Ensamble de Aquilino A-10-CTE-16
We were incredibly humbled by the overwhelming response to our previous batch of ensamble from Aquilino, or "Curry-30," as it became affectionately known. However, we were not anticipating the number of hearts that would be broken when people realized that it was released exclusively in the East Bay of Northern California. We decided to be a bit more democratic with our next ensamble; a triple-agave blend produced by Aquilino García López at his palenque in Candelaria Yegolé, Oaxaca (16°29'41.36"N, 96°18'38.69"W). It was produced in early summer 2017 from a 48/28/23 blend of 803 kg of wild Cuixe, 472 kg of wild Tepeztate and 380 kg of cultivated Espadín, which yielded just 172 liters of explosive awesomeness. Yep. Only 172 liters.
This ensamble is a result of Aquilino's creativity and curiosity, as he continues to explore the flavors created by blending three of the most commonly used agave in the Yegole area. Echoing his first ensamble produced with Mezcal Vago, Cobre y Barro, he has blended Cuixe, Tepeztate, and Espadín to mimic the blends previous generations worked with. However, rather than making Espadín the predominant flavor in the blend, he has allowed it to linger in the background, providing a sweet structure that supports the dryness of Cuixe and renowned floral notes of Tepeztate. We absolutely adore this gem, as it showcases Aquilino's desire to explore new avenues and seek new flavors while remaining rooted in the traditions of his predecessors by using the same agave that they did, rather than procuring nonnative varietals from other locations. In the future, you will see other ensambles such as these from Aquilino. We hope when you sip this mezcal, you appreciate Aquilino's exploration further down the path of his forefathers.
The 67 piñas for this batch were harvested on May 22nd, 2017 from the Loma de Yegalache parcel, on the high plains between Aquilino's ranch in Candelaria Yegolé and Joel Barriga's in Tapanala. They were then roasted underground in an earthen pit for three days from May 24th to May 27th. Once crushed with the tahona, the begazo was fermented in two wooden fermentation vats. The agave for the first fermentation vat were crushed on May 27th and produced 1,182.6 liters of mosto. The mosto fermented dry for two days then had 131.4 liters of river water added on May 29th, producing 1,314 liters of tepache. It fermented for four more days, undergoing first distillation on June 2nd, producing 168 liters of ordinario at 27.5% ABV. The agave for the second fermentation tank were crushed on June 2nd, producing 1,149.75 liters of mosto and fermented dry for three days. On June 5th, 164.25 liters of river water were added, producing 1,314 liters of tepache, which were then allowed to ferment for another three days. First distillation was done on June 8th, producing another 168 liters of ordinario at 27.5% ABV.
Rectification (2nd distillation) of the 336 liters of ordinario was carried out on June 8th, producing 144 liters of still-proof mezcal at 61% ABV, meaning our yield ratio was 11.57 kg of raw agave per liter of mezcal produced. For adjusting to proof, the first nine liters of colas from the first fermentation tank were blended with 25 liters of water on June 2nd and allowed to rest for six days before the entire 34 liter, 9% ABV mixture was blended with the mezcal on June 8th to produce a final batch of 178 liters at 50.87% ABV. The mezcal was then rested for two months before being bottled on August 10th.
What we have called Cuixe (pronounced cuishe) in the past is referred to as Bicuixe in the region surrounding Miahuatlán de Porfirio Díaz. When speaking with our mezcaleros, we typically refer to the agave using whatever regional term they are accustomed to, but to avoid confusion among consumers, we have tried to remain consistent when it comes to bottling. As such, although this label says Cuixe, Emigdio knows it as Bicuixe. Regardless of what it is called, it is a member of the Agave Karwinskii family. Karwinskiis are quite unique in that across the several sub-varities that exist, they all grow on stalks that can reach up to 4 feet tall with the rosette or piña growing on top of the stalk, resulting in a plant that can reach heights of up to 7 feet. Agave in the Karwinskii family can often take between 15 and 18 years to mature.
