Why does art and Mezcal make sense together?
Creating art, whether it’s sculpture, drawing, murals or carvings, is an expression of beauty, passion and the sensual nature of life. Gourmet chefs understand that art plays a huge role in food – combining flavors and textures as well as the presentation. Wine makers understand the passion and romance of winemaking – from the vine to the complexity of aromas and flavor, and even the art of the label.
So it is with Mezcal.
Erick Rodriguez of Almamezcaleria understands this. His passion is finding perfection in Mezcal, from the preservation of wild Agave to the devotion of master distillers whose methods have been carefully handed down through generations.
He has dedicated his life to the beauty of a culture whose history dates back as early as 8,000 BC, with the formation of early villages in Mesoamerica. Wild Agave was plentiful, and over the centuries has provided raw material for fabrics, paper, timber, and fuel. The sharp points of Maguey (Agave) leaves were often used to make a needle, and strong strands from the leaves made thread. The Agave was also used to create honey-water, and as a medicinal balm for wounds and illnesses. Inevitably, at some point the honey-water fermented, resulting in a drink which was pronounced the ‘Nectar of the Gods’.
Artisanal Mezcal is still made using virtually the same methods which were employed by pre-Hispanic cultures in ancient times. There are over 40 varieties of wild Agave growing all over Mexico – each contributes to an individual and identifiable aroma and flavor, much like Cabernet or Merlot grapes do for wine. Erick journeys to remote villages in mountainous areas to find the artisans who create some of the most exquisite, and rare, Mezcales. He is part explorer and part educator.
Our evening began with a Mezcal cocktail created by Oscar Escobar. This combined the flavor of a soft Mezcal with a bit of olive juice, shaken over ice (so the crystals floated in the glass) and garnished with a queso fresco olive and sprig of rosemary. It was the perfect start to the event.
We were thrilled to have an evening with Erick – tasting Mezcales so rare that they aren’t even available for sale in Mexico. Many of the master distillers who create these Mezcales only produce 40-80 bottles per year. Our guests were treated to a five-course tasting dinner, designed to pair with each of the Mezcales offered, while Erick presented the history with an informative slide-show.
Modern-day Mezcal artisans are dedicated to the preservation of the wild Agave species, some of which take over 70 years to mature. They practice the same sustainable harvesting methods as their ancestors – with a reverence for the magic of the Maguey.
The Mezcales tasted were exquisitely presented. To taste Mezcal, it’s important to acclimate your tongue to the alcohol – many are 150 proof, and the first sip or two will take your mouth by surprise. The third sip, however, reveals the complexity and delicacy of the drink. The first offering was surprisingly soft, with a citrus finish. It was complemented by an Atlantic Cod and watermelon ceviche.
The next tasted herbal, with a slightly licorice finish. It was served with an ancestral style soup of smooth, slightly spicy and smoky pasilla chiles and a garnish of corn.
The third Mezcal was a bit sweeter, and lighter, with a delicate herbal aroma and flavor. This was served with Tlayuda Oaxaca, a small tostada with black beans, an ancient variety of mushroom, pickled onion and topped with crispy, salty grasshoppers. (You read correctly – grasshoppers. They were an integral part of the diet in Mesoamerican culture). A dish of perfectly prepared sliced duck, with three very different and all delicious sauces, among them an apple-fig creation, was served with a Mezcal that was light as air – a slightly fruity almost banana flavor danced on the tongue. Dessert was a dense cake topped with crunchy nuts and served with a mezcal-cream sauce and cajeta.
The Linocut prints of artist Eduardo Martinez were also unveiled for the first time in the United States during the evening, and will remain on display at Mayahuel for the next several months.
‘9 Cantos de Guerra’ (9 Songs of War), depicting drawings of the ancient culture of pre-Hispanic Mexico embody the passion for the land and the life lived around a celebration of the Maguey, family and ritual.
Erick shared that by providing education about artisanal Mezcales, and promoting an interest in the culture and preservation of the ancient art of small batch distillation, he’s able to help improve the quality of life for many of the villagers with whom he has forged a lifelong bond. Funds raised from the purchase of the Mezcal help to feed, clothe and educate people who carry on their ancestors way of life.
It is our honor to bring the passion and culture of the heart of Mexico to Mayahuel.
“To Know Mezcal is to Know Mexico”