Vida Lessons- An Intern in the Oaxacan Sierra – Part 3

March 3rd, 2018

From June-August 2017, Del Maguey accepted a request from a University student heading into his Senior Year to live and work in the family palenques where Del Maguey Vida is produced. His name is Griffin Manos. He is a bright young man with a  promising future, and the desire to work hard in order to satiate his curious appetite for knowledge and experience. This is part three in a three-part email exchange between he and Ron Cooper to reveal some of the complexities and romanticism that accompanied his experience.

If there is anyone else who is curious enough to take a similar leap, opportunities like this do exist if approached properly; with curiosity, humility, respect and vigor. Thank you Griffin for taking the leap. The Del Maguey family misses you, especially our family in San Luis del Rio, and wishes you the best in 2018 as graduate school peeks around the corner.  

Griffin Manos’ Response to Ron Cooper

Hey Ron,

Thanks for the thoughtful and encouraging response.  You can guess that I took some time to get all my thoughts out to you, and I’m happy that you reciprocated the effort and recognize how seriously I am taking this internship.

I am also happy to read about your thoughts regarding efficiency.  By all means, the most important part about production (aside from producing enough high quality spirit) is involving the people who live in town and providing a livelihood for them.  I have enjoyed seeing different people filter in and out of the palenque daily, it also seems to facilitate social interactions that are valuable to all involved.  Seeing someone come in the morning, empty the horno and stay in the afternoon for a beer or mezcal and chat is something that illustrates just how much of a lifestyle the work is.  It is also encouraging that you see this as valuable. It is not by luck that Marcos and Paciano trust you. It’s clear that you have earned their trust and that you recognize your responsibility towards not only the family but the laborers and producers as well.

The question of reducing wheelbarrow and bucket work is a difficult one.  I was originally thinking about the way brewers work, attending to tasks in the same way but not needing nearly as much hard labor.  When brewers finish their conversions, the grain is separated from the wort (the unfermented and sugary wash).  Marcos also separates the tepache and the bagasse before distillation, to measure the correct ratio for each to go into the ollas.  The tepache is moved via bucket, and the bagasse via wheelbarrow (in Marcos’ case up the steep ramp to the ollas).  To separate grain from wort, brewers use what is called a lauter-tun.  In my home-brew operation, this is literally an igloo cooler with a false bottom.  The cooler goes on a chair above my stock pot, and wort is able to flow through the false bottom and pool without any grain in it.  The tina is responsible for an enormous amount of flavor and healthy yeast cultivation, there is no way this could change.  What might be able to change, however, is how the tepache is extracted from the tina.  This may look something like the water pump that is used to get river water to the tinas, with a specialized hose head that could filter out the bagasse while still transporting the tepache.  As far as transporting the bagasse from the tina to the olla, gravity is definitely important.  My initial thought was something like a moveable slide that could be placed on the edge of the tina, so that bagaso could be shoveled directly into either an olla or a wheelbarrow that would only have to travel a few feet, instead of up a steep ramp.  A series of chutes (think simple tournament bracket) could eliminate the wheelbarrow altogether, while still requiring someone to manage the task.  These could easily be attached to the underside of the palenque roof structure, to be out of the way and pulled down only when in use.  I understand that this may sound a little ludicrous or even over designed, but I think there is an elegant way to implement some updates that could compliment the ingenuity that the palenques already are so full of.  Keep in mind that these are also just my first thoughts on solutions might look like, and I’m sure with more time and effort more (promising) ideas would be abundant.

I have realized that design is important to me not only in distilling and brewing, but my other interests as well.  It serves as a common ground, but also as one of the most rewarding parts of each of my interests.  Constantly experimenting, learning, and making are what make my interests interesting.  I’m thinking about looking at masters programs in Industrial Design, visiting RISD, Pratt, Parsons, and maybe Philly.  I think it would compliment brewing and distilling well, and would also allow me to be in school with a specific focus compared to the liberal arts education I’m currently receiving.  You have helped me immensely by letting me learn and work with the village, which has pushed me to come to encouraging conclusions about my future and opportunities ahead.  I really couldn’t ask for more.