Between the different sub-varieties, there are different ratios of stalk to piña which can affect the final flavor. The starches in the stalk are structured differently, such that they do not always break down during the roasting process. As a result, in sub-varieties like Cuixe and Madrecuixe that have more stalk in relation to the piña, this can result in mezcales that do have a core of agave sweetness that most are used to, but there is an overall dry and starchy quality to the mezcales that can linger on the palate. Madrecuixe typically has a larger piña than Cuixe, resulting in mezcales that do have that starchy, grassy note often associated with Cuixe, but with a touch more sweetness and body. One reason that Madrecuixe is so named is because they often grow as solitary plants surrounded by several Cuixe, as though they are protecting, or a “mother” (madre) plant. However, the Cuixe are not part of the Madrecuixe.
The distribution of Agave Karwinskii can be seen in the map below.
Known variously as du-cual (Zapotec), pitzomel (Nahuatl), de caballo, curandero, becuelo, and others, Agave Tepeztate (a. Marmorata) are some of the most prized agave for producing mezcal. Renowned for their unique appearance and delicate flavors, these agave produce some of the most floral and readily identifiable mezcals. Often growing directly out of rock cliff faces, like Tobalá these agave have a propensity for growing in very difficult and inaccesible locations, making harvesting these unwieldy behemoths notoriously difficult. At the upper end of the spectrum, these agave can weigh around 200 kg, or 450 pounds at the time of harvest! The aromatic high tones to these mezcals can be partially attributed to their lower starch content compared to varieties like Espadín and Coyote. When approaching maturity these agave will often absorb more water than most, further diluting their starch content, reducing the mezcalero's yield and elevating the floral qualities and light finish of these prized mezcals. Despite being seemingly delicate in nature, Tepeztate have some of the most complex, long-lasting finishes in the mezcal world; finishes that continue to evolve over a long period.
While some mezcaleros say that Tepeztate can take up to thirty-five years to mature, the tepeztate of Don Emigdio and Don Aquilino typically take between fifteen and twenty years before they are ready to harvest. However, Aquilino has been able to harvest cultivated Tepeztate in as little as seven to ten years. In 2016 Aquilion planted around 450 Tepeztate plants, with an eye to plant even more in 2017. The distribution of Tepeztate is represented by the green shading in the map below.
Espadín typically takes 7 – 12 years to mature, reaching roughly 5 – 6 feet in diameter and 7 feet in height. The rosette has very straight, narrow pencas with a gray-green hue and small spines. Once the pencas have been removed, the piña of a mature espadín can weigh around 100 kilograms.
The genetic “mother” of a. Tequilana, a. Angustifolia var. Haw, or “Espadín,” is the most prolific species of agave used in mezcal production. The plant grows prevalently throughout Oaxaca but its range extends between both the north and south borders of Mexico. The plant is very disease resistant, has a large yield of mezcal produced per kilo of agave harvested (due to high sugar concentrations) and has a shorter maturation time compared to most other agave used for distillation. The plants can be easily cultivated and are able to reproduce clonally; all of these factors combining to allow a. Angustifolia to dominate the mezcal market. Almost every brand of mezcal begins by bottling an Espadín and it is usually the first one that consumers experience; both because of its availability and price point. 77.4% of mezcal produced in 2014 was from a. Angustifolia. The geographic range of a. Angustifolia can be seen in the map below.
Aquilino García López
Location: Candelaria Yegolé, Oaxaca
Aquilino is the father-in-law of Mezcal Vago’s co-founder, Judah Kuper. This family connection and his exquisite mezcal were the inspiration to form Mezcal Vago. Aquilino had never produced commercially before working with Mezcal Vago and produces exclusively for Mezcal Vago.
Aquilino García López, grows Maguey Espadín, and Maguey Mexicano. He wild harvests Maguey Cuixe (Tobasiche) and Tepeztate. He has taken over fields from his father and also has family and friends with whom he sources agave.
His palenque is in Candelaria Yegolé, Oaxaca (16°29'41.36"N, 96°18'38.69"W) This is a river town in a hot and dry climate at an elevation of around 1100 meters. Two rivers converge in a narrow Valley and it is mountainous on all sides. It is a rugged three-hour drive from Oaxaca city.
