Village2

Las Milpas

A narrow dirt road rides over sheer mountainous rockface connecting the village of Las Milpas to the outside world. Anastasio Luis went from a life led in the fields planting corn, beans, squash, to becoming a master distiller for the Del Maguey family. Anastasio is always ready to smile and laugh because he learned long ago to always look for silver linings. Ron Cooper likes to say that he did not even have to try the mezcal to know it would be special, because Anastasio’s persona exudes quality.

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In Las Milpas a small stream runs a few hundred meters at the base of a long hill providing water for the residents. A narrow dirt road rides over sheer mountainous rockface as its pathway leads to the municipal capital of the region, San Dionisio Ocotepec. Apart from a life led in the fields planting corn, beans, squash, Anastasio Luis produced mezcal neighboring small palenques for years, bartering to use the space in exchange for a portion of the mezcal he produced. To support his family, he would set off by foot on the 10 km dirt path to San Dionisio, crossing over the top of the mountain overlooking the valley, and dropping down to town, where there was public transportation to customers in Tlacolula and Teotitlan. One of Anastasio’s friends in Teotitlan del Valle was Gaspar Lazo, a neighbor of the Del Maguey bodega. Ron Cooper likes to say that when they met he did not even have to try the mezcal to know it would be special, because Anastasio’s persona exudes quality.

Anastasio has a powerful presence about him. He is always ready to smile and laugh because he learned long ago in the hard life he has led to look for silver linings. Once Del Maguey committed to work with them, Anastacio and the boys were off and running. They built a palenque, carved their horno out of pure rock, started planting maguey, and began producing within six months. Come fog, wind, rain, or drought and long hot days, Anastasio and his sons produce wonderful expressions of espadin and field blends, that include tepeztate, tobala, and mexicano. They come from the cornfields of Las Milpas and they channel their rugged optimism into their craft.

Anastasio Luis

San Pedro Teozacoalco

Life has not always been peaceful in San Pedro Teozacoalco, but when sipping on mezcal in a palenque with a small library, surrounded by birdsong and majestic maguey, it’s certainly hard to imagine that Fernando Caballero Cruz has not found peace. Del Maguey has the honor to curate a papalome expression from Teozacoalco through our relationship with Fernando, a.k.a. El Bigote (The Moustache). Beneath his black cowboy hat and sharp, darting eyes, lies what can best be described as a Sam Elliott, movie star persona.

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The Mixteca Alta region has a multi-millennial history of settlement, conquest, and conflict. An interesting juxtaposition to the gratifying sense of calm and serenity that washes over the village of San Pedro Teozacoalco upon arrival. Perhaps the remoteness adds to this sense of calm; it takes nearly four hours to reach the village from Oaxaca City, on not terribly pleasant roads. Yet there it is, sitting at the base of a high valley, green foliage and colorful flowers on every corner. And of course papalome, a beautiful maguey in shape and stature, named after the nahuatl word for butterfly.

Del Maguey has the honor to curate a papalome expression from Teozacoalco through our relationship with Fernando Caballero Cruz, El Bigote. El Bigote, The Moustache, wears his moniker well. Beneath his black cowboy hat and sharp, darting eyes, lies what can only be described as a Sam Elliott, movie star quality moustache. Stepping into the workspace where he crafts his mezcal is different than other palenques. There is a couch, and a curated bookcase. Nothing is out of place. In the act of transforming tons of agave through firepower, horsepower, and manpower into a consumable product, floors and surrounding areas are not always easy to keep maintained. And most do a splendid job keeping things tidy. But Fernando keeps his place especially spotless. He harvests his wild papalome in the hills above the village, and with his son Fernando Jr. they make a few batches a year. The terroir in this expression is unmistakable, the yeasts in the area always produce distinguishable lactic notes. Life has not always been peaceful in the area, history can attest to that, but when sipping on papalome in a palenque with a small library, surrounded by birdsong, flowers, and majestic maguey, it certainly is hard to imagine that Fernando El Bigote has not found peace.