Marcos speaks English well, it is all understandable although sometimes “without salt,” meaning that there are little things left out from phrases or sentences that a native speaker wouldn’t leave out.  Marcos and I converse a lot, he really enjoys learning American sayings like “join the club.”  As far as my Spanish goes, I am nowhere near fluent but I am much more comfortable holding a conversation.  I can definitely understand more than I can speak, and it is helpful hearing things people say in real life that I haven’t learned online or in school (chido, gabacho, etc..).  I have talked to Marcos about leaving early, and he has communicated that he understands.  He knows I have learned a lot, made a lifelong friend in him, and have done my share of the work as well.  He also understands that there are important reasons for me to get back home with some time before school starts.

These past few days I have been able to go exploring on Marcos’ land, deep in the wilds and far from any road, as well as horseback riding on another laborer’s (Chalo “loco”) land where I was able to eat honey from a wild bees nest and also see how proud village residents are of their stake in the process.  It’s amazing that everyone is involved and is able to have some land with agave or milpa somewhere in the hills.  It’s also nice to know that I can rely on my Spanish to communicate with a laborer like Chalo when we take the day to see the land.  I feel as though I have really been able to get a peak into what life is like for a number of people who live and work here.

I think it is possible that this internship would be helpful for others.  It would be problematic to try to work with village producers without understanding crucial aspects of their daily lives, and what production looks like on a regular basis.  An internship like this allows relationships and trust to form, as well as information that might not be learned during a day visit.  For example, Marcos likes to talk about effort and work ethic a lot, and has mentioned how he thinks there should be someone to act as a manager while laborers work.  Sometimes he gets frustrated with the hours that people work, or the breaks that they take, or even the liberties that they take with the mezcal that waits in the tambos.  He takes his job seriously and is an extremely good leader.  These are things I was able to see and talk to him about because of the relationship of trust that we have built over the past six weeks.  An internship like this would be amazing training for anyone who would want to work with Del Maguey and closely with anyone who lives in the village.

I hope that this internship wasn’t only for my benefit, and that you can see me as a resource for any other opportunities in the future. I do feel like I have built relationships in San Luis and would enjoy continuing working with Del Maguey in the future, whatever that may look like.

Once again, I want to express my gratitude for this opportunity, and for the thoughtfulness and understanding in your correspondence with me.  This summer has been invaluable to me.

Stigibeu,

Griffin C. Manos.

Vida Lessons – An Intern in the Oaxacan Sierra – Part Two

February 22nd, 2018

From June-August 2017, Del Maguey accepted a request from a University student heading into his Senior Year to live and work in the family palenques where Del Maguey Vida is produced. His name is Griffin Manos. He is a bright young man with a  promising future, and the desire to work hard in order to satiate his curious appetite for knowledge and experience. This is part two of a three part email exchange between he and Ron Cooper to reveal some of the complexities and romanticism that accompanied his experience.

If there is anyone else who is curious enough to take a similar leap, opportunities like this do exist if approached properly; with curiosity, humility, respect and vigor. Thank you Griffin for taking the leap. The Del Maguey family misses you, especially our family in San Luis del Rio, and wishes you the best in 2018 as graduate school peeks around the corner.  

A Letter to Griffin Manos From Ron Cooper

Griffin and Gabe,

Dateline New Orleans

No excuses but have been traveling extensively.

Griffin – I enjoyed your long letter and thorough analysis and shared with my two partners… took time for them to get back.

I know it’s hard to adjust to life in the village and the rhythm of the work in SLR. You and I are the only outsiders who have done this with Paciano and family for longer than a couple weeks.

That alone means a lot and it reveals to me your desire to get close to the process and understand it from a unique perspective, all the while achieving personal goals.

I appreciate your insights and enjoyed reading your reflections. It takes quite some time to master mezcal and no one expected you to accomplish this, this time around.

If you do decide to leave, understood. You have done a great job so far and I am pleased that it was romantic, difficult, lonely, and invigorating.

No matter where your path may lead, you will never forget how you spent the last month in San Luis del Rio, contributing as a valued laborer in the production of Vida and San Luis del Rio Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal.

First of all, these are good questions. You are working hard every day and developing an understanding for what makes Vida special.

