Getting into mezcal? Two new mezcales to try, by way of Texas
Two new and terrific mezcales—Real Minero and Rey Campero—just rode into town. They’re brought into the country by William Scanlan III under his Austin, Texas-based importing company Heavy Métl Premium Imports, métl being the Aztec word for agave. One is from a family that has been distilling mezcal for four generations. The other is relatively new and specializes in wild varieties of agave.
Scanlan distinctly remembers when he fell for mezcal. His favorite Mexican restaurant in Austin invited him to a mezcal tasting some 15 years ago. “Sure enough, it was Ron Cooper of Del Maguey [the single-village mezcal in Oaxaca],” says Scanlan. “I tried the mezcales and was totally blown away.”
Fast-forward to 2006 when he ended up living in Oaxaca, where most mezcal is made, to buy folk art for a San Antonio gallery. He roamed the countryside, tasting mezcales, and attending mezcal conferences and workshops.
One taste of Real Minero, and the mezcales made in Santa Caterina Minas became one of Scanlan’s benchmarks, for their unique clay pot distillation. He explains that the same family has made this mezcal since 1898, but they began to bottle it with their own label only in 2002. It was already being exported to Germany, but wasn’t in the U.S. So Scanlan approached mezcalero Don Lorenzo Angeles with the idea of representing Real Minero in the American market. “I told them I didn’t know anything about the alcohol industry, but I love mezcal,” says Scanlan. “I don’t know how or why the Angeles family had the confidence to work with me, but they did.”
Scanlan does have an MBA in business—and he’s bilingual in English and Spanish. It took a while to get the licensing and such together and California received its first shipment only a couple of months ago. But Scanlan sees the delay as a blessing. “It’s exciting to see some of these places in L.A. that are just geeking out on mezcal,” he says. “People want to have a deeper conversation, learn more about the agaves, learn more about the production techniques whereas two years ago, this concept of using these mezcales as an educational vehicle would have fallen on deaf ears.”
Here’s what to look for:
Mezcal Real Minero “Mezcla/Field Blend” ($170) is a blend of four agave varietals (two of which are wild, one semi-cultivated, plus espadin, which is cultivated), all of which are cooked, milled and fermented together. Distilled in 2004, it’s incredibly smooth and complex with a long fascinating finish. “This is Real Minero’s way of showing how mezcal used to be made,” says Scanlan. “Way back when, there wasn’t as much emphasis on the particular varieties. To make a mezcal for the fiesta of the village, they’d go out and harvest whatever agaves were mature at that time.”
Only 184 liters were made of Mezcal Real Minero Tobalá ($150). This one is rounder, sweeter, with a pure scent like a forest and a wonderful balance. “The success of a good mezcal is balance,” points out Don Lorenzo Angeles’ daughter, Graciela, who is presenting the mezcal with Scanlan.
For her, their finest mezcal is the Pechuga, locally known as the mezcal the priest drinks, because it’s the most elegant. “When people come and ask for your best mezcal, they’ll sometimes ask for what the priest drinks,” she says. The Mezcal Real Minero Pechuga (about $193) is distilled three times. Espadin is the base spirit and then they’ll add the chicken breast, wild criollo apple, wild pineapple, fragrant banana called platano de Castillo, orange peel, apricot, raisins, almonds and cinnamon, anise and white rice for the last distillation. In fact, these are many of the ingredients that go into moles. And you can really taste the spices and the fruit in this surprisingly delicate mezcal.
Scanlan brings in another relatively new brand, called Rey Campero, where mezcal master Romulo Sanchez works primarily with wild varietals of agave. But their basic Mezcal Rey Campero Espadin, the only agave they make that doesn’t come from wild agave, is awfully good drinking and a great buy for $60. Mezcal Rey Campero Jabalí (about $110), made from a rare wild variety that yields one-third to one-half that of espadin and demands extra vigilance in the distillation, is very floral, with tropical fruit and melon notes, a beautiful minerality and lightly smoky finish. Made from another wild agave, Rey Campero Tepextate (about $120) is earthy and immediate with notes of nettle and anise.
Look for Real Minero and Rey Campero mezcales at Barkeeper in Silver Lake, K&L Wine Merchants in Hollywood, and Ramirez Liquor in Boyle Heights, among others. Restaurants pouring the mezcales by the glass include Broken Spanish, Faith & Flower, Guelaguetza and Petty Cash in Los Angeles, Gracias Madre in West Hollywood and Scopa Italian Roots in Venice.
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