A few days ago, I attended “Mexico in a Bottle,” an event organized to celebrate Mexican spirits. The gathering, which included dozens of producers, opened my eyes to the diversity of spirits crafted throughout this bountiful country.
Beyond the celebrated tequila, which holds the flag high representing Mexico throughout the world, there are many other distillates being produced in several states.
In the majority of this spirits, agave is the key player; however, for example, the spirit Charanda, a protected or Denominacion de Origen Protegida since 2003, is crafted in the state of Morelos near the city of Uruapan using sugarcane. The final product goes neck to neck with the best rum examples in the market. One of the main exporting producers is Gustoso, their Blanco expression ($22) shows hints of spice with a creamy and balanced profile great for Mojitos and Cuba Libre cocktails.
In the northern states of the country, an intriguing and exciting distillate, Sotol, is produced. This spirit produced from the Dasylirion wheeleri plant in the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango and became Denominacion de Origen in 2004. One of the producers of note is Flor Del Desierto (desert flower) produced in the Chihuahua Sierra. Their “Desert” bottle ($52) shows the purest example of Sotol with intriguing earth and spice notes reminiscent of star anise, turned wet soil and clay.
The exploration continued to the famed Mezcal, a category on the rise both in its native Mexico as well as Europe, Asia and the U.S. Mezcal can be produced from several agave species like Agave Angustifolia, Agave Convalis and the popular Agave Karwinski. The expressions produced from the several agave plants create diverse styles ranging from bold and masculine to elegant and feminine. Thankfully for us in the U.S., the market is populating with excellent producers like Bozal, Del Maguey Vida, Union and Cruz de Fuego.
I had the pleasure of spending time with Ismael Gomez from Laika Spirits, which imports several spirits from Mexico into the U.S. He explained the dedication and history that this producers pass on from generation to generation. “A good amount of producers are still using ancient techniques started by their grandparents” he said with excitement.
Ismael also shared the story of how he and his wife, Mackenzie, were traveling through Europe when they stumbled on a Mezcaleria in Rome where they were introduced to Tuxca, a historical agave spirit produced in Jalisco. Ismael, a Jalisco native and well versed in the Mexican spirit world, said “Just when you think you know something, you find something else — this time from my own state.”
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After trying Tuxca, he started a quest to meet a producer, a journey that proved harder than it seemed. He ended up finding an artisan producer in the hills, he became enchanted and convinced the distillery to let him export into the U.S.
But what is Tuxca? It is an agave distillate, limited to the states of Jalisco and Colima, with a long tradition of fermenting in carved volcanic rock while the distillation takes place inside tree trunks. It is produced from wild limeño and cimarron agave, according to Ismael.
The brand he imports is Balancan ($80), a complex and layered spirit with notes of dried herbs, cinnamon, dried cherry and a cleansing finish. It will soon be available nationwide.
Another relatively unknown Jalisco native distilled spirit is the elusive Raicilla. Traditionally known and sold as ‘Moonshine,’ this fiery friend can is commonly high proof and wild. At 90 proof, Balam Raicilla Joven Costa de Jalisco ($65) shows a fruity profile with tons of pineapple, quince and an electric and herbal mouthfeel.
Certainly, there is a whole world to discover when we dive into the nooks and crannies of the beverage world and, thankfully for us, traditions that are not lost from generation to generation. Always drink responsibly and stay hydrated!
The “Mexico in a Bottle” event was founded in 2014 by Mezcal enthusiasts Susan Coss and Max Garrone. Since its inception this even has gained popularity throughout the United States with gatherings in several cities including New York City, Chicago and San Francisco attracting hundreds of attendees per event.