Check out this link. Of course we value efficiency but we also value culture. We are proud that the growth of the brand and the industry gives people jobs. Paciano is able to offer employment to many people who left their homes and families behind because there was no work in San Luis.
I have looked at palenque operations and thought about how to speed up various facets of production and then realized that most steps to speed up production cause a loss of quality. This job has enabled many villagers, not only in San Luis, but throughout our producing villages, to avoid the hardships of illegal immigration, or return from an uncomfortable, foreign land where their efforts were exploited and their freedom as human beings was not recognized.

Nonetheless, your observations are important.

I am interested to see a sketch or design of the machines that could reduce wheelbarrow work. Would they use electricity? Diesel? Could they be powered by the flow of the river?

This can be immensely useful, not for eliminating labor, but complementing it. Remember we value culture as much as we value quality liquid.

It’s not a failed commitment to leave early and I understand that preparing for your future is a good reason to do so. What kind of grad program are you interested in? Is there anything we can do to help?
You did make a commitment with Marcos to stay on with your original plan.

How is his English? How is your Spanish?

The intricate complexities of making mezcal, along with this full immersion was another challenge that I hope has borne some fruit.

By all accounts your approach to this internship has been valued by everyone you have interacted with and that too means a lot, whether this helps in your future endeavors or if you are interested in pursuing more opportunities with Del Maguey.

Steve and I enjoyed meeting you and Gabe speaks highly of you as well.

Do you see this type of internship being useful to others?

Best,
R

Ron Cooper

From the heart of the maguey and the soul of the Village.

Vida Lessons – An Intern in the Oaxacan Sierra – Part 1

February 8th, 2018

From June-August 2017, Del Maguey accepted a request from a University student heading into his Senior Year to live and work in the family palenques where Del Maguey Vida is produced. His name is Griffin Manos. He is a bright young man with a  promising future, and the desire to work hard in order to satiate his curious appetite for knowledge and experience. This is part one in a three-part email exchange between he and Ron Cooper to reveal some of the complexities and romanticism that accompanied his extraordinary internship.

If there is anyone else who is curious enough to take a similar leap, opportunities like this do exist if approached properly; with curiosity, humility, respect and vigor. Thank you Griffin for taking the leap. The Del Maguey family misses you, especially our family in San Luis del Rio, and wishes you the best in 2018 as graduate school peeks around the corner.  

 

A Letter To Ron Cooper

Hey Ron,

As the end of my first month of work approaches, I thought I would write to you with a check in.  I feel pretty good about my adjustment into village life, and getting into the rhythm of working, eating and sleeping that Marcos and the other laborers have.  Adjusting to the simplicity of the lifestyle, the remoteness of the village, and the loneliness that accompanies being a visible outsider who doesn’t speak the language has been a process, but a process that has been fulfilling and rewarding.  The labor has also been rewarding, although hard and seemingly neverending.  Suffice to say, my experience thus far has been a positive one that has afforded me a lot of knowledge on a truly craft process.

There is a lot that is romantic about this job, and there is a lot that is not at all romantic.  I love seeing the passion that people have for raising agave or wild harvesting agave and eventually seeing it through to a world class spirit.  That being said, there are definitely times where it is clear that a job is being done because the job pays, and it is being done by a person because there exists no resources to have the job be done by an efficient machine.  I have been able to inhabit both of these roles, feeling intimate with the bagasse while massaging it into a tina with my hands, and feeling like a machine while throwing the chopped piñas into the molino for days at a time.  There isn’t, however, a moment where I am not reminded that no matter what the job is, it is essential to producing a spirit that will be consumed all over the world.  This is what making real craft spirit looks like, and I don’t think even the most well versed mezcalistas could imagine that Vida is born from a process that looks like this.

I have approached this project with goals, that change daily, which I think are important to reflect on.  First off is getting accustomed to the life that the producers live.  Without wifi, a pillow, hot water, or the option to continue being a vegetarian, the first days here made me feel out of place and as if it were possible that the world outside San Luis had forgotten about me.  After the first week here, I felt as at home as I could be in a home that wasn’t mine.  I have always liked to believe that it doesn’t take much to facilitate happiness, but this is a true illustration of how happiness can be achieved without so much of what we in the gabacho (USA) think is necessary for a fulfilling life.  This is especially true when there is a vocation that can afford fulfillment and reward.  This goes hand in hand with the rhythm, which I think I have also adjusted well to.  Waking up early daily, finding a job to do with the laborers, coming home to eat, shower, read and sleep, or spending the day and night in Marcos’ palenque while watching the fire and dozing when possible have become rituals that will be hard to break when I end up leaving San Luis.  It is essential to both feel comfortable in this lifestyle, as well as adjust to the rhythm, so that one can not only understand the way that Vida is produced by a village, but also earn the place as one of the village producers.  Both of these goals have been met to my standards.

