Mexicano en Barro - Batch S-30-M-15
New York, you all are some agave freaks. We could not be where we are without you. As a thank you, and after the incredible response to our Blanco y Negra release last year, we have decided to hook up NYC with another, even smaller, extremely limited production bottling. This stunning 53 liter batch of 100% Mexicano (a. Rhodacantha) was produced by Salomón Rey Rodriguez (Tío Rey) in Sola de Vega, Oaxaca (16°28'44.72"N 96°57'42.80"W) in late 2015.
These cultivated agave were harvested on November 11th, 2015 from the La Joya parcel near Tío Rey’s palenque. The harvest consisted of 9 piñas that weighed 601 kilograms. It was buried to roast the next day on November 12th and left for 4 days. Tío Rey does not like to allow his raw agave to sit for too long before being roasted, as it runs the risk of producing very green flavors in the mezcal and containing methanol levels that are too high to pass analysis. The agave were then uncovered, crushed and put into a pine wood fermentation vat on November 16th. The batch was allowed to dry ferment for two days, after which 400 liters of water from Tío Rey’s private well were added and wet fermentation was allowed to continue from November 18th - November 22nd. The first distillation then took place on November 22nd and produced 100 liters of xixe at 26% ABV. The xixe was allowed to sit for two days before undergoing rectificación on 24 November, producing 56 liters of finished mezcal at 52.1% ABV.
One of the difficult parts of mezcal culture for many to grasp is the influence of regional colloquialisms on agave terminology. With so many indigenous languages even within Oaxaca alone, there is a lot of overlap in informal agave names, with some being used to to refer to different species in different regions. Even more, the same species can have different names in different regions. In the region surrounding Sola de Vega, Mexicano is used to refer to a sub-variety of species Agave Rhodacantha. This sub-species typically has shorter, broader leaves with an oblong shape and short, dark brown to black spines. Needing only 7 - 12 years to reach maturity, these agave are, on average, 30% smaller than Espadin at the time of harvest. These agave typically have less sugar content at the time of harvest than Espadín, producing lighter, dryer and more floral notes. Mezcales from Mexicano can often be very delicate with long finishes. The lightness of these mezcales tend to balance well with the heavier-bodied style of Tío Rey. The geographic distribution of A. Rhodacantha is represented in the map below by the brown coloration.
*Image taken from CONABIO website.
Producer: Salomón Rey Rodriguez
Location: Sola de Vega, Oaxaca
The palenque and agave fields of Salomón Rey Rodriguez or “Tío Rey” (Uncle Rey) are located in the famous mezcal region Sola de Vega. The mezcaleros in this region distill mezcal almost exclusively using clay pots called “Olla de Barro”.
Tío Rey’s town of Gulerá is about 15 minutes up the valley and is part of the municipality Villas Sola de Vega. The lush mountain valley is a 2.5-hour drive from Oaxaca and sits at 1450 M above sea level.
Tío Rey has a great supply of spring water that flows year round and contributes to the unique flavor of his mezcals. The mineral rich soil and relatively cooler climate make for a perfect spot for growing a variety of agaves. Sola de Vega has the most diversity of agave in Oaxaca and therefore the world. Salomón Rey has at least 15 varieties of agave that he cultivates, including: Espadín, Coyote, Arroqueño, Mexicano, Tobalá, Sierra Negra, Madre Cuixe, Blanco, and Barril.
Sola de Vega agave maturation times:
Espadín - 7 -12 years
Mexicano - 7- 12 years
Arroqueño - 9 - 25 years
Coyote - 5 - 10 years
Sierra Negra 10 -25 Years
Tobalá - 8 - 18 Years
The palenque (distillery) is at Tío Rey’s ranch where he lives full time with his family. He built it approximately 10 years ago from parts of an older palenque that was his fathers. It moved around from nearby locations over the years. The lineage of mezcaleros in Tío Rey’s family could arguably go back thousands of years. They emigrated from the Miahuatlán region over 100 years ago due to Zapatista activity during the Mexican Revolution.
Tío Rey has never produced mezcal commercially before Mezcal Vago and produces exclusively for Mezcal Vago.
Tío Rey’s batch sizes are generally from 100 liters to 450 liters. He has two classic earthen ovens that can each hold around three tons. One oven is the normal dug out hole in the ground and lined with large river rocks and the other is dug straight into bedrock. He roasts each batch for 2 to 3 days.
The cooked agave is hand ground with wooden mallets called canoas y mazos. The roasted piñas are chopped slightly with a machete then the pieces are placed on a wooden platform and pounded with the mallets. An incredibly laborious technique but they are sure the flavor is better this way when not molested by such modern technology as a cement wheel and horse!
Tío Rey has four fermentation vats. Three are typical vats, cylindrical and made from pine. Two have a capacity of 1,200 liters and the third holds 900 liters. The fourth is made from the trunk of a large Pino Sabino (Pine tree) hollowed out in the shape of a canoe and has been in use for 90 years and holds about 900 liters!
For distillation, Tío Rey uses a series of clay pots. The clay pots are called “Olla de Barro” in Spanish. That is why Mezcal Vago refers to its mezcals that are distilled in this manner as “en Barro.” They hold about 45 liters each. Each pair of pots shares a fire. The stills are made of stacks of two pots. One that holds the mash (boiler) and has an open top, and another with an open bottom that rests on top of the first one (condenser). On the top pot there is an upside-down stainless steel bowl that water continually runs in and out of. When the heat from the mash rises and hits the cool top created by the water, condensation occurs. An agave leaf works as a large spoon to catch the dripping condensation (mezcal) and runs into a reed that flows the mezcal into the collection container.
This whole process is laborious and takes around 4 times the effort of a copper still and stone tahona method.
First distillation of a ~45 liter load of tepache takes about 3 - 4 hours and will produce about 8.5 liters of xixe that will have an ABV in the mid-20′s. The next 1.5 hours will produce ~1.5 liters of xixe that does not contain enough flavor to produce mezcal and will be redistilled later for other uses around the palenque.
A ~50 liter batch of xixe will undergo second distillation, or “rectificación” over a period of 5 - 6 hours total. The first 1-2 hours will produce about 2 liters of heads, or “puntas,” which range between ~65-70% ABV. The next 3-4 hours will produce about 15-20 liters of mezcal at a proof of ~40-65% ABV. The final 15 - 20 minutes will produce about ~2-3 liters of tails, or “colas” that are roughly 30% ABV. The puntas and colas of the rectificación will be redistilled a third time to be used around the palenque. The containers of usable mezcal will be allowed to rest for a few days before being blended into one single homogeneous batch and then rested in stainless steel or glass. Tío Rey never adds water to his mezcal post distillation. Cuts are made by taste and smell.
All of Tío Rey’s Mezcal go through a simple triple sediment filtration through tubular cellulose filters. The bottling is done by hand in the city of Oaxaca. The light filtration is the only way the mezcal is affected between how it was made on the palenque and how it ends up in the bottle.
Rectifiicación - The refining of xixe or ordinario through a second distillation.
Tepache - A low-alcohol mixture of agave juice, fiber and water. Tepache typically has an ABV of ~4-8%.
Xixe - The local term for first-run distillate. Sometimes referred to as “ordinario.”
CONABIO. Agave, Mezcales, y Biodiversidad. A. Rhodacantha http://www.biodiversidad.gob.mx/usos/mezcales/A_salmiana.html