AGAVE VARIETAL: AGAVE ESPADÍN
No artisanal process would be complete without incorporating a horse-drawn something right? That’s where the tahona [pronounced ta-OWN-a] comes in. The tahona is a horse-drawn circular mill where a horse or donkey walks in circles around the mill rolling awheel-like stone that mashes and pulverizes the cooked agave chunks. The process is not unlike the old-time way of making cider if you’ve ever seen that, except that instead of apples, we’re mashing agave to extract the sugars that were produced during the roasting process. It is the job of the mezcaleros to constantly rearrange the agave chunks to ensure maximum extraction. Using a pitchfork, the mezcaleros transport the mashed agave fibers into open fermentation tanks where they add spring water and allow the wild yeast to begin the fermentation process.
In an industrial operation, this process is handled by machinery. The chopped agave chunks are fed onto a conveyor belt where it chops and mashes it before dumping it straight into a fermentation tank where they introduce a consistent and stable yeast strain. The process is extremely efficient; the downside from a romantic standpoint is that you lose the cultural and human element of the mezcal making process. From a practical standpoint, the industrial operation is seldom able to get the maximum extraction from the agave, which in turn affects flavor. Finally, from a sustainability perspective, industrial mezcal operations with their high-speed and high-efficiency processes present a risk of out-producing the supply of agave.
Hangover? What Hangover?
One of the biggest selling points for many artisanal mezcal enthusiasts is the clean nature of the spirit. The lack of impurities and chemicals in an artisanal mezcal make that next-day hangover a lot less likely than with many brown spirits. For example, in producing this 5 to Try section I probably consumed enough mezcal to kill the horse that was pushing the stone wheel in the tahona! And while I did have to Uber home from the office a couple of nights, not once did I feel the ill effects on the following day. Is this a good thing? I don’t know; without the deterrent of a terrible morning hanging over my head I may be more inclined to go the way of Geoffrey Firmin in Under The Volcano. If you don’t get the reference, read the book or at least watch the movie. Suffice it to say it isn’t a good ending.
The Montelobos Mezcal Artesanal Espadín Joven is beautifully fragrant in the glass; there are prominent notes of cucumber, fruit, spice, and a hint of caramel in the background. In the mouth the mezcal is well balanced between sweet and hot characteristics. There are flavors of smoke, green agave, black pepper, minerality, and a touch of sugar cane sweetness.
Cigar Pairing – Montecristo Epic
If there was such a thing as a “cream bomb” of a pairing, this would most certainly be it. The cigar’s smooth, silky textured smoke makes the mezcal feel twice as viscous as it does on its own. And the heat from the mezcal, which is not too high to begin with, lends the cigar a kick that you didn’t know it was missing. Notes of pepper, nut, and leather jump to the forefront of the cigar with every sip while the Montelobos takes on a creamy caramel up front that had been lingering almost imperceptibly in the background. A perfectly complementary pairing.