The End of Suffering with Mezonte Mezcal
Any trip to Guadalajara must include a night of tasting at the famous mezcaleria Pare de Sufrir (which means "End of Suffering"). Of course, it wasn't until after our own visit that I knew that, but having just read about it in John McEvoy's new book (another must for mezcal enthusiasts), and having several friends recommend it, it was a clear target. My goal for the night was to speak with the owner, Pedro Jimenez (a true connoisseur of traditional mezcals) to see what we could learn.
It was early when we arrived: 9:30pm - just after opening time. The interior was fairly empty, casual, colorful, and fun. We took our place at the bar and gaped at the chalkboard menu (are chalkboards a theme with bars serving agave-spirits?). There were 40 mezcals listed, and I don't know how many others available on the shelf in front of us.
"Ok. We don't try anything from Oaxaca or Guerrero, because we're going there," Noel stated cleanly.
Obvious. That only left us with 28+ others to chose from. It was my first tasting of this magnitude. I wanted to go about it in an organized fashion (silly me), but Noel started firing off orders. I managed to keep up with notebook, pen and camera, scribbling down information on the agave species, master mezcalero, town of production, ABV%, and so on. Before I share an abbreviated version of those notes with you, a bit of background on the bar owner/founder of Mezonte mezcals (who arrived on the scene just after us).
Pedro Jimenez is on a mission to educate the mezcal-swigging public about what a true mezcal is. He only purchases small-batch, traditional (ancestral) mezcals, and goes to great lengths to educate his consumers. Scattered across his bar are small squares of papers stating his personal beliefs on what makes a traditional mezcal (the only kind worth drinking). Some of these beliefs I'm not sure I completely agree on (I need more time, and obviously a lot more drinking), but regardless, I have huge respect for what he does.
Most of Pedro's list is comprised of very small-batch mezcals - most of them unregistered. Pedro buys direct from the producers, bottles them, and puts his label on. His labels, by the way, cover nearly every aspect of mezcal production, stating the name of the maestro mezcalero, the town, what it was fermented in, what type of still was used (clay or copper), etc. I take this to be his way of accomplishing two goals in one: giving the master mezcalero his full due, and educating his customers on the many factors that affect a mezcal's flavors.
What followed was three hours of conversation on the mezcal industry, its sustainability, and its future. Pedro sells his mezcal as a way of supporting and promoting ancestral mezcaleros (just as we plan to). To do this, he has found a way to bottle and sell unregistered mezcal from his bar (and I do believe I've seen it available other places, though I could be wrong). This allows numerous producers an avenue to sell their product, as they're not paying the wildly high fees of the COMERCAM (registrating board). How he does this is of great interest to us, and I'm sure we'll be learning more as our trip continues. Of course, he is restricted to selling within Mexico, but...more remains to be learned.
All in all we sampled 12 mezcals: 6 from Michoacan, 4 from Jalisco, and 2 from Durango. The flavors were all over the board. The diversity of mezcal really is amazing!
Noteable mezcals of the night were:
- Racilla of Jalisco, which smelled and tasted (to me) like rubber - not my favorite
- 2 Pechugas of Michoacan made with a turkey breast. The breast (and often fruits and spices) are placed in the alembec during distillation, imparting interesting flavors, in this case, lemon and mint
- a Sotol of Durango. While Durango is certified to market mezcal by the COMERCAM, Sotol is not technically a mezcal (yet kind of is). The species has been used to make a mezcal for centuries, but taxonomically speaking isn't an agave. Flavor? Musty!!
Pedro impressed me by making his own selection for Noel and I based on what he thought each of us would like best. He was dead on. For me, he selected an ensemble from Jalisco by Maestro Don Rosario made up of 6 different agaves. It was fairly strong (49.3%) and complex, but perfectly balanced, and that first sip was like biting into a delicious cake! It was enough to get me out of my seat and dancing a Mexican version of Lord of the Dance on the empty floor. Another beautiful thing about mezcal: it's such a happy, "I don't give a damn" spirit!
We left that evening with a couple of good contacts and a strong feeling that we'd be sharing more mezcals and more conversations with Pedro in the future.
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