters to Mexico city. Del Maguey had brought enough prosperity for families to sleep in beds and not dirt floors. They have running water and indoor plumbing. And remember those two daughters? One of them went to college from Del Maguey and she is now an attorney. They just had a 400 person party (everyone in the village) to celebrate the first person to go to college and graduate. I wish more people could be like Ron, I really hope I run into him more in the future.
As Ron began to explain to all of us about Mezcal and how he’s been making it for 16 years now, there were a lot of very interesting things I had never known.
Mezcal must be bottled at the origin in where it is made. This is why you see “Chichicapa” on one of the bottles because this is the remote village area where it comes from.
Del Maguey (which is his brand name) means “from the plant” and is a Caribe Indian word. Where as “Agave” means “Noble” and comes from the Greeks.
The Espadin which is one of the main types of Maguey that they use to produce Mezcal, is used for many other resources by the people who make it. It’s used to make ropes, mats, baskets, parchment, canvases for painting, soap, shampoo, cooking for flavor, food and of course: Mezcal. It’s apparently high in vitamins, carbohydrates and 2 beneficial steroids for the body.
Now the way that Del Maguey produces and harvests their Mezcal may be different from what people may know. Del Maguey harvests their Maguey by maturity and not by age. The Palanquero’s know by sight and feel if a Maguey is ready to be harvested.
The “palanquero” or Mezcal Maker, takes trunkwood and mounds about 1 meter sq. in the bottom of the roasting pit. Then he put special stones that won’t pop or explode on top of the wood to get red-hot. Once the wood has burned down, Fibers from the previous production are put over the hot rocks. The hearts of the Espadin or which ever Maguey they are using are then laid down over the fibers and are then covered with more fiber and palm mats. It is then covered with one foot of earth and left to roast for 3-5 days.
Tobala Maguey will be buried for 30 days, this is the one exception.
The roasted hearts are then dug up and left to sit in the shade for a week. Then natural microbes in the air, land on the cooked Maguey and begin natural fermentation. At different elevations, there are different kinds of microbes. When you taste Mezcal from different villages in the Del Maguey series, you can actually taste the difference.
The fermented Maguey is then tossed into a circle and is ground down into juices and fibers by a Molino (heavy stone wheel weighing a ton or two). Next all the fiber, meat and juice is put into wooden vats.
The fermentation is done aerobically for 2 days and then 10% village water is added. You know the Mezcal is beginning to ferment when you see and hear bubbles on the top of the vat. Then the Palanquero punches down the fermenting cap after another 2 days. After this the rest of the fermentation process will take anywhere from 7-30 days. This is all dependent on the weather. Hotter weather ferments faster and colder weather takes longer to ferment.
After fermentation, distillation will begin. Not all distillation is the same for Del Maguey. Some use copper pot stills, some use clay pots with bamboo tubing. It is distilled twice and in some cases, it can be distilled a third time. It is then bottled at the source and sent out to the world.
Here are some of the Mezcal’s we got to taste yesterday:
This was Ron Cooper’s first released Mezcal. It’s 92 proof or 46% ABV. It is made in the village of Chichicapa at about 5,500 feet which is a low valley with open, rolling hills. It comes from the Espadin (sword in Spanish).
This Mezcal is smokey, spicy, fruity with some vanilla aromatics.
San Luis del Rio:
This is also the village where this Mezcal comes from. It is made from Espadin and is 94 proof or 47% ABV. This is a high mountain Mezcal (8,000 feet) and you can taste the difference in the liquor.
There is a high nose with spicy and buttery notes. It has some hints of citrus and is very aromatic.
Santo Domingo Albarrados:
A 96 proof or 48% ABV. This is the highest distilled Mezcal, coming in at 8,500 feet. The flavor of this spirit is influenced by the micro climates and cloud forests it’s situated by. The clouds cool Santo Domingo down and it helps to create a peaty, herbaceous soil where the Maguey can grow.
There is a grassy herbaceousness on the nose. It tastes spicy and has a soft feel and finish on the palate. There are hints of roasted pear and other tropical fruits.
Each of the three above are made by a different distiller in each village.
Minero (of the mines):
This Mezcal is made in a very low valley at 6,500 feet. It’s distilled from Espadin in clay pots with bamboo tubing. There may also be a 25-year-old Maguey Baril plant mixed in with the batch.
There is a clean floral nose which hints some chocolate as well. It’s acidic, fruity, peppery and has a creamy vanilla on the tongue.
Minero as well as all other Del Maguey is certified organic. Minero only produces 1,000 bottles a year.
This is made from a wild mountain Maguey. It will only grow in the shade of oak trees like truffles. They take 15 years to mature. The average weight is around 11 pounds. 700 hearts of Tobala will produce on average 300-400 liters of Mezcal.
This Mezcal tastes sweet and yeasty with some minerality. It’s got a rich creamy, butter, butterscotch nose. It’s full-bodied and tastes like mango and other tropical fruits.
One reason for the minerality in the Mezcal is due to the enzyme Tobala release. It’s strong enough to dissolve granite which sucks up minerals. In some cases, when Tobala have been picked, some of the roots still have granite rock on them that they have grown into. On average only 600 bottles are produced a year.
This is the Mezcal that is made with a chicken breast. Pechuga literally means “breast” in Spanish. It is distilled in a clay pot with bamboo tubing. The chicken breast being on the items left in for distillation, there are also several other items. Almonds, cinnamon and 200 pounds of mexican fruit are added to the mix. There is also a salty nose and taste on the tongue due to it being aged with coastal winds nearby. This Mezcal is triple distilled.
There are scents and tastings of baking spices, vanilla, nutmeg, all spice and has a very subtle creaminess to it.
Creme de Mezcal:
This is the Mezcal made for women and a few strong men….or that’s what Ron says. It has a sweet, creamy scent with a dry finish. This could be due to the unfermented Agave nectar being added to the finished distillate.
It tastes like roasted Maguey, vanilla, pear and pineapple.
This is a special Mezcal in Ron’s eyes. He named this Mezcal after his grand-daughter who is named Vida. It is lower in proof; 84 proof. Since it is lower in proof, there is a lower excise tax on it. The cut is more towards the tails making it fruitier and very mixable. It’s great in cocktails like our Vida Vida at Zero Zero in San Francisco (courtesy of Joel Teitelbaum).
This is Ron’s limited edition Mezcal. Once it’s gone, it’s gone he says! It’s 90 proof or 45% ABV. It’s another high mountain Maguey that is copper pot distilled by his rare Tobala maker.
It is a very fruity, chewy Mezcal with a sweet pineapple finish.
Ron Cooper and Del Maguey make some really phenomenal spirits. I absolutely love the entire line he has come up with. I will continue to drink and make cocktails with Del Maguey Mezcal, but now that I know more about this amazing company, I can explain to my customers what this brand is all about. Cheers and Stigibeu!
Oh yes, my newest acquisition as of today: Del Maguey Tobala and the Espadin Especial is on the way! Hopefully there’s a Pechuga in my future!
Just had some last night and it’s amazing! I could drink it all day!