Mezcalero: Coyoacan's Mezcaleria
Mezcalero Mezcaleria, Coyoacan, D.F.
We had the intention of hitting multiple mezcalerias while in D.F., but with limited funds and limited motivation for late night schenanigans, those intentions fell through the cracks. Most of our days in the capital of Mexico were spent figuring out labels for the bottles, researching registration, and drinking café con leche at our favorite spot, El Popular. We did, however, get a tip from Erick Rodriguez, owner of Almamezcalera, pointing us to a mezcaleria in Coyoacan - a neighborhood south of the center. In our first attempt at visiting, we were distracted by the Aztec dancers practicing in the park and never quite made it. (Noel has been an Aztec dancer for 20+ years and leader of 3 different groups in the country. As you may have read in my article of mezcalistas.com, mezcal plays in an integral role as a shamanic medicine for native dancers). The next night we returned to Coyoacan a bit earlier to try again. We picked our way through the tables that sprawled from Mezcalero’s front, made our way to the bar, and asked to speak to Alejandro Castilleja – the bar’s mezcalier (think sommelier for mezcal). We were quickly and cordially seated and presented with a menu that, while not as epic as that of Tata’s or Pare de Sufrir’s, was clearly selected with love, care, and knowledge. Alejandro sat with us making suggestions and answering our questions. “The best mezcals generally aren’t registered,” Alejandro told us. Which explains why most of the mezcals on his menu can’t be found in stores or abroad. To demonstrate this he recommended we begin with Almamezcalera’s own papalome from Puebla (papalome is another name for papalote or Agave cupreata): it was suave, with well-balanced notes of herbs and smoke, and a fire that lingered on the tongue. Mezcalero is relatively new to the Mexico City scene: they’ve only been open since February, 2014. What sets them apart from the other mezcalerias in the area is their more modern vibe: the bar is lit with red and green lights and plays electronic music (a good selection, though bit too loud for conversation). Their clientele is mixed, but Alejandro guesses about 70% of them are savvy mezcal consumers. “[Our goal] is to promote traditional mezcals so people can get to know them. We offer tastings of 3, 5, or 7 types of blancos and pechugas,” he says, pointing to the mezcal flight options on the menu. The ABV of all of their bottles lie between 45-55% and you won’t find a reposado or añejo on the menu – they prefer to conserve the essence of the maguey. Most of the mezcal comes from Oaxaca, with a few selections from Guerrero, and Durango. They also offer Bancanora (an agave-distilled spirit from Sonora – essentially a mezcal, but without the legal right to label it as such) and other liquors (rum, whiskey, etc.). The menu stays more or less the same with only the occasional change or addition. I asked Alejandro what he thought about the rules of the COMERCAM and the issues with the tequila industry buying up magueys in southern states. “I’m not really interested in the politics,” he responded, adding that he doesn’t feel it have much of an effect on his business. Whether that is true or not, only time will tell. While I certainly understand a disinterest in the political henhouse, it's clear to me that if sustainability isn't kept at the forefront of market priorities, then surely all involved in the industry will be affected. Likewise, if ancestral mezcaleros aren’t given the opportunity and resources to produce and sell their product – or if the rules on mezcal sales are tightened – the game is bound to see some changes. For now, though, business continues as usual, and in this fabulous country we call Mexico, there are countless opportunities to sample the most traditional and expertly crafted mezcals produced. It is thanks to mezcaliers like Castilleja that consumers are becoming more knowledgeable and helping to shape the future of the market in a positive way.
Almamezcalera, Papalome de Puebla Smooth, light smoke and herbs, balanced, fire lingers on the tongue. Mezcal de la Casa, “Celestina” – Ensemble de madrecuixe and espadin, 48% Very herbaceous. To me it tasted like nail polish remover. Noel likes it, though. I'd like to note that I tasted it again a few weeks later and really enjoyed it. This goes to show how mezcal can taste different depending on the food you've eaten and the mood you're in. So how can one know one's mezcals? Drink more! Taste the same mezcal on different days, and you'll find its true flavor. Aromas de la Tierra, Ajutla de los Libres, Agave cupreata, 50% (only sold at Mezcalero) Stong! But very good. I had images of flowers: beautiful, blooming white petals across the palate. A little like a fine perfume commercial. Probably my favorite of the 3 - largely for the surprising visuals.
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