It takes each espadín maguey 8 to 10 years of scorching Oaxaca sun before maturing into the plant that will issue a tall flowery stem and then wither and die while releasing thousands of seeds.
Sometime during the 8th year a “jimador” will cut the thorny branches and strenuously dig out the “piña”, the underground core weighing up to 150 kgs containing the moist and sugary stuff from which the elixir will be made.
The piñas are then cooked while buried under earth and oak embers in an outdoor pit made of rock for up to three days.The sweet smoked piñas are then cut into chunks and pressed under an Egyptian horse driven stone mill.
As opposed to its Northern cousin, tequila, the ensuing liquid is fermented in wooden bats along with the piña’s fiber, an essential part of the finished product’s earthy, mineral complexity.
Much of Mexico’s authenticity in craftwork owes its quality to the 300 year ban on industry enforced by the Spanish Colony. All industrial products like spirits or fabrics would come from Spain. For those who could not afford them, rustic “manta” clothes and lowly small batch mezcal would have to do. The rest of the story is well known, after generations of artisanal preparation and popular consumption, small batch production necessarily overtook industrial repetition, not only in authenticity, but in sophistication.
Made in small copper stills and heated by wood, Delirio Mezcal owes its remarkable transparency and purity to the ancestral double distillation process of one of the most revered characters in Oaxacan culture: the maestro mezcalero.
Carved in thick transparent glass, our Art Deco inspired bottle is, precisely, the sophisticated counterpoint to a story that starts in rusticity and ends in sophistication.
Of all spirits, mezcal is the one that most resembles wine in its intimate, inseparable relation to its provenance.
Not even whisky is so inevitably tied to its terroir. The reason is simple: prior to small batch distillation, good artisanal mezcal undergoes open air fermentation not only of the pressed juice, but of its vegetal fibers, conferring it its unmistakably deep, mineral, earthiness.
The valley connecting Oaxaca to Matatlán endures up to 340 days of scorching sun each year but is surrounded by tall green mountains on both sides, an exceptionally open space of tall skies in a land otherwise riddled with a dramatic array of mountain ranges.
OAXACA is the region’s jewel, a rich city in what has otherwise been, for the most part, one of the poorest states in Mexico. It bears its first signs of wealth in the majestic ancient archeological site of Monte Alban. Then, during the Spanish colony, and fueled by gold mining, in the profusely ornate baroque churches.
Finally, at the turn of the last century, during the dfd year rule of Profirio Diaz, the Oaxaca born dictator who had a strong affection for all things French –he had the Mexico City Opera, Bellas Artes, built according to Belle Epoque standards, it was during his timeas well that the houses in downtown Oaxaca became elegant and worldly – champagne, cognac and…mezcal!
Why the exclamation marks? Because locally grown mezcal was considered a lowly drink for the poor who could not afford the expensive spirits from Europe. For almost three centuries industrial production was forbidden under Spanish colonial laws in Mexico, only artisanal production was allowed. For all his political shortcomings, Diaz must have had a refined palate if he was able to overcome prejudice and appreciate the joys of small batch artisanal distillation. Our own Belle Epoque inspired bottle is, at the turn of our century, a tribute to that first flourishing of mezcal from lowly to highly sophisticated drink.
Matatlán, on the other hand, has always been the mecca of mezcal and, hence, of maguey farming, mainly the espadín kind with its thin, pointed blades.
However, things have not always looked as prosperous, with local producers and their families earning far more from their artisanal production than most farmers in Oaxaca. What used to be a huge liability, the colonial prohibition on industrial production, has turned into a boon: a three century old unbroken tradition of small batch producers.
If you take the dirt roads away from Matatlan you will enter the delirious heart of mezcal. Field upon field of espadín maguey so rich and sun inebriated that when 10 years ago tequila producers from the Northern Jalisco State tried to smuggle tons of espadin hearts undercover of the night, a huge mob of Matatlan producers blocked the roads and demanded the production stay in Oaxaca.
Every so often you will see a rather small palisade with a make shift roofing, the locals call it a Palenque and it is the place where mezcal is cooked, pressed, fermented and distilled. Anything more permanent, anything with thick walls and a closed roof is suspicious: it reeks of standardized industrial production.
Ride into one of these palenques –we recommend a hybrid motorcycle or a 4x4 vehicle– and you will very probably receive a glimpse of Oxaca hospitality: a tray with big tortillas and spicy sauce in the center, Oaxaca knotted cheese on one side, chapulines (grasshoppers) on the other. Also, small mezcal glasses, worm salt (if you are lucky you get the real deal: actual live red worms) and, of course, locally produced 55º proof mezcal –don’t overdo it, the roads are treacherous.
Once back in stylish, walkitng friendly Oaxaca, still reeling from the sun, the tall skies and the power of the ride, ponder the paradox: that such a rugged country should yield such a pure and subtle, delirium. Enjoy!