On our way through Oaxaca we stopped at two mescalarias, or artesenal distilleries. “El Pequeño Martín” (the name of the distillery and the distiller) was nice enough to give me the run-down of his process of making Mezcal. Here’s my best summary:

The harvested "piña" of the maguey plant.

Once the piña (the base of the plant, which looks like a pineapple) is harvested from the maguey plant, Martín roasts it once while it is still whole. He then cuts it into manageable pieces and places them into a pit where he cooks them for at least a whole day. Once cooled from the fire pit, the cooked maguey chunks are placed on a cement pad, where they are ground with a large wheel. This turns the chunks into more of a shredded consistency, somewhat like coco coir.

The ground maguey is then loaded into a large fermentation tank, where it is inoculated with some of the culture from the previous fermentation. For days the fermentation takes place until the mash has mellowed (no more bubbles/activity). When the mash is ready, Martín loads 250L at a time into his distilling apparatus. The mash gets loaded into a copper container that sits above a small furnace.

The chopped piña is roasted for at least a day.

The wheel that grinds the piña.

Active fermentation.

Final fermentation of the mash.

The heat from the furnace separates the alcohol from the mash. The vaporized alcohol travels up the copper pipe and then down through the cooling tubes, which are bathed in running water. The cool water condenses the alcohol vapor and pure alcohol flows out the bottom spigot.

The furnace - the mash is loaded into the copper container above the heat.

Following the tube from the furnace, the alcohol vapor condenses in coils bathed in water. The blanco comes out the spigot at the bottom.

The blanco ages in the barrel until it becomes reposado - Martín is titrating a sample for me.

Martín and the author with a bottle of the reposado.

The grade of mezcal produced from this process is called blanco. Martín loads the blanco into a large wooden barrel for storage. He titrates off samples using a bamboo cane through the top plug of the barrel. After two years of aging the grade of mezcal is called reposado, which has light amber color (due to the tannins in the wood). I found the taste of the reposado to be much mellower (less burn in the throat) than the blanco. I ended up buying a 500mL bottle of the reposado for 40 pesos.


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