On a recent trip to Oaxaca, I was given the opportunity to visit, taste and meet with Wahaka's Mezcal Aficionado, Francisco Garcia. Among other things, Francisco shared the methods for making fine Mezcal with me.
Francisco explained that Mezcal is made from Maguey (from the Agave Family) slowly roasted in an open, earthen pit, filled with heated (until it is molten hot!) river rock, covered with a protective layer of crushed Maguey "must" from a previous batch. The Maguey is slow roasted for a period of 4 or 5 days (depending on the weather)
Once the Maguey is roasted it is moved to an area of the distillery where it is crushed using a traditional method involving circular millstone and axle turned by a horse, the way it has been done for centuries, imparting a pleasant smoky flavor.
The crushed Maguey is then transferred by hand to oak fermentation vats where it ferments for 7-10 days (again depending on the weather) along with the fiber of the Maguey, using only natural yeasts and hot “drinking” water. At this point the process is very reminiscent of a red wine complete with a “cap” and bubbles.
After fermentation is complete, the liquid is transferred to a small copper still (alembique) where it is distilled twice. Only the middle part of the distillate from the second distillation is of the quality to be used to make Wahaka Mezcal.
Once the Mezcal is though with the second distillation, the ones finished as Joven (think Blanco in Tequila Speak) -- the Ensamble, Espadin, Tobala, and Madre Cuishe (all four types will be explained in later blog posts) are all ready to be bottled on premise by hand.
Wahaka also makes a delicious, smokey Reposado, aged 4 months in oak barrels. This comes complete with the little Gusano or “worm” that adds a unique flavor to the Mezcal. In the words of Francisco “that flavor you can’t quite describe? It is the Gusano!" Enjoy this one as you would an Islay Scotch or even a bit added to coffee!