Next, is basic understanding of the processes.  I feel as though I have not only been able to see all of the processes that are involved in producing this spirit, but I have been active in taking part as well.  The most important to me has been watching the fire and changing the ollas, being attentive to the nature of the spirit as it changes while the run progresses, and observing the characteristics that determine which actions should be executed.  That being said, even when I am doing other work, chopping piñas, filling the horno, emptying the horno, moving spent bagasse, I feel more like one of the laborers than I do a tourist or observer. This is extremely important to me, to be treated as a valuable asset instead of a tourist or burden. What is important is that I have been able to experience mezcal distillation like a laborer and catalogue that knowledge, all while feeling like a true asset to those who want to see the hard work get done.  This makes me extremely happy and satisfied with my experience thus far.

Another goal I have set for myself has only really become apparent after I started working.  I am afforded a lot of time to think during labor that doesn’t require excess attention.  For this reason, I thought it would be helpful to think critically about the process and the design of the system.  Thinking critically, as an outsider, can become dangerous so I have adopted a strict “generous orthodox” approach.  This is a term that I first heard in a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell called Revisionist History.  The idea is that if change is possible (generous approach), it is only by way of the traditions (orthodoxy) that make the process or system unique.  As a small and traditional production facility, that runs as a business that has growth goals, I believe that this term is especially appropriate.

Some of the things I think about are spirit specific.  How would the mezcal taste if it were distilled three times instead of twice?  How about if only the hearts were used and not even the very heel of the spines?  How about if it were filtered through charcoal after final distillation?  Obviously some of these are very big changes, which may compromise the tradition that makes this craft spirit a spirit that is so widely acknowledged.  But that’s the idea behind generous orthodoxy, finding the balance and testing small change using the existing system instead of designing a new one.  How much can/would you want to get away with before the character is so altered that it is not the same spirit?  For the most part, this is a creative exercise that has little ground in reality, but it is definitely worth thinking about as I plan on working in distilleries once I finish school, and possibly owning my own whiskey distillery one day.

Besides being critical of the spirit itself, I have also been thinking about the design of the system and the palenques.  I have a basic understanding of raising agave and methods of reproduction (quiotes and pups) and the differences that cannot be ignored between these two methods from an economic and agroecological standpoint.  I plan on doing more research when I have access to wifi, but already feel that it is important that I recognize the implications of farming methods of the plant, whether it is ecological, or economic (which really are not mutually exclusive by any means).  One of the things I appreciate immensely is that everyone in town has some stake in mezcal, because everyone has land somewhere where their agave is being raised.  Most distillers in the US are much more removed, most not growing their own grain, malting it, or even using grain (and instead using bulk bought factory spirits) to make their “craft spirit.”  I appreciate the heavy involvement of so much of the town almost more than anything else about the process.  It is intimate, and personal for everyone who lives here.

Beyond farming systems, I have also been thinking about the design of the Palenque, that as long as there is an opportunity for growth, the current palenque archetype should be challenged, even if that means realizing that no change is necessary or even possible to execute without changing the nature of the spirit. There are a lot of ways to explore the design of the palenque, with little risk involved as long as a generous orthodox approach is used.  In this case, growth means opportunity for change that has the potential to boost efficiency in ways that don’t effect the spirit or the sacred traditional processes that are responsible for it.

Working with Marcos everyday has given me the opportunity to think critically about the system, while applying my thoughts in a way that respects the fact that Vida has been made the same way for years, and it exists the way it does only because of the processes that are responsible for its creation.  To me, this is another goal met.