Fernando Caballero Cruz

San Jose Rio Minas

Reaching the village of San Jose Rio Minas requires traversing high mountains on narrow and jagged dirt roads. Simply arriving at the palenque of master distiller Roberto Guiterrez is something out of a mezcal fairy tale. On the outskirts of the village, where the pavement stops, the only access to Roberto’s home is via a foot bridge over the raging river below. Here, Roberto and sons hand mash agave in hollowed out tree trunks and transform their agave into a delicious spirit, indicative of the region and his exuberant, brimming personality.

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The village of San Jose Rio Minas can be reached by at least three different routes from Oaxaca, but, in the Mixteca Alta, it takes over five hours to make the trip. Traversing high mountains on narrow and jagged dirt roads is obligatory before one drops down into another unique river valley that is especially well suited for agriculture. Arroqueño and Espadin fields dotted with vibrant pink flowers are accompanied by rows of corn, beans, and squash. The temperate climate and roaring river that cuts around the village lays a humid foundation for many tropical trees to grow, chief among them, high sprawling mango trees. Here in his small, ancestral style palenque, Roberto Gutierrez has produced espadin and arroqueño for Del Maguey for the past twelve years.

Simply arriving at the palenque is something out of a mezcal fairy tale. On the outskirts of the village, where the pavement stops, the only access to Roberto’s home is via a foot bridge over the river made out of chain link fencing. Harboring images of Indiana Jones’ rope bridge exploits, visitors follow Roberto’s confident gait across the swinging span, the rapid waters thrashing below. It is quite thrilling. From there a narrow, overgrown path passes through the family home he shared with his departed wife and down to the palenque, perched above the flowing river. Here, Roberto and sons hand mash agave in hollowed out tree trunks and transform their agave into a delicious spirit, indicative of the region and his exuberant, brimming personality.

Roberto Guiterrez

San Pablo Ameyaltepec

Dry brush, izote palms, and maguey papalote line the dusty, dry dead-end road that leads to San Pablo Ameyaltepec. Sometime after the French occupation of Mexico a rustic version of French continuous distillation methods, that requires great patience, caught hold in San Pablo; a single batch taking up to twenty hours. During this lengthy process the Tobon family members, who collectively produce for Del Maguey, discuss the wild history of the region, including how hard prohibition was for the elder generation, who had to run through the hills like outlaws carrying their hot stills so as not to be caught by the authorities.

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Dry brush, Izote palms, and maguey papalote line the dusty, dry dead-end road that leads to San Pablo Ameyaltepec in the southwestern corner of Puebla State, the Mixteca Poblana. No one passes through San Pablo. It is the last stop on this particular road. Deep in a basin valley below high ridges lined with similar arid flora lies the small village, with its Catholic church’s dome and steeple dominating the skyline. There is long history in the region of persecution of the popoloca indigenous tribes, ancient cave paintings that reveal insight into ancestors that occupied the area thousands of years ago, and a treasure trove of prehistoric fossils that have delighted archeologists since the dawn of the 19th century.

Sometime after the French occupation of Mexico around the 1860’s a rustic version of continuous distillation reminiscent of methods utilized in France, caught hold in San Pablo.

The use of the reflux style still and the unique flavors of the papalote and pizora agave harvested in the foothills has created a singular relationship with Tobon family members in the pueblo who collectively produce for Del Maguey. This continuous distillation method is quite a sight to behold, and it requires patience to distill a single batch for 16-20 hours. During the long distillation many topics arise, including how hard prohibition was for the elder generation, running through the hills like outlaws carrying their hot stills so as not to be caught by the authorities. Mezcal was not highly valued here until quite recently. The Tobon’s are no longer moonshiners. They are part of the Mezcal Denomination of Origen and proud to have continued the traditions of their grandfathers to see a more prospective future for their craft. We raise our copitas to Papalote de Puebla!

Sergio Tobon Castilla

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