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Mexican mezcal is an incredibly alluring spirit that has become one of the latest trends in European bar culture. A high-quality spirit that fits our zeitgeist perfectly with its handcrafted, ethical production values, special taste and traditional design. This is the exciting story of Clandestino Mezcalero, who set off on a mission to spread the Mexican culture of mezcal to the world.
His story begins way back in the time of his grandparents. With a sense of great taste stemming from the family, he remembers his grandmother buying mezcal from the local master distillers and, using fruit and other ingredients, producing her own infusions. For 11-year-old Clandestino, her concoctions were so intriguing that he once sneaked a tiny drop from underneath his grandmother’s kitchen table.
Two decades later, he has made the spirit of Mexico his dedicated profession and has set out to intrigue others with the mysterious drink that he describes as “the four Mexican elements transformed into an elixir”. Clandestino has been importing mezcal since 2009 through his company Mezcaleria Ambulante, and owes a great deal of knowledge and expertise to his cultural heritage. “It’s not about importing any kind of product. Importing is only the instrument to be able to spread mezcal culture. Importing is only a small piece of the bigger picture…”
For 500 years, the artisanal methods used to produce mezcal from the agave plant have remained unchanged. This sacred plant, which is believed to contain much energy within it, grows widely in all parts of Mexico. Yet in Oaxaca, a mountainous region in the south of the country, the conditions for cultivation and fermentation are so ideal that 80% of the country’s mezcal is produced there. The resulting product comprises the spirit of 100% agave with uncompromising purity, great variety and complexity.
“To describe the taste of mezcal is like trying to describe a painting”, says Clandestino. “It depends on where it is cultivated, in which climate, the process of distillation, etc… In Mexico we have 20 different agaves known up to now that can be used for mezcal production”.
The production – that Clandestino also refers to as “liquid art” – is done by hand on a small scale, mostly in family-run businesses. First, it takes an incredible seven to twelve years for the enormous agave angustifolia, locally known as maguey, to even mature. Other agaves like the agave Americano take up to 30 years to mature. Only then are they selected for harvesting, beginning with the removal of their long, sharp leaves and the separation of their bodies from the roots. The heavy, pineapple-like hearts of the agave plants are then roasted inside a volcanic or riverstone-lined, wood-fired earth pit. The hearts are buried in there for days, which adds the distinct smoky flavour to the final liquid. To release the sweet agave juice, the unearthed plants then need to be crushed. Again, keeping true to tradition, this is done with a large grinding stone wheel, pulled by a horse or a donkey. The final steps, which take over several days to complete, are dedicated to washing, fermentation and distillation. Usually, the fermented maguey is double distilled in clay or copper pots to achieve mezcal’s incredibly clean flavour.
Maguey farming is very labour intensive, with weeks of hard work and preparation needed to make just a single batch of the smoky, fiery liquid. Many of Mexico’s family-owned mezcal producers date back over five generations and are well respected within the country. The culture of mezcal is highly regarded as a source of the nation’s heritage due to its traditional origins, while the trading of certified mezcal supports local farmers.
“There are no obstacles, the problems that exist are for the campesinos (peasants), the producers that normally sell their product to bigger companies for quite little money”. Luckily, due to the recent increase in consumer demand globally for quality, handmade and traditional products, including those that are fair trade and which use organic farming methods, products like mezcal are drawing interest overseas as retailers keep an eye out for quality, niche products. “Because there is a global tendency that industrialised products are not much appreciated anymore, people are aware of what they eat and drink and they appreciate handmade and organic products a lot more these days”, says Clandestino.
Clandestino sees the development of mezcal’s future in an excited yet realistic way. “Unfortunately there will be, like always, industrialised mezcals, because there is always the demand for faster productions, bigger batches and less cost. But with people being more aware of the origins and wanting organic products, the real culture of mezcal will spread wider and wider”.
Clandestino is an importer of premium Mexican mezcal in Europe. His products can be purchased through his mobile mezcaleria, Mezcaleria Ambulante (www.mezcaleriaambulante.com).
On the origin of the name Clandestino:
“The figure is a tribute to all persecuted artisans who had to sell their products in a hidden way for years and years, since the Spanish colony in Mexico until 20 years ago, during which the sale of mezcal was forbidden in order to help producers of other spirits.”
Clandestino’s favourite way/place to drink mezcal:
“Pure and accompanied by a very good ’mole’ (a traditional Mexican dish characterised by a sauce flavoured with chocolate) in Tlacolula, Oaxaca.”
Mezcal cocktail recipe:
The “Perez-Müller”: Clandestino’s simple favourite
Take a large beer jug
Fill at least half of it with ice cubes
Add 5cl of mezcal – Bruxo 1
2cl lemon juice
Sweeten with agave syrup (as desired)
Top up with Aqua Monaco – Hot Ginger
Add a slice of cucumber
There you go – enjoy!