Whether this internship means preparing myself for more work in Mexico with the hardworking people who make mezcal, or getting insights to valuable takeaways that can be applied to American distilling practices, this opportunity has been more than priceless. I recognize that I have only scratched the surface and that it would take years to have the experience that Marcos or Paciano has.  This all being said, I have to think about the fact that I am about to enter my senior year of college and this should require a considerable amount of preparation and attention.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my (long) email and that you know how much this internship means to me as a rare opportunity to become part of a truly beautiful process.  I am extremely grateful that you and Gabriel have taken the time and energy to give me this opportunity.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Stigibeu,

Griffin C. Manos

 

 

 

 

 

Teotitlan del Valle

November 7th, 2017

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Since its founding in 1995, Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal has operated out of the village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. This Zapotec pueblo, known the world throughout for its vibrant traditional weavings and natural dyes, ruins, architecture, exquisite moles, seasonal soups and temezcals, or steam baths, lies in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, about forty minutes driving from the capital, Oaxaca de Juarez.

It is rare to find Mexican nationals residing in indigenous villages around Oaxaca. This is primarily due to land grant laws that help preserve the resources and customs of each area. Local Zapotec government’s policies are designed to protect the welfare of citizens by providing land parcels for living and farming in exchange for voluntary services that serve the pueblo’s needs.

Thus, it was no common occurrence for someone like Ron Cooper, who first visited the village in 1970, to return for good in 1990 and encounter a community and culture that welcomed his presence and admiration with respect, joy and humility.

As the village grew an international reputation for its craft and quality, a few more foreigners, from within the country as well as outside, salted the social fabric with their presence and respect for Teotitlan’s deeply traditional culture. But there were not many, and still are not. Within this milieu, Ron began his project to introduce his friends to mezcal.

The Bodega

Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal Bodega

Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal Bodega and Neighborhood

Local Bottling Crew

Del Maguey’s mezcal producing partners live in 8 different communities around Oaxaca and Puebla. Once their liquid art is produced, every single expression and green bottle enjoyed within Mexico and around the world has always been and is still bottled by hand in the Teotitlan del Valle bodega, by local Teotitecos.

Cosme “Mito” Martinez Martinez

As the company steadily grew, so too did its bottling crew. Today, the entire bottling operation is run by manager Cosme “Mito” Martinez Martinez and an unfailingly committed team.

Del Maguey Bottling Crew with visitor Yosh Han

It is often difficult for first time visitors to imagine that there is no automation in the bottling facility. Slight shock and puzzlement reflects an initial disbelief at what this team is capable of accomplishing on a daily basis. This realization serves as a constant reminder that Del Maguey’s guiding principles of respect, quality and attention to detail shine through in every aspect of this labor of love.

Ron Cooper with Adolfo Alavez Bazan and Zenon Bazan Sosa

Community Support in Teotitlan del Valle

Outside of the bodega, Del Maguey has had a positive impact in other aspects of the community.

A number of computers have been donated to local schools; digital libraries are soon to follow. The company sponsors a local basketball team, Los Barbaros.

One project in particular, an extension of a women’s collective that sells fresh milk at the local market, is for a Centro de Curandación, or Healing Center, for visitors to experience the traditional Oaxacan steam bath, or temezcal. These projects certainly do not happen overnight, and the center still needs some finishing touches. Nonetheless, Del Maguey donated all the material necessary for the center and in December 2016, this building was inaugurated with a celebration and fireworks.

Future Healing Center/Centro de Curandación

Internet Access

As in many parts of Mexico, for decades there has only been one telecommunications company that provides coverage around Oaxaca. Some years ago, the company tried to install a cell phone tower in Teotitlan. Eventually the project was rejected.  Many parts of the village, which is dotted with picturesque, free standing hills at the base and plains of a jagged and formidable mountain valley, remained out of service.

Worse yet, for years, the same company provided the only internet service in the few villages they were willing to reach outside of Oaxaca City. Following the cell tower decision, internet service in the village began to deteriorate. By 2015, new customers were not allowed to sign up, and existing customers became increasingly frustrated to learn that no matter how many calls or visits were made to the regional office center, nothing mattered. The internet in Teotitlan had reached abysmal levels.

In early 2016, the Del Maguey team threw their hat in the ring to help find solutions. Before long we learned that a new company had recently formed in Oaxaca to provide an alternative to the monopolized communications infrastructure. This company was working in communities around the Central Valleys and even some remote mountain villages by transmitting internet signals through the air through line of sight connections.

