Mezcal – Ancient Spirits, New Believers

Our friend Lou Bank , a favorite fermenter and co-presenter for our two mezcal events, introduces his love affair with agave spirits…..

 

I thought I understood how to make liquor. I had, after all, launched the craft distillery for Rogue Ales back in 2003. But Eduardo Angeles opened my eyes to a whole different spirits world, and changed my life in the process. And it was not the last time that Lalo — as his friends call him — would do so.

By the time my wife and I visited Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2008, I had been drinking mezcal for three years. But it was an interest, not a passion. You have interests, right? Things you do, that you like doing, but that you know will one day be eclipsed by something else? And you’ll wind up tossing those dusty jars of artisanal mustards to make room for your new interest in bottle-conditioned beers? That’s what mezcal was for me.

But on that theoretical one-and-done trip to Oaxaca, I met maestro (master)  mezcalero Lorenzo Angeles, the Don of the family behind Mezcal Real Minero (a brand). We’d tasted Real Minero the evening before, and it was an epiphany — so much more complex and rich and delicious than anything available back home. The maestro invited us to visit his palenque (distillery) for a tour. We had no time, we told him, so he said we would have to visit when we returned.

We never imagined we’d go back, but kept Don Lorenzo’s contact information … just in case. And good thing we did, because as much as we loved Real Minero when we tasted it in Oaxaca, our appreciation grew as we drank it back home. That’s the thing about artisanal mezcals: they’re so complex that it takes a while for your palate to truly understand what it is tasting.

Once enlightened, we made arrangements to go back and visit Don Lorenzo. Now, I’ve been on plenty of distillery tours — I know the formula. You get the 45-minute walk-and-talk, followed by a 15-minute tasting. So I figured I knew what I was in for when we arrived in Santa Catarina Minas, a rural community some 45 minutes southeast of Oaxaca City.

We were there for eight hours — eight hours! — with Don Lorenzo’s son, Eduardo, himself a maestro who shared the responsibility of making the family mezcal with his father.

Those eight hours changed the trajectory of my life. It was on that tour that I saw the oddest still I’d ever seen, a brick-and-clay contraption that looked like one of those backyard “fireplaces” called chimeneas dropped into a wood-fired pizza oven. How did they come up with this? I wondered. And a few days later I had my answer.

I was wandering through used bookstores in Mexico City when I found a set of farmers’ guides from 1849. Paging through the books, I came to the section on distillation, and in that section I found … a blueprint for the very still I had seen at the palenque. They hadn’t invented this odd still — they were using technology that was 150 years old. Or older! Was this state-of-the-art in 1849?

That revelation was just the tip of the iceberg for me. After years of learning from Lalo Angeles, and years of hosting tastings of agave spirits at Fermentation Fest as a way to introduce everyone to Lalo’s brilliance, I’m excited to be able to finally introduce everyone to Lalo himself, so you can appreciate still more of that iceberg. He started his own palenque a few years back, producing spirits under the brands Lalocura and Sacapalabras (not yet available in the US, though should be within a year). Lalo will pour you his eye-opening spirits; share how they are made; and explain  how they are improving the quality of life in his small community in rural Mexico.

Please join us for the mezcal dinner on Saturday evening, or the mezcal tasting on Sunday afternoon, to taste the genius of Lalo Angeles; toast his father, Lorenzo, who passed last year; to strengthen ties to our brilliant neighbors to the south and to ignite your own passion for mezcal!

Lou Bank, S.A.C.R.E.D