Nakawe is a collection of mezcals from Mexico working closely with several small, family-owned producers or “Maestros Mezcaleros”. Their recipes and knowledge have been passed on for generations. Today, some maestros follow their elders’ traditions, while others experiment to fine-tune the process with their tastes and relationships with the nature around them. No two productions can ever be the same as environmental conditions, water, natural yeasts, and soil types all contribute to their nuances just as much as the recipe of their makers.
HOW IS MEZCAL MADE?
The palenque, or distillery, is a small, earthen-walled building with openings to let the air flow through and in it are all the elements that make mezcal unique. There is a giant pit in the ground where the agave is roasted. The enormous stone wheel is used for grinding the plants. There are also wooden fermentation vats and wood-fired copper stills for distillation.
It all starts with the oven, a broad, hand-dug pit in the ground deeper than a man’s height, just outside the palenque door. Wafting up from the pit is a sweet, caramelized aroma. Rocks are heated over a wood fire at the bottom. Next, they are insulated with a bed of moist agave fiber with chunks of chopped-up agave placed on top. The mound is covered with a mat of palm leaves and a mound of earth and left to cook for about three days. The agave is ready when a leaf extracted from the oven is perfectly browned, not burned.
The methods on display at Nakawe are standard practice for traditional cooking, but each maestro mezcalero marks the process with their personal choices. For wood, they may select oak or pine. It must be scorched and free of resin. Next, roasted plants are crushed under the weight of the tahona, a cylindrical volcanic stone, pulled around by a mule. Every process is entirely sensory in which only the maestro decides when
WHAT IS MEZCAL?
Every story needs a beginning, and tequila has one: Mezcal. Though its market is three hundred times bigger than mezcal, tequila is a type of mezcal.
More accurately, it’s one of the members of a large family of agave distillates, the collection of which is called mezcal. While other Mexican spirits remained small, homemade operations throughout the last century, tequila boomed. It became an industrialized product, far removed from the old artisan methods and much of the diversity that mezcal holds. Government regulations helping big liquor contributed to fueling that change. There are some excellent tequilas, of course, but the industry as a whole is the difference between what most tequila is and what it could be. Today, Mexico’s most famous spirit is standardized. And its lone variety of agave is grown in homogenized monoculture, leaving it vulnerable to the elements. A few giant companies, primarily foreign-owned, dominate the industry. Their factories typically look more like watch-makers than workshops, equipped with efficient metal machinery that lacks the character imparted by traditional methods. Mezcal, by contrast, still represents the tradition that tequila left behind. Its layers of flavor reflect variations in each step of the traditional production process.
the liquid libation is ready to move to the next step. After the grinding, the agave fibers spend five to seven days in the fermentation vat, mixed with clean water and a touch of starter from a previous batch. These vats are made of materials ranging from sabino wood to cement to leather and even plastic. a collector and a must for your ears when visiting Mexico. In fact, Tropicaza is a synonym for “waxed” cultural music. You can find him here: soundcloud.com/tropicaza.
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