Del Maguey brought the company’s founder and head engineer to Teotitlan and introduced him to the local municipal president and council. Meetings with the council are very formal and not typically reserved for outsiders, as the business of the pueblo is almost exclusively conducted in the native Zapotec. After a few visits and more than a little deliberation, the council was convinced that a 5 meter wooden post with a receiving dish and self powered solar panel was a secure, fast and novel solution to the recurring internet problem.

The council allowed the engineer to install his post on what they deemed public land, or, at least, land that would serve as a public good. There was only one more catch. The new company would not begin unless twenty different customers signed up for an installation fee and two year contract. The installation fee was too steep for everyone interested, including the municipality.

At this moment, Ron and Del Maguey pledged to pay for the installation of the first twenty homes, buildings, or schools. Within three weeks of the engineers first visit, twenty different locations were receiving a stronger signal than the homes who were still contractually tied to the whims of the large company. At last, competition had arrived.

Internet Installation/Teotitlan del Valle

Thankfully, this was the necessary impetus for the incumbent company to act. Within two months, the unresolvable problem that had lingered for years was magically repaired.

New customers were allowed to sign up for service again and existing customers saw their bandwidth reach the level promised in their contracts.

Although this was never meant to be considered the most benevolent act ever, it is another example of Del Maguey’s commitment to the village, one formed through mutual respect, the honoring of traditions, and an interest in educational improvements for future generations.

There are more projects in development between the village, the municipal government and Del Maguey. For now, we are eternally blessed to call this valley home and our neighbors compadres. Stigibeu!

Teotitlan del Valle- Night at the Town Dam

Del Maguey is Friendly to Bats

August 7th, 2017

Biological diversity is crucial to a successful future for agave species. There are two different ways in which agave can reproduce. The first is through hijuelos, or clonal shoots, that result in plants that are genetic equivalent of the mother plant. An agave can produce multiple hijuelos each year. The second method is through a flowering stalk, or quiote. The agave used in the production of mezcal are semelparous, meaning they flower only once during their lifecycle and then they die. The agave uses all of the carbohydrates it has accumulated throughout its life to flower therefore making it unusable for the production of Mezcal. Although many species of agave can reproduce through both methods, several such as A.Cupreata, can only reproduce via the seeds that result from the quiote. The flowers of the agave plant open at night with the pollen being effective for only a few hours, therefore the primary pollinators of the agave plant are nectar-eating, or nectarivorous, bats.

When considering the importance of genetic diversity in the world of agave we need to look no further than the example of Tequila. For generations the Tequila industry has been solely utilizing hijuelos for reproduction so that every agave planted can be used in the production of Tequila. With each successive generation, the genetic diversity of the Tequilana Weber Azul has diminished leaving the plants more susceptible to disease and pestilence due to the lack of naturally occurring defenses. Infestations of pests such as the picudo bug have become more and more common resulting in agave shortages, spikes in the cost of agave and ultimately higher prices for the consumer. Additionally, the Tequila producing regions became essentially void of nectarivorous bats due to the lack of the bat’s primary food source.

Enter the Batman of Mexico, Dr Rodrigo Medellin. Dr. Medellin has partnered with the Tequila Interchange Project to study the relationship of agave farming practices and bat populations. Recognizing that there are mutual benefits to the biodiversity of the agave and the bat populations, Dr. Medellin and his students have begun a pilot program to recognize producers of agave distillates who are allowing 3-5% of their agave to reproduce through the quiote. The pilot program is in its nascent stages as Dr Medellin and his students are working to create the thorough scientific study necessary to create the guidelines for the bat friendly recognition. When the program officially launches it will initially be focused in the Tequila producing regions as that is where the most damage to biodiversity has taken place, however the goal is to eventually expand in years to come into the regions of the DO of Mezcal to encourage and recognize the continuation of the traditional farming practices of those regions.

The vistas from the palenques of Del Maguey have always been and will continue to be filled with towering quiotes. Through the traditional farming practices of their forefathers, the producers of Del Maguey are promoting a healthy future for both the agave and the Mezcal category. Biological diversity is key to confronting growing environmental concerns such as climate change. By respecting the full life cycle of the agave including the growth of the inflorescence our producers allow the plants to not only develop natural resistances, but also to naturally perpetuate the characteristics most suited to a changing environment. This diversification combined with other aspects of traditional farming such as the milpa and controlled burning, topics we will discuss in upcoming posts, reinforce the irreplaceable knowledge of Oaxaca’s rich indigenous agricultural inheritance.

