Saturday, March 24, 2012

Packing Mescal

I was invited by friend and fellow Mexican homebrewer Barry to go on a little road trip the other day. A 90 mile excursion north to the 'Valley of the Kings' near the city of San Luis Potosi located in the Free and Sovereign State of San Luis Potosi. Our goal? Cheap but delicious mezcal.

The wheel that crushed the agave
Barry drove us North East for most of the ninety miles through the wide open spaces of the high desert. Vast expanses of beautiful Mexican countryside flew past us as he swerved around the slow moving farm tractors and autobuses until we reach a rugged unpaved road off the highway leading us to the mescaleria slash dairy farm. A couple of farm hands (possibly armed guards) removed the padlock from the chained gate allowing us to enter. They didn't question our motives, our thirst for alcohol obviously evident on our parched faces.

 Secret door to the mezcal

Another couple hundred yards of driveway and we came to an adobe building as old as the hills and the same color with the exception of the printed sign claiming to be the "Fabrica de Mezcal San Francisco". The excitement was building as we entered the compound. Nobody was around and I took the opportunity to get a couple of photographs of the antique machinery. This was at one time a large scale operation judging by the enormous grinding wheel and press used to process the agave pina for it's sugars, but most of this equipment obviously hadn't been used in many years.

You may ask what the difference is between mescal and tequila? Mainly, in any product distilled from the maguey, it's the type of plant. There are numerous plants that fall into this family. The blue agave that grows within the state of Jalisco is considered and sanctioned by Mexico as 'True' tequila. But, generally speaking, it can be considered tequila if it is produced using only the blue agave plant no matter the region. Mescal (spelled with a z in Spanish) can be made with a variety of plants and raicilla is made with an entirely different plant. In other words, the plant type is the main difference.

Barrels of fun
Plasticos de mezcal

It wasn't long before a farmhand met us and then disappeared through a pair of ancient wooden doors into the darkness of the earthen building. The new equipment somewhere deep within was kept hidden from prying eyes, like mine. We were not allowed into the facility to see their operation and I was disappointed about this but it didn't stop me from shoving my camera into the doorway to get of shot of a wooden barrel used for aging the mescal. I could also see our attendant pouring mescal through a funnel from large plastic drums into our smaller containers. But, that was about it.

He brought the filled containers back out and we paid the 35 peso per liter fee and thanked him for his efforts. 35 pesos by the way, at today's rate, is the equivalent of about $2.50 a liter. For good home distilled mescal, that's an amazing cost. I was anxious to sample some and just outside I took a sip from my bottle. Smooth and dry with a mild smokey flavor. In the wrong hands (mine) I could tell this could get you into trouble. Easy to drink and flavorful with none of the burn or bite in the back of the throat. Barry suggested it be drunk chilled with lime. I'll be taking his suggestion very soon. This is a lot different than the mescal I brought back from the Palomas Mensajeras distillery in Patzcuaro a couple of years ago. It is far less smokey and judging from the taste and burn I'd say it has a lower percentage of alcohol too but I can't determine that at this time.As we posed for a picture outside I experienced a bit a container envy as I held one of my two 600 milliliter water bottles and compared it to Barry's five (count them 5) full gallon jugs set at our feet.

Packing for home

But, I was preparing to leave San Miguel in a few days and I needed to consider how much I could pack into my checked baggage. I hear you're only allowed 2 liters of alcohol at the most. I've also got some raicilla and a bottle of tequila infused beer that needed to be packed, so this was the most mescal I dared take.
I'm excited to share this mescal with my homebrew club when I return to Santa Cruz and maybe do a taste comparison with the raicilla but for now I need to get busy, I've got a few homebrews to drink before we leave San Miguel. Cheers!


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