--Judah Kuper, co-owner of Mezcal Vago
Were you listening to the 400 Rabbits yesterday? Those Rabbits & I encouraged people to drink more mezcal, to experience the diverse and complex wonders of this agave distillate. You probably know plenty about tequila but you might know little about mezcal, and what little you might know could be merely the myths of mezcal. However, the more you learn about mezcal, I suspect you will find a myriad of reasons why you should be drinking it. Today, let me give you some specific mezcal recommendations, excellent examples of the potential of mezcal.
Amuleto Mexican Table opened on Moody Street in Waltham and recently hosted their first Mezcal Tasting. Though I've heard some good reviews of Amuleto, I hadn't yet dined there but was interested in checking out their mezcal tasting. The tasting cost $25, which included samples of 5 Mezcals from Mezcal Vago along with some small bites. The event was well attended, lots of fun, and the accompanying food was tasty. My only minor issue is that I thought, based on comparably priced events elsewhere, that the size of the mezcal samples could have been a bit larger. As it was their first event though, and they are still learning, it could be remedied in future events.
I am impressed that Amuleto is such a passionate advocate for mezcal. They currently stock over 20 mezcals, from 7 producers/importers, with glasses priced from $9-$34. There are few other local restaurants and bars with that many mezcals so Amulet is a true prize. If you want to sample a few different mezcals, you can order one of their six mezcal flights of three tastes, priced $18-$49. In addition, they make numerous mezcal cocktails, $10-$11, including the Oaxaca Old Fashioned (Mezcal, Agave Nectar, Bitters) and Mezcaloco (Mezcal, Coconut Cream, Pineapple Juice). In the future, they will hold other mezcal tastings and maybe even a mezcal-paired dinner.
And I love their cow painting (seen above) which is located near the window into the kitchen.
Mezcal Vago, who also used to run a Mezcal bar in Houston. Francisco was energetic and knowledgeable, with a clear and deep passion for mezcal. He interacted well with all of the tasting attendees, answering their questions and helping to maintain a high energy level at the event. He discussed some basics about mezcal, as well as more specifics about the two mezcal distilleries represented by Mezcal Vago.
Mezcal Vago was founded in 2013 by friends Judah Emanuel Kuper & Dylan Sloan. Approximately 15 years ago, they traveled to the region of Oaxaca and tasted Mezcal for the first time, having a revelatory moment. They loved the region, were intrigued by mezcal and eventually started a small beachside bar on an island west of Puerto Escondido. Judah married a nurse named Valentina whose father, Aquilino Garcia Lopez, made mezcal and whose family had been producing mezcal for at least five generations.
As Judah says, "With my old friend Dylan, we formed Vago, a company that exports Oaxaca’s finest, most undiscovered mezcals. We will feature many different mezcals and always have something new and different. Mezcal, like wine, varies with each batch. Much of the mezcal will come from my father in law, such as our Espadin and the Elote, but others, such as our Tobala and Madre Cuixe, found hard-fought on this epic journey, will come from other remote towns, from master mezcaleros whose mezcals must be shared with the world.”
It is cool that the front label of each bottles contains plenty of info about the mezcal, including: the name of the agave variety, name of the producer (the mezcalero), name of the village, the method of grinding, the type of still, name of the parcel, batch size, distillation date, and age. The alcohol content is also listed and it should be noted that the alcohol content will vary from batch to batch, though not significantly, even for the same agave variety.
Francisco mentioned that they are still learning about agave. I think that is a very important point, that the full potential of agave and mezcal has not yet been realized. Mezcal production can only improve, creating something that is even more compelling. There is still plenty of room, as well as need, for experimentation and study, to enhance and improve the mezcal process in so many different ways. We need to give our support to those expanding our knowledge of agave and mezcal.
In Oaxaca, a traditional accompaniment with mezcal is a plate of orange slices and sal de gusano, worm salt. This is not euphemism and actually is made with crushed worms, along with some salt and chili powder. The orange and salt are intended to be a palate cleanser while you sip the mezcal. Though we didn't have any sal de gusano at our mezcal tasting, Francisco brought something equally as good, sal de chapulin, which is grasshopper salt. It was salty and spicy, with a slight nutty accent. And you never would have known it contained grasshoppers unless someone told you.
Aquilino Garcia Lopez has started producing mezcal for the first time on a commercial basis and they are exclusive to Mezcal Vago. They grind their agave with a traditional tahona, which is pulled by a horse named Señor Pancho. For roasting the agave, they used a combination of Sabino, a type of pine, and fallen cactus ribs. They also have seven pine wood vats and a copper still. Aquilino usually leaves a little residual sugar in the fermentation vat so the mezcal doesn't get too acidic. Aquilino’s mezcals are supposed to possess a definite style: "Bright, clean and bold without too much smoke."
Salomon Rey Rodriguez, known as Tio Rey, has also started producing mezcal for the first time on a commercial basis and they are also exclusive to Mezcal Vago. Instead of a tahona, they crush the piñas, with 40 kilogram wooden mallets known as a mazos. Tio Rey has 4 fermentation vats, including one made from a 900 liter trunk of a pine tree which has been in use for over 90 years. For distillation, he uses clay pots, known as Olla de Barro. The whole production process is long and laborious, taking about four times as long as that of Aquilino.