All photos by Laren Spirer.
Cinco de Mayo. Along with St. Patrick‚Äôs Day and New Years Eve, this holiday has morphed into what many bartenders rue as ‚Äúamateur hour,‚ÄĚ with masses gravitating to Mexican restaurants drinking bad tequila and even worse Margaritas from a bad sour mix. Please don’t do that to yourself — you deserve better.¬† Find a quiet bar — or better yet, invite some friends into the quiet sanctuary of your own home — and sip some mezcal. Here’s why.
Not to be confused with Mexican Independence Day (which is in September), Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s underdog victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla. In the US, it has become a celebration of Mexican heritage, which is where mezcal comes into play. This traditional Mexican spirit has gained popularity outside of Mexico in recent years, thanks in part to spirits enthusiasts who saw firsthand the amount of hard work, care, love and pride that goes into its production, and wanted to share that beyond the Mexican borders. A great deal of mezcal is produced in small, family-run palenques, or distilleries, using the same or similar methods that were used hundreds of years ago. Many of these palenques are nestled in the rustic Oaxacan countryside, a far cry from the shelves of the cocktail lounges in London, New York, Paris and
LA, where their products eventually come to rest.¬† These spirits are made with exquisite care and great attention to detail by families in small towns in Mexico – you’d be doing yourself a horrible disservice by drinking mass produced crappy tequila with the masses.
Each of these palenques have been using traditional production techniques passed along from generation to generation and produces small batches of mezcal using agave that has been aged for at least seven or eight years, but often longer. The family behind Koch and Union mezcals had been producing it for decades, but the youngest generation to learn the art of production and distillation wanted to make sure the agave they used was preserved in addition to their traditions and craftsmanship. To this end, they have implemented a fair trade model and engage in sustainable practices in replenishing the agave as they harvest. Mezcal Yuu Baal, a third-generation
family¬†business,¬† also focuses on sustainability, creating new seedlings for each plant they harvest.
Fidencio bases the production schedule of their Pechuga — a mezcal made using a chicken breast and a mixture of fruit in the distillation process — on the schedule of the quince harvest, as it is one has the shortest availability of the fruits they use.¬† Once the quince is gone, they’re done until the next harvest. Mezcal Vago ages the water they use in their distillation process and makes each label from the bagasso, or agave pulp, left over from the fermentation process. El Buho uses an alembic still that has been used for five generations and is still used today. Montelobos had to relocate their palenque due to highway construction and made sure to collect natural yeast from the old palenque to bring over to the new one, hoping to maintain consistency in their fermentation process.¬† The mezcaleros responsible for these spirits take great pride in their art and craftsmanship as well as in their families and teams who make it possible for you to partake in their traditions. Do them — and yourselves — a huge favor and raise your mezcal glass for a toast in their honor for Cinco de Mayo. Between the attention to detail in production, and the personal family stories behind each bottle, why would you settle for anything less?
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Yuu Baal Madrecuixe (made from a wild species of agave)
Pierde Almas 9 Botanicals (a mezcal with gin botanicals)
Mezcal Vago Elote (infused with corn)
El Buho Mezcal
Ilegal Mezcal Joven
Fidencio Mezcal de Pechuga
Union Mezcal Uno
Montelobos Mezcal Joven