The palenque is on Aquilino’s ranch where he lives full time. He and his father moved it to its current location 15 years ago. It has moved around from nearby locations over the years. He believes his family has been making Mezcal for at least five generations. Aquilino does nearly all of the work himself.
The Agave Espadín and Agave Mexicano both take 7 to 9 years to mature and Aquilino is very careful about only using ripe agave. It takes 1000 kilos to yield around 100 liters of Mezcal. So every 10 kilos will yield a liter. The Espadín we cut ranges from 5 to 100 kilos per agave with an average of around 50 kilos for a well-grown ripe piña (agave heart). Therefore, one ripe Agave Espadín yields around seven 750ml bottles of Mezcal. A bit less but similar for Coyote, Arroqueño and Mexicano. Agave Tobalá and Cuixe yield even less.
Batch sizes of Espadín and Elote are around 750 liters. Each batch needs around 7 tons of cleaned and prepared agave piñas. Aquilino limits his batch sizes to one full oven.
The Mexicano and the Cuixe are smaller batches due to the availability of the agave. A batch of Mexicano is between 200 and 900 hundred Liters. The Cuixe is between 100 and 300 Liters (he only does around 2 a year.) The Cuixe is very laborious to make. Locating ripe agave growing wild and spread out over a large region surrounding the village takes lots of time and patience. Many of the agave are far from the road and need to be brought down the mountain by burro. The Cuixe is also laborious to clean and prepare and is tough to grind. It is roasted at least a full day longer than Espadín to fully extract the sugars.
Aquilino uses a traditional stone tahona to grind the cooked agave. All of the mashed agave and its juices are scooped together into the fermentation vats. A full oven of agave will take a couple of weeks to grind. This helps space out the fermentation process so not everything finishes at the same time.
The fermentation vats are made of pine and hold up to 1000 liters. The cooked agave and water ferment from the natural airborne yeasts in the air. No additional ingredients are used to make the mezcal other than agave and water.
Each batch ferments for around a week. This varies depending on the ambient temperature at the time of fermentation. Aquilino distills his fermented mash before all of the sugar has fermented. This is sooner than other Mescalero’s’ techniques. He uses six fermentation vats.
Aquilino has a copper still that has a 250-liter capacity. He makes all the separations (cuts) by smell and taste. The heads are between 70% and 30% AVB and his tails are between 30% and 15% AVB. Everything else he doesn’t use.
Aquilino’s mezcals have a definite style. Bright, clean and bold without too much smoke. They have less bottom end (tails) than other Mezcal lines, due in part to his “narrow” cuts on the still.
All of Aquilino’s Mezcal goes through a simple triple sediment filtration through tubular cellulose filters. The bottling is done by hand is in Oaxaca City. The light filtration is the only way the Mezcal is affected between when it was made on the palenque and how it ends up in the bottle.
Colas - The last portion of the distillate, or tails. This contains your lower alcohols and heavier compounds, such as acetic acid and ethylactate. (Cedeño Cruz & Alvarez-Jacobs)
Begazo - Agave fiber
Ensamble - A blend of different agaves that are pit-roasted, crushed, fermented and distilled together as one single batch.
Mosto - A crushed agave fiber that has not had water added to the fermentation.
Ordinario - First run distillate.
Palenque - A small production facility where mezcal is produced. Also referred to as a vinata or taverna in other parts of Mexico.
Tahona - A large stone wheel that weighs several tons used to crush agave in order to release the juice. Traditionally pulled by a mule, horse, or some other beast of burden, more modern techniques use a tractor or mechanized motor.
Tepache - Often used to refer to a fermented pineapple beverage, it is also used to refer to the mixture or agave and water that is fermenting in the palenque.
Cedeno Cruz & Alvarez-Jacobs. Production of Tequila From Agave: Historical Influences and Historical Processes. The Alcohol Textbook: A Reference for the Beverage, Fuel, and Industrial Alcohol Industries. Jacques, Lyons, and Kelsall. Nottingham University Press. 1995.