Face as brown and tough as leather, with deep, deep smile lines crinkling around sparkling black eyes, Don Alberto Martinez welcomed us warmly to his organic mezcal tequila farm just outside Oaxaca City. His firm, rough handshake spoke volumes of a labor-intensive but honest life of living and working his land on the outskirts of Oaxaca City.
The Mexican state of Oaxaca is a treasure-trove of off-the-beaten-path experiences, many of which you will not find on your own – exploring the dizzying heights of surreal petrified waterfalls; soaking in a cliffside mineral pool; enduring the flaming temazcal oven while the shaman pours honey, chocolate and who-knows-what-else on you, thrashing you with a bouquet of “healing” basil; having crickets (deliberately) in your salad; sitting at a midnight campfire perched on the edge of a mountain; swimming at a swimsuit-optional beach – well, those are just a few of the unique cultural experiences I had in Oaxaca.
Don Alberto Martinez’ organic mezcal farm was another.
Mezcal vs Tequila
Mezcal is the “in drink” in Mexico; the “new tequila,” whose increasing popularity has seen exports grow 80% between 2011 and 2015, and more than 1.1 million liters per year. Unlike tequila, which is made solely from the blue agave, mezcal can be made from over thirty different species of agave. This plant, contrary to popular belief, is not a cactus but is actually part of the asparagales botanical order akin to the yucca plant.
And unlike tequila which is now mass produced, mezcals are hand-crafted using artisan techniques that have not changed for hundreds of years. Ninety-percent of mezcal is produced on small artisanal farms in Oaxaca, with each farm – indeed each batch – creating its own unique flavor. In Oaxaca, they say “Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, también,” Which means “For every ill, Mezcal, and for every good as well.”
Read the rest of the story about mezcal in Oaxaca in Epicure and Culture.