High Plateaus of the Sierra Sur
We are very excited to announce the newest addition to Mezcal Vago, Don Joel Barriga. Joel is Aquilino's cousin and has been distilling mezcal for many generations. His farm and palanque are part of the Hacienda Tapanala, which is about 15 kilometers northeast of and 300 meters higher than Candelaria Yegole, in the high, rolling plateaus of the Sierra Sur. Despite the difference in location, the climate and soil of Tapanala, the very beginnings of terroir, are nearly identical to the land surrounding Aquilino’s. Aquilino has been working with Joel over the last couple months to hone his technique in order to produce a style of Espadín that is very similar to his own. This will allow Aquilino to make more Elote and focus on smaller, more unique batches of mezcal.
This organic model of growth has let us maintain our sense of family without sacrificing quality, or overburdening the people and places that are the core of Mezcal Vago. Don Joel’s connection to Aquilino’s family as well as their geographic proximity and time spent working together make us very proud to bring his mezcal to you. We hope you enjoy drinking Joel Barriga’s mezcal as much as we do.
Espadín typically takes 7 – 12 years to mature, reaching roughly 5 – 6 feet in diameter and 4 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. 85% of mezcal produced in 2015 was from a. Angustifolia. The geographic range of a. Angustifolia can be seen in the map below.
*Image taken from CONABIO website
Producer: Joel Barriga
Don Joel Barriga
He is a third generation distiller, who currently produces with his son, Adan. Their process starts with the harvesting of agave near their ranch.
Primarily working with Espadín, he roasts the agave in one of his either 3,000 kilogram or 5,000 kilogram oven using a variety of local hardwoods. The roast in the smaller oven can take as long as three days and the larger as long as four. These roasts are slightly shorter than Aquilino’s due to the fact that the hornos are much smaller. Once the agave are pulled out of the oven they are slowly cooled in the open air.
Joel’s 3,000 Kilogram Horno
Joel then crushes his agave with a 3½ ton masonry and stone tahona.
Once the agave has been slowly crushed, they are placed into 1,300 liter Sabino wood fermentation vats and left to dry ferment for 2 - 3 days. After that, the fermentation vats are filled with liters of water form a natural spring above the palenque. This is the only thing besides agave that that Don Joel uses for his fermentation. Due to the hot, arid climate, Joel’s fermentation rarely last longer than another 3 - 4 days. After with they are transferred directly one of two adjacent 300 liter copper pot stills.
One of Joel’s two 300 liter stills
Once the stills are filled and sealed, they will then undergo first distillation over 3 - 5 hours. First distillate, or ordinario will begin to fall off the still after twenty to thirty minutes at around 55% and continue down to about 20% ABV after two to three hours, producing roughly fifty to fifty-five liters of ordinario. Over the course of the next hour, distillation will continue, but these last ten to fifteen liters are separated out to be redistilled with the next batch of tepache, as they lack sufficient flavor. Once the entire batch of tepache has undergone primary distillation, it is then returned to the still for the resacado, or second distillation. This second distillation will produce roughly two to five liters of heads, or puntas, which begin to fall at about 75% ABV and contain undesirable compounds such as methanol. After the first few liters of puntas begin to fall the heart, or cuerpo, which is what we as consumers see in the bottle as mezcal. This begins at around 65% ABV and continues down to about 38% ABV. After then begins to fall the tails, or colas, which contain lower alcohols as well as greater esters and acids.
Because we make relatively narrow cuts and remove a large portion of colas, we are able to use a small part of these to mix 1:4 with distilled water and use that to bring our mezcales down to bottling proof.
Don Joel Barriga’s Ranch in Tapanala
Don Joel Barriga produces his mezcal at his ranch in Tapanla, Oaxaca (16°32'19.7"N 96°13'49.1"W). The ranch lies atop the high plateaus of the Sierra Sur, with rolling hills situated among rising peaks. Their palenque is about 9 kilometers from Aquilino’s as the crow flies and about 300 meters higher. The climate is arid high desert and very similar to that surrounding Aquilino’s.
Cuerpo - The heart, or body of the mezcal. The central portion that does not contain any dangerous methanols or lower alcohols and unpleasant esters.
Ordinario - The regional term for first-run distillate.
Puntas - The first few liters of the second distillation run that contain dangerous compounds like methanol.
Resacado - The second distillation run.
Tepache - The regional term for the fermented mash or wort of agave fiber and water. Agave and water are the only things Mezcal Vago uses in our fermentation process.