Agave Fire Pit at Wahaka Mezcal
This week, we hosted a luncheon to toast the arrival of Wahaka Mezcal to our spirits portfolio. An artisanal distiller from the Central Valley of Oaxaca, the Mendez family tended agave fields five generations ago, and now Alberto “Beto” Morales Mendez is the maestro mezcalero at Wahaka Mezcal. Farmers who organically grow Espadin agave alongside fava beans, barley and tomatoes, they also forage Madre-Cuishe and Tobala, two additional species that grow wild in the forests near their farm.
Their estate grown Espadin is certified organic. Unlike blue agave, which is has been cross-bred in its use for tequila, Espadin possesses a wider gene pool that makes it less susceptible to disease and easier to farm organically. To ensure such biodiversity, which also allows for greater flavor complexity, Beto regularly raises the fields on their estate and replants from seed.
Replanting wild agave
Committed to showcasing the range that Mezcal has to offer, Beto separately distills Joven Espadin (65% of production) and Reposado con Gusano (25%), which is aged Espadin, and two wild species –Madre-Cuishe and Tobala (5% each), that he distills without aging to emphasize the different flavor profiles and terroir. And because Madre-Cuishe and Tobala reproduce sexually and therefore must be harvested at 10-12 years old before they flower, the team at Wahaka established Fundacion Agaves Silvestres, a non-profit organization that reforests wild agaves in and around San Dionisio Ocotepec.
Employing the same methods that have been passed down through the generations, Beto uses a traditional, dirt fire pit to roast the piña. Filled with pine wood for fuel, stones and dampened fibers from the previous harvest, the pit is covered with canvas and the piñas are steam roasted for three to five days, before being crushed in the tahona, a horse-drawn limestone mill.
In his home, the agave is fermented in open wood vats with indigenous yeast for twelve days before distillation in copper stills. As the Mezcal drips down the bamboo sprout and into a gourd or jicara, Beto measures the levels of methanol using a long bamboo stick called carizo, to suck up the spirit. As he releases the Mezcal back in to the jicara, he looks for las perlas, or bubbles, whose size indicate the level of alcohol. And while the spirits are measured in the lab for actual levels of alcohol, this traditional method indicates the splits between the heads, hearts and tails.
Maestro Mezcalero Beto (left)
At Wahaka, a family sized operation, the bottling of all five Mezcals takes place in Beto’s living room. Still in its infancy, Wahaka exported fewer than 500 cases to the U.S. last year. We are thrilled to have them in New York.