Review: Del Maguey Wild Papalome and San Pablo Ameyaltepec Mezcal

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Del Maguey hits this month with not one but two of its Single Village Mezcals – Wild Papalome and San Pablo Ameyaltepec. Let’s try both.

Del Maguey Wild Papalome Mezcal – A 100% agave papalome bottling from the Mixteca Alta region. A definitively sweeter style of mezcal, its barbecue-smoke nose layers in notes of citrus and pineapple — almost Hawaiian in style at times. On the palate the mezcal offers few surprises. kicking off with a rather sharp but gently sweet note, then segueing into gentle smoke that influences notes of orange peel, lemon, green banana, and some white wine character. It’s definitely on the quiet side for mezcal, but pleasant and pretty from start to finish. (For what it’s worth, my tasting notes have nothing in common with Del Maguey’s back label; your mileage may vary.) 90 proof. B+ / $100

Del Maguey San Pablo Ameyaltepec – Also 100% agave papalome, this mezcal is made from 12 to 18 year old plants grown in Ameyaltepec, in the Puebla region, where mezcal production was only recently given the OK. Here’s proof that terroir matters in mezcal — this is a much different spirit than the Wild Papalome, kicking off with a nose that is both leathery and smoky-spicy, with notes of dried flowers, almost evoking potpourri. The body is gentle to moderate in strength, and it offers numerous surprises, including notes of milk chocolate, orange flowers, smoked meats, and dried apple character. On the finish we find notes of bubble gum, gingerbread, and wispy smoke — which lingers on the back of the throat. Taken as a whole, it’s an exotic mezcal with an awful lot going on, but an awful lot that manages to come together in inspiring fashion. 94 proof. A- / $110

delmaguey.com

Review: Craneo Organic Mezcal

craneo-mezcalDavid Ravandi, the man behind 123 Tequila, has at long last stepped into the world of mezcal. Craneo is a 100% organic espadin mezcal that is harvested at 5600 feet in Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca. Traditionally processed, it is bottled at slightly-above average proof, at 42% abv.

Classically structured on the nose, the mezcal offers aromas of sweet barbecue smoke character layered with hints of citrus. The palate is fairly traditional, though it dances on the tongue thanks to a light and silky body. Notes of orange and grapefruit peel, green banana, and spun sugar punctuate the modestly sweet smokiness, while the finish adds on hints of iodine and a touch of anise.

What is most striking about Craneo is how light on its feet it is. While many mezcals can be overpowering with their intense smokiness, Craneo is balanced and quite restrained. Some may see this lightness as a sign that this is intended as a “starter” mezcal, but ultimately I think its gentle body it adds a ton of versatility to an often difficult spirit — try it in a cocktail — while ensuring it can serve quite nicely as a less overbearing sipper, too. Definitely worth a look.

84 proof.

(Note: If the tasting notes on the Craneo Mezcal website seem familiar, that’s because they were adapted from an earlier version of this review, based on a preliminary sample tasted earlier this year. This review has been updated based on the final, shipping version.)

A- / $60 / mezcalcraneo.com

Review: 3 Mezcals from Craft Distillers – Alipus Ensamble, Mezcalero #16, and Mezcalero Special #2

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Craft Distillers has doubled down on mezcal, and it imports both the Alipus and Mezcalero lines of mezcal. Alipus is generally available, but the Mezcalero line is a series of limited production releases, numbered in sequence. 1 through 14 are now sold out; you can still get 15 and 16, the latter of which is reviewed below, along with a new “special bottling” of Mezcalero.

Let’s dig in to all three.

