Tata: Morelia's Mezcaleria & Slow Food Hub
Last week, Pedro Jimenez of Pare de Sufrir had given us a contact in Morelia, Michoacan - a couple with many connections to local mezcal producers. Michoacan is a hotbed of drug lords right now, but as we had to pass through anyway to get to Guerrero, we decided to stop for a few nights in Morelia. Anyway (Mom), most of the danger is in remote mountain areas.
After settling into a hostel in the historic center, we hit the streets looking for Nacho and America - the couple Pedro had recommended we meet. All we had was an address for what we'd assumed was a mezcaleria. When we arrived, however, there was nothing – no sign – nada. The neighbors didn’t know anything about it. Fortunately, our server at the coffee shop earlier that day had told us of another mezcaleria called Tata. The restaurant/mezcaleria was nearly empty when we arrived (we must be old – we seem to have a habit of arriving at mezcal bars right as they open). A server informed us they were booked solid for dinner and sat us at the bar. Tata was clearly more upscale than the other places we’d visited in Guadalajara, and this put me a little bit at a distance at first. I love mezcal for its authenticity and humble roots – not for the fad it’s become. (Though give me some years in this business, and I’ll probably love it for that too!). The bartender immediately proved himself knowledgeable and helped us get started with a tasting of Michoacan mezcals. We began with two cupreatas (known as papalote in Guerrero): La Perla de Tzitzio with a nice spice and a sweet finish, and another local, family production, with smoke and berry flavors. Oddly, it was the first time in two weeks I’d really noticed smoke in a mezcal. This one turned out to be my favorite. Despite the awesome décor (the bar was made of vintage suitcases set into the cement) and the impressive list (170 different mezcals!), I was still feeling a little cold and on guard for pretentiousness (a common characteristic of the food and beverage industry which I absolutely detest). That is until the chef and his two companions arrived to give me a change of heart. Chef Fermín Ambás took a seat next to me at the bar, introducing himself and the two young men that were with him: Christian and Alejandro – owners of mezcal label, Ibá. We were quickly locked in conversation, and I soon felt at home. Chef Ambás told me his concept was to use as many local products as he could, which is why a large percentage of his mezcal list was dedicated to Michoacan. The restaurant serves food that is predominantly locally sourced, and also makes a concerted effort to reduce waste (plastic straws, for example, don’t exist under their roof). Tata also carries 3 brands of local beer and a local rum. In an effort to spread awareness of sustainable food and beverages, Chef Ambás and a few others united last month to start Prefiero Local – a Morelia-based association of slow food minded restaurants and local producers. All of these factors, along with the food itself (I’m guessing – I didn’t have the chance to taste), make it the #1 restaurant in Morelia. Chef Ambás left to attend to his kitchen, guests, and staff, and I turned to join the mezcal conversation. Christian and Alejandro are an enthusiastic pair from Mexico City who have one of the very few mezcals on the market with an ABV of 55% (the highest allowed by the COMERCAM). Their Ibá 55 has been a surprising hit. An proof that high might seem a difficult swallow, but in fact, it’s surprisingly smooth. “It tastes more like a 48%,” Alejandro promised me, handing over two shots for us to try. He was right: amazingly smooth. For mezcal, that is. They also sell a 40% (both are Agave espadin) as a way of introducing mezcal to those who have not yet acquired the taste, but in fact, their 55 sells three times as much in L.A. It also won a double gold in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Not bad for a newcomer! Alejandro told me of their aspirations to sell very small batches and to help palenques get registered, but confessed it wouldn’t be easy to make money going that route, which is why they plan to balance it with larger batch production. By evening’s end we had exchanged cards, opened the dialog on ways we might collaborate, and made plans to visit the Ibá palenque in San Pablo Huixtepec, Oaxaca. Noel and I stumbled our way home marveling at the flow of life. Sure, we hadn’t found the contacts Pedro had given us, but through chance and circumstance we found a Nopa-esque restaurant (with whom I hope to continue ties with) on a night of the week they are normally closed, and two more starry-eyed mezcal purveyors. What could happen from here? Quien sabe! Todo es possible! Up next: Guerrero!
1) La Perla de Tzitzio Agave: Cupreata. Region: Michoacan ABV: 50% Semi-industrial (use machine to crush piñas) Taste: spice, pepper, sweet finish Conclusion: J 2) Non-Registered – sold en granel – Familia Cortez Agave: Cupreata Region: Michoacan Taste: smokey, spice, berries, sweet finish Conclusion: Me encanta! #3) Una Perla Mas Agave: inaequidens (writing illegible here. Already drunk??) Region: Michoacan ABV: 48% Smell: Complex spice Taste: LOCO!! Loads of (Indian) spice; like an incense #4) Ibá 55 Agave: espadin Region: San Pablo Huixtepec, Oaxaca ABV: 55% Taste: Strong! Yet smooth! Front of mouth burn, best in small sips. Citrus, vanilla
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