Solar Energy in Del Maguey Palenques

April 22nd, 2017

In 2016, Del Maguey installed solar panels in three different palenques. The first installation was equipped in Santo Domingo Albarradas at the palenque of Espirdion Morales, and sons Juan and Armando. A crew of one electrical engineer and 3 technicians installed the 120W panel with lights and battery pack over the course of a few hours. Espiridion watched the entire installation with a look of great pride and happiness. There had previously never been an accessible way to bring electrical current from the village to his palenque, which rests over two hundred meters below the family home, and over four hundred meters from the village center.

The system works great. The one 120W panel, when fully charged, gives the three bulbs installed around 5-6 hours of light, per night. The distillation and fermentation areas are well illuminated and Espiridion, Juan and Armando are so happy that when they have to work during the night or early morning, the functionality of the whole process is more fluid.

The same was true in San Luis del Rio, in the palenques of Paciano Nolasco Cruz and his son, Marcos. Because Paciano’s palenque is much larger, Del Maguey installed two 225W panels and 8 lights. Across the river, at Marcos’ palenque, one 225W panel was installed.

We made a few adjustments in San Luis del Rio. All lights have a switch; the batteries are stronger, and protected from inclement weather in an elevated and enclosed storage cabinet.

When Paciano and Marcos’ teams distill through the night or fill fermentation tanks, just like in Santo Domingo Albarradas, the functionality of the entire process has been modernized on an ancillary level that stays true to the artisanal culture of mezcal.

All Del Maguey producing partners now have electricity in their palenques. Installing a renewable energy system was clearly the best option available and we are glad and proud to engage and share in this reciprocal benefit.

San Luis del Rio at night

Fundraising Campaign for Angel Chincoya Santiago

March 2nd, 2017

Please Consider Donating to Angel Here

Angel Chincoya Santiago is like other kids his age; he loves football, video games, learning at school and his group of friends. He generally has a bright smile pasted on his face. The only time his smile disappears is when the frustration of his handicap makes certain situations a little overbearing.

Angel was born in the Zapotec village of San Balthazar Chichicapam, Oaxaca, Mexico with a hearing impediment that was not diagnosed until his parents realized that he was not developing any distinguishable language skills.

Over the next 8 years, his mother Elizabeth tried tirelessly to find him the best care, but the news always came back bleak: Your boy has a hearing defect. For years there was no technology available in Mexico that could help him lead what most parents and doctors consider a normal upbringing.

Despite the constant setbacks, Angel refused to consider himself different. He dedicated himself to rehabilitation therapy and won over teachers and bullies with perseverance and smiles.

While he has been enrolled in a speciality school for the hearing impaired, he treasures the challenge of going to school with peers that do not share the same impediment. For the last three years, this he has attended public school.

In the last six months, his family learned of a new hearing aid that had finally been made available in Mexico. It is the Phonak SKY V-70 UP and has the capacity to help Angel understand everyday conversation and substantially improve his speech skills.

Unfortunately, a piece of technology this effective is much too expensive for his family to afford. Elizabeth approached a dozen NGO’s in Oaxaca and Mexico City. She learned that the cost of this apparatus was well beyond the budget of all the NGO’s she asked for help.

Running out of options, and worried that Angel’s development would be negatively affected as he moves from the second to third level of his primary education, she reached out to her cousin Isabel. Isabel’s husband Maximino produces Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal’s Chichicapa, along with his father Faustino Garcia Vasquez, who has been producing this enchanting elixir with Del Maguey’s founder, Ron Cooper, for the last 22 years.

The team at Del Maguey felt like Angel’s story was worthy of a crowdfunding campaign.

Del Maguey’s values are driven by creating opportunities for it’s partner producers and family members that might not have been possible in years past.

We want to help Angel overcome his handicap and we are sending this appeal to the greater Del Maguey family and community in the world in the hope that you feel the same way as well.

The money raised with this campaign will go directly to the purchase of two hearing aids (one for each ear) for Angel, and the the cost of fitting them correctly with his specialist.