Mezcal Alipus San Andres Ensamble  – The first blended Alipus (all the others being single-village bottlings), Ensamble is a blend of 20% wild bicuishe agave harvested at 5300 feet plus 80% traditional espadin. It’s hard to miss the powerful sweetness here, coming across like honey for starters and almost maple syrupy at times. The smoke grows from there. What is palpable on the nose is well-integrated into the palate, where it takes on a fruitlike character not unlike sherried Islay Scotch. This, however, goes too far, pushing overripe fruit elements that culminate in a somewhat saccharine mishmosh of flavors that hit strong citrus notes before diving into a finish of salt spray and cigar smoke. A bit scattered on the whole. 94.4 proof. B / $65

Mezcalero Release #16 Don Valente Angel –  Angel takes semi-wild madrecuishe (agave karwinskii) from a 5200-foote high soil and turns it into this, an elegant and truly gorgeous mezcal. The nose is restrained and citrus-focused, with clear notes of lemon and grapefruit. The palate weaves gentle smoke into the picture, meandering from wood fires to clean citrus and back again. The body is modest but fulfilling, the finish clean and lightly sweet, with just a hint of that sour citrus juice squeezed on top. So easygoing, it’s hard to put down — and a perfect example of what quality mezcal should be. 94.2 proof. A / $96

Mezcalero Special Bottling Release #2 – A higher-end, even more limited production. This release comprises “552 liters distilled in October and November of 2012 by Don Valente Angel from semi-wild Dobadaan (agave rhodacantha). It was harvested from a south-facing slope of a hill known as Loma de la Mojonera comprised of sandy, ferriferous soil at 5350 feet of elevation. The agaves were wood-fire roasted in a stone horno, shredder-crushed, fermented with wild yeasts, double distilled using artisan methods on a 200-liter copper potstill, and bottled in March of 2016. 736 bottles produced.” To clarify, this is tank-rested (not barrel-aged) for over three years before bottling. The results are impressive. This is a soft, seductive mezcal that starts slow and builds to a crescendo, kicking off on the nose with gentle notes of black pepper, simple smoky notes, and a basic citrus character. The palate follows suit, dialed way back at first with just a short, simple sweetness, some orange peel, and pepper. From there, it builds up to quite a hefty, mouth-filling body, rolling in notes of mint, gunpowder, apple, and campfire smoke. The mezcal goes out not with a whimper but with a bang, finishing sharply and scorching the back of the throat. Exciting stuff, and fun to explore. 97.52 proof. A- / $135

craftdistillers.com

Review: Creyente Mezcal Joven

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This new joven mezcal is a blend of two 100% Espadin agave mezcals from different regions of Oaxaca (Tlacolula and Yautepec). It’s fitting, because the product is a parternship of two longtime mezcaleros – Pedro Mateo and Mijail Zarate – who have tinkered with classical distillation processes to come up with Creyente (Spanish for “believer”). Per the press release: “In separate distilleries, they begin by removing the pencas (leaves) and roasting the piñas (hearts) using an artisanal method with mesquite wood in a horno cónico de pierdra (stone oven) for three days. The roasted piñas are ground by hand using a molino de piedra (stone mill) to extract their succulent syrups, fermented in wooden barrels, then distilled in small copper stills. Finally, following distillation, the two mezcals are cut with natural spring water, blended with each other, and together they become Creyente.”

The crystal clear Creyente offers a classically smoky nose, studded with notes of lemon zest, black pepper, and overripe fruit. On the palate, more smoke leads to a relatively fruit-heavy body, lightly oily with notes of black pepper, furniture polish, and sweetened cereal. The finish sticks to the palate (and the ribs), with overtones of petrol, licorice, and smoky forest fire. Altogether it’s a rather classic, and surprisingly straightforward, mezcal, despite it’s unorthodox production.

80 proof.

B+ / $50 / no website

Review: Sangre de Vida Tequila and Mezcal, Complete Lineup

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So here’s the story. I hope I have all the facts correct.

