Experience Mezcal is proud to co-host a first-of-its-kind Mezcal Boot Camp in San Cristóbal Lachirioag, Oaxaca, April 23-25, 2015.
A small group of us will make the serpentine trek up to Lachirioag, where Mezcal Tosba’s maestro mezcalero Edgar González will have an earth-oven load of cooked maguey waiting for us to unload, From there, we’ll get our hands dirty in every single part of the production process, culminating in the distillation of a pechuga mezcal that we’ll enjoy during our stay.
Tosba is a tiny brand owned by cousins Edgar and Elisandro González, natives of the indigenous Zapotec community of San Cristóbal Lachirioag. Their efforts to revive the region’s mezcal culture as a form of community development and a curb on emigration to the US were documented in the highly recommended 2014 Planet Money story “Can Mezcal Save a Village?” Their mezcal (currently available in three marques – Espadín, Tobalá and Pechuga) is delicious and their process is small, slow and natural. They are actively planting many varieties of maguey on their land (acquired via years of hard work in bars and restaurants in San Jose, CA), ensuring sustainability into the foreseeable future. They are also some of the nicest people you will meet.
This is a remote location that few outsiders have visited (last month one of my groups became the first outsiders to sleep at the palenque). The microclimate and terroir are unique in the world of Oaxacan mezcal – magueys growing amongst various types of wild plantains and cultivated coffee beans. We’ll be exposed to the regional Zapotec culture not just by helping make mezcal, but with an evening program of pre-Hispanic cuisine (chachalaca, anyone?), village bands, mezcal and pozontle (an ancient Zapotec corn beer). There are waterfalls and a pristine river where we can swim, fish and troll for crayfish. The intrepid will camp out at the palenque, close to the still. If you’d prefer a bit more comfort, there is a basic hotel in the village of 2,000 people that we’ll provide transportation to and from.
Arrive in Oaxaca City and get some rest, because we leave at dawn the next day.
Roll out of bed and into the van for the 4.5 hour drive into the northern Sierra de Juarez. Whether you choose to sleep or take in the stunning mountain views and tiny Zapotec villages, the ride is actually pretty smooth as long as you’re not the one driving!
Upon arrival we’ll help unearth the cooked maguey that will have been roasting for several days. We’ll let the maguey get cool enough to handle while we have a traditional breakfast of enormous triangular tamales and coffee grown by Edgar’s father.
After breakfast, we’ll load the trapiche for horse-drawn milling with an “Egyptian mill” (tahona), and hand shred bagazo (maguey fiber) in already-fermenting tepache.
We’ll have lunch of fresh fish and take a short hike down to the waterfall and river to take the edge off the afternoon heat. Maybe you’ll see some iguanas or tejones.
After lunch, Edgar will show us his personal formula for making pechuga mezcal – including breast meat from his own hens and wild local fruits including plantains, pineapple, berries, plums and more. The mezcal will be ready for tasting and bottling at some point during that night.
There will be plenty of already-made mezcal while we eat a traditional Zapotec feast and dance to the local banda.
We’ll have a more relaxed morning, with breakfast, coffee and an optional jaunt to the river. We’ll end our visit by working on the first steps of the process: harvesting 300-pound magueys with machetes, and loading a new oven-load to start the process anew. We’ll be back in Oaxaca City by 5:00pm. (Again, to give folks more options, lodging is not included that night, but I can certainly help with that.)
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