The campaign will last 45 days and we would be eternally grateful to be able to share the results of this campaign with updates about the profound change this will make in 9 year old Angel’s life.

If we reach our goal with your support, any additional funds raised will go to CORAL, a Oaxacan Speech and Hearing Rehabilitation Center.

Thank you so much for the consideration. To the Del Maguey family spread across the globe, this is one Stigibeu that we will never forget!

Del Maguey Sustainability

January 6th, 2017

Culture

Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal has always taken a back seat to the craft of the producers that Ron Cooper, the founder of Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal, met through sheer will, circumstance and providence in the rural and overwhelmingly currency poor but culture and resource rich communities of Oaxaca State.

These producers; their customs, their liquid art, their families, communities and surrounding environment are the driving force behind all that Del Maguey does.

For thousands of years, Zapotec, Mixe, and Mixtec Indians and their ancestors have lived in isolated parts of what is now Mexico, practicing their traditional life ways. One of those ancient traditions is to use the liquid extraction of the maguey plant to create an organic and culturally unique indigenous liquor. It’s place in indigenous history in the Americas is grounded in ceremony to celebrate and enhance unique Zapotec cultural experiences. It has always been rare, difficult to access, completely distinctive, and exceptional in character and culinary adventure. In sampling this traditional liquor, People are sharing a unique, ancient, and rare experience with these traditional Peoples and their biodynamic environment.

Ron Cooper, was gifted with the experience of sharing in this ancient custom with these traditional People as an artist exploring remote Indian villages decades ago. From these isolated regions he developed close and enduring relationships with traditional Zapotec Indian families that continued to practice their time honored life ways in a changing world. Ron knew that he had found treasure in these People, and in their continued mastery of the ancient practices of their ancestors.

Our desire through this medium is to provide a deeper level of education and transparency about how Del Maguey operates, the projects that we undertake, and relationships we foster to assure that the footprint we leave behind is a positive one.

Social Responsibility

Sustainability starts with the singular producer and their ability to capture flavors unique to their families and heritage. They are, after all, the latest link in a generational chain that reaches back hundreds of years. Their culture is special, beautiful and timeless. One of its rarest expressions is in their ceremonial liquor and its related arts.

If the producers are not inspired to continue their craft, then we have failed. If their sons and daughters are not inspired to participate in some way, whether through the heavy labor that mezcal production entails, as support for their family, or at times, the achievement of personal goals that were not possible as recently as one generation ago, then we have also erred.

Environmental Responsibility

The environmental ecosystem is another crucial aspect of sustainability. We are often asked about our reforestation programs, forward focused maguey -replanting projects, and our ability to navigate through the complicated agrarian systems in Mexico. Without sounding overly zealous or naïve, we will use this page to provide insights into how we operate in this space as a collective of single villages that export to the world at large. Now that mezcal is heralded as a cultural gem worth protecting, we have to be remain ahead of the curve in many areas. This means that now, more than ever we must continue to learn from and with our producers, their families and communities. Above all, we are drawn to this divine spirit as many other have been and will be in the future.

Maintaining this quality through environmental stewardship is the paramount endeavor of Del Maguey. Indian community lands and labor are used today in the same time honored soils and using the same waters, woods, and techniques, as has been done for hundreds of years to continue to produce this authentic, rare, and finest of American liquors.

Core Values

Once Ron developed a system to assure that taste quality and upward social mobility were staples of our mission, we have turned our gaze to other areas in which we can potentially be of service. Education, technology, access to basic needs and healthy ecosystems help define Del Maguey’s core values. Without these core values, built and fostered over twenty years of bonds with our producing partners, we would not have been able to send our roots deep, through minerals and rock and silt to survive like the almighty and sacred maguey.

Rather than seeking to exploit and industrialize these traditional masters of their vintages, Ron sought to share and develop opportunity for these Peoples to bring unique aspects of their ancient culture to the world.

Through the stories that follow we will delve into the projects that we undertake, the consciousness of action that embodies these principles, and the humble reality of an oft-quoted Oaxacan dicho, that “nadie es perfecto” If we set our roots and focus in motion we will always be able to maintain quality while supporting, and learning from the twelve (and counting) communities that we work with to bring the world Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal.