Paciano Cruz Nolasco is as an iconic legend and one of the greatest mezcal producers the world will ever know. His mezcals are a reflection of his character as well as his village of San Luis Del Rio; both dry and sweet, well proofed, who flow like the river; warm, digestible, agreeable, strong, and resilient.
With a steadfast dedication to the artisanal process, the villagers of San Balthazar Chichicapam clearly identify themselves as a mezcal producing community. No one exemplifies the essence of this mezcal culture more than humble and stoic Zapotec Palenquero Faustino Garcia Vasquez. His countenance, underneath his famous and handsome mustache, never changes; always happy to receive visitors and offer them “calientitos,” hot mezcal fresh off the still.
Santa Catarina Minas identifies as the Cradle of Mezcal. It is a lofty title, but one fairly earned due to the extensive mezcal and maguey culture that can be traced back as far as the early Spanish occupation. Village maestro Luis Carlos is truly a master of his craft, someone who has toiled through the backbreaking work of cultivating and harvesting maguey, and then producing it through the rigorous ancestral production method, without ever losing his sense of humor.
Nestled on the mountainside, enveloped in clouds, Santo Domingo Albarradas sits above the Tesechoacan River. Here wild agaves, principally tobala and cuishe, grow in plenty and a small number of families produce mezcal. One of those families is headed by Espiridion Morales Luis, his radiant smile and constant optimism reflected in his mezcal. It is a bright, uplifting spirit. To share a copita with Espiridion and the family is a joy. No one ever stops laughing.
Santa Maria Albarradas is one of the most magical places to drink mezcal in the world. The manatial spring water imparts distinctive flavors in the fermentation. Rogelio Martinez Cruz is the master distiller from Santa Maria who first sold Tobala to Del Maguey in 1996. Rogelio and his family love to host groups, and if there is dancing music playing in the palenque or in a social setting, Rogelio is the first person to grab a pretty partner.
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.
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.
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.
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.