In 2009, Grace Kim Brandi founded of L.A.-based Elements Spirits, which makes KAH Tequila and packages it in unmistakable skull decanters, hand painted to honor the Mexican Dia de los Muertos. Elements was sued by the people that make Crystal Head Vodka, which comes is in a (clear) skull, which culminated in a business deal that resulted in the acquiring company taking over Elements’ legal defense. As of earlier this year, this case is still ongoing. At trial, a jury sided with Elements, but various appeals have given the Crystal Head owner the right to a new trial, citing misstatements in Elements’ original closing arguments.

Brandi left Elements in 2011 in a massive (and confusing) corporate and legal shuffle and did what any good entrepreneur does: In 2012 she founded Iconic Brands, which is now selling the Sangre de Vida tequila and mezcal product line, packaged in unmistakable skull decanters, also hand painted to honor the Mexican Dia de los Muertos.

Naturally, Elements sued Iconic over trademark infringement, citing that the decanters Sangre de Vida is using are confusing when compared to KAH’s. Iconic’s position is that Brandi herself owns the design rights, not Elements, and that Elements is supposed to pay Brandi a royalty for using the bottle design. The courts so far have sided with Brandi — though, as with the other litigation — this is still ongoing.

So while the courts settle all of this brouhaha over packaging, we actually remembered that there are spirits inside these little bottles and can see if they’re any good. With that in mind, let’s drop the legal briefs for a day and sample the three tequilas and one mezcal that SdV is marketing.

Thoughts follow.

Sangre de Vida Tequila Blanco – A fresh but somewhat flabby blanco, with a curious but appealing nose of fresh cream, milk chocolate, and restrained sweet agave. The palate showcases all of the above, in even heavier concentrations, with an almost milky body that layers in hints of almonds and cinnamon. There’s plenty to like here, but it doesn’t drink particularly like a blanco — and the finish is on the thin side. 80 proof. B / $40

Sangre de Vida Tequila Reposado – Overproof reposado, aged at least three months. A vastly different experience than the blanco, the SdV reposado is racy on the nose, punctuated with black and cayenne pepper, dense herbs, and overtones of ripe citrus. That sweetness that prevails so clearly on the blanco is also present here, though it becomes clearer after time in glass lets some of the alcohol vapors to resolve. The finish is spicy and warming, heavy on vanilla and banana notes over a relatively long fade-out. 110 proof. A- / $45

Sangre de Vida Tequila Anejo – Aged at least 12 months. Supple caramel and coconut aromas hit the nose, with herbal agave just a gentle hint. On the palate the tequila is quite sweet, with notes of toasted marshmallow, caramel, and butterscotch. Vanilla endures well into the finish, which only nods gently at pepper and earthy agave notes. I love a good anejo, but the sweetness here is a bit overpowering, dampening any residual agave character. B+ / $50

Sangre de Vida Mezcal – 100% espadin agave from Oaxaca, aged 60 days in oak. Warmly smoky, with winey and fruity notes on the nose.It starts off as rather plain for a mezcal, offering a garden-variety winey character, barbecue smoke, and notes of honey and fruit preserves. The finish is epic and not entirely in a good way, its cloying sweetness lingering for days, leaving the palate significantly out of balance and with any real sense of agave. 90 proof. B- / $50

sangredevida.com

Review: Wahaka Mezcal Complete Lineup

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Mezcal is always fun, but it gets really fun when you can compare different styles and species of agave that are used to create this unique spirit.

Wahaka, based in the Tlacolula Central Valley region of Oaxaca, offers five different Mezcals — four joven (silver) varieties, and one reposado. We tasted them all. Thoughts follow.

