Home' Bars and Clubs : BAC MarchApril 2015 Contents others it's contradictory that those believers in
Spanish-introduced distillation are the same that
argue that mezcal was never aged -- but each to
HARVESTING THE AGAVE
Let's make mezcal -- it is the backbone of the
Mezcalier certification after all.
Stand in the field and take it all in. Agave (like
most of us) has an overwhelming reproductive
desire. As the agave plants mature, reproductive
attempts are made -- whether by hijuelo (seedling)
or the quiote (stalk) and the seedpods that grow
While healthy hijuelos are collected and
planted later, quiotes are cut annually, allowing
the precious sugars to be focused back into larger
plant growth rather than diverted to reproduction.
Quiotes stop growing once plants reach maturity,
and indeed most mature plants are identifiable by
their stunted quiote growth.
Now, the tools for harvesting your agave
-- a machete, a sledgehammer and a coa (an
incredibly sharp circular blade attached to a heavy
handle). Firstly you must trim the outer leaves with
the machete, which stops you getting spiked, to
gain access to the base of the plant. Agave juice
at this stage is super acidic -- you'll break out in a
rash if it touches you, unless you slap the affected
area with mud. Now, pull the agave out of the
ground -- this is where the sledgehammer earns
its keep. Use the hammer to drive the coa into the
base of the agave, at an angle parallel to the field.
Then the remaining leaves are trimmed with
the coa to form the piña -- yep it looks like a
pineapple -- which can be cut smaller for ease
of transportation if necessary. Be sure to use
the machete to remove the cogollo, the waxy
heart, unless you fancy a bitter mezcal as your
The pace of commercial production is slow.
Teams of three experienced jimadores pull 50
plants out of the ground between them, on a
The next step is transportation. If you're hi-
tech you load up your truck, otherwise you'll be
strapping the agave piña to your faithful burro
-- that's a donkey -- and walking back to the
palenque. Approximately five kilograms of agave
will produce a 750ml bottle of mezcal, hence three
tonnes of agave produces around 600 bottles.
BACK AT THE PALENQUE
Cut the agave down to appropriate sized pieces
to ensure an even cook. Next, build a fire in your
earthen pit -- which is a deep conical hole with
stones embedded in its sides -- using slow burning
wood to ensure the heat stays low. Pit sizes vary
considerably, from a two tonne capacity up to
15 tonne capacity. When you're ready, cover the
wood with stones -- cantera is traditionally used
as it's a lightweight porous volcanic stone that
traps heat for long periods of time. Cover the hot
cantera with agave, building out from the centre.
Cover the agave with bagaso (spent agave fibres).
These fibres need to be wet, or they'll catch alight,
burning the agave. Cover the full pit entirely with
dirt, and let it cook for three to five days. Time
now to contemplate life, or tend to your fields.
Once the agave is cooked, remove it from the
pit. Mashed your cooked agave with a horse-
led tahona -- a carved stone wheel of either
green northern stone, or southern pink stone,
and weighing between two and four tonnes.
Although cement-cast wheels with smaller
stones protruding from the edges -- to further aid
abrasion needed to mash the agave -- are now
being used too.
The tahona mashes your agave against another
stone buried around one and a half metres that
acts as a counter balance in the ground. Or, you
can even mash by hand if you're proper old school.
Once the agaves are mashed, transfer them to
fermentation tanks, mix with water and leave three
to 12 days -- depending on temperature, humidity
and more. Don't forget to turn periodically to
allow the yeast to react with oxygen. Add the
fermented mix to your still -- whether copper, steel
or clay (clay lasts around three distillations).
Your first distillate, shi-shi or punta, sits around
20% ABV, but can be up to 35-38% ABV. A second
distillation will get the mezcal to the desired level.
Now, have a well-deserved drink while you
decide what to do with your mezcal -- presumably
some sort of bottling and labelling for sale both in
Mexico and abroad.
Following on from our week-long whirlwind
of knowledge was the Mezcalier exam -- all in
Spanish of course. It was a full-on six days, and an
amazing, unforgettable experience. b&c
COOKING THE PINA IN THE PIT
TEQUILA & MEZCAL
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