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Espadin – Espadin is the most common strain of agave used for mezcal, and from the nose you would expect this to be a rather smokily pungent expression of the spirit. The body is quite another experience, though — quite gentle, with ample sweetness, notes of apples, and some green banana. Beyond the smoke-filled nose, it’s as gentle as mezcal gets, with its savory notes quickly fading as it leaves behind a mildly herbal but mostly fruit-filled finish. If ever there was a “starter mezcal,” this is it. 80 proof. B+ / $33

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Tobala – Tobala is a wild, small, high-altitude agave known for fruity notes. Here, the nose offers a distinctly sweeter note, one that is studded with notes of peaches but also herbal rosemary notes. The palate hits the tongue with dried tropical fruits and segues into notes of fresh pineapple and mango, filtered through a smoky lens. These notes go together surprisingly well, with an especially sweet and tropical finish. If the Espadin is starter mezcal, this is the perfect chaser — and quite a little delight that doesn’t just sip well on its own, it also mixes well. 84 proof. A- / $90

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Madre-Cuishe – Another wild agave strain, this mezcal presents with a more pungent and heavily peppered nose, offering ample sweetness but stuffing it with notes of smoked meats and a touch of molasses. On the palate, the sweeter house style endures, but considerable smoke and black pepper manage to dominate. Those looking for a burlier, meaty, and pungent mezcal will find it in this Madre-Cuishe expression That said, it is still accessible and quite engaging. 84 proof. A- / $90

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Ensamble – As the name implies, this is a blend — 50% Espadin, 25% Tobala, and 25% Madre-Cuishe. The nose is straightforward and mildly smoky, fairly in line with the Espadin. On the tongue, some citrus — oddly absent in the single-varietal expressions — leads the way, meandering into more of that green banana, brown sugar, and marshmallow notes. There’s plenty going on here, but balance is something of a concern, with Ensamble turning out to be a bit plain, something less than the sum of its parts. 80 proof. B+ / $90

Wahaka Mezcal Reposado con Gusano – A lightly aged reposado mezcal, origin unknown — worm (gusano) included. The nose offers more of a barbecue sauce character, with an orange juice kick. Much sweeter than the jovens, this reposado offers immediate notes of fresh mango and papaya, banana (again), and that barbecue character hitting hard on the finish. Smokiness takes a distinct back seat here, which is common in barrel-aged expressions. Fun as a diversion… plus you can ponder that worm staring at you. 80 proof. B+ / $47

wahakamezcal.com

Review: Mezcal Amaras Cupreata

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Mezcal Amaras is new on the scene, but it’s already got a new expression available: Cupreata. What’s cupreata? Amaras explains…

The rare cupreata agave, found only on certain mountain slopes in the Rio Balsas basin in Mexico, produces an equally rare mezcal, known for its distinctly vegetal flavor profile. Today, Anchor Distilling Company makes this special mezcal more available in the U.S. with the introduction of Mezcal Amarás Cupreata, a 100% cupreata agave unaged mezcal. This new release joins the brand’s first expression, a 100% espadín agave unaged mezcal, released in January 2015…

Mezcal Amarás Cupreata is produced by master mezcalero Don Faustino Robledo in the small village of Mazatlán in the State of Guerrero, Mexico. Of the more than 22 different species used to make mezcal, the cupreata agave, or maguey papalote (as it is referred to in Guerrero), is one of the least common agaves utilized. Semi-cultivated on the steep terrain of the Sierra Madre del Sur highlands at 4,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level, the plant has bright green, wide, fleshy leaves lined with copper colored thorns, and takes approximately 13 years to mature due to the harsh climate conditions of the region.

The mezcal is made with no added yeast, only open air fermentation, and is double distilled in copper pot stills. A joven mezcal, it is released unaged.

This is quite a rustic mezcal, with a nose of fresh and sweet mesquite wood, crushed berries, apricots, cut apples, and a touch of evergreen. On the palate, there’s loads of sweetness, backed by that roaring, smoky mesquite fire. The fruits create a bit compote here, with the apricot leading the way toward a woody, smoky finish that folds in all kinds of fruit. Apricots lead to overripe banana notes, which linger on the finish with some odd walnut character that comes to the fore late in the game.

Really exotic stuff, and worth checking out by any mezcal fan, particularly at this price.

86 proof.

A- / $50 / mezcalamores.com

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