Re-discovering life with my camera.
To truly understand Mezcal, we need to see Oaxaca from above.
As we began descending to Oaxaca, it’s mountains and blocks of farmland greeted us, letting us know Oaxaca’s strong connection to the land.
Through our trip we learned the origins of the copal tree and it’s magical resin use as incense during special celebrations. The use of natural inks such as indigo leaves, marigold, pomegranate, henna, achiote still in use today by artists in the region to decorate fabric and wood. The incredible transformation of copal wood into an Alebrije. The use of local soil and fire to create black pottery. Lastly the wild varieties of agaves in the region and one of many methods used to prepare Oaxaca’s distinctive spirit: Mezcal.
In Oaxaca, farming and knowing the local plants and trees are an everyday task. Taught by their ancestors it is common for people in Oaxaca to proudly name an Indigo tree from the distance or the name of every agave by it’s name. Every person we encounter, no matter where we were, taught us something about the ecosystem they live in and how they use it to heal, cook and create.
Understanding this fact about Oaxaca make it easy to appreciate Mezcal as Oaxaca’s special spirit. The spirit that lives and transforms directly with and from the soil it has been harvested.
It begins with the fact that agaves must “live in the soil” 7-15 years before it is ready to be processed. There is a short window of opportunity before the agave blooms, if this happens, it is too late. The piña is extracted, by cutting off the plant’s leaves and roots, then cooked for about three days in an underground pit filled with hot rocks and covered with dirt. This is where Mezcal gets the peculiar “smoky” taste.
Three days later the smoked pieces are crushed for hours under a large stone wheel called a Tahona usually pulled by a horse.
Fermented for days and distilled two or three times allowing the flavors of the agave used come forward.
Completely inspired by Heritage Radio’s interview with Low Bank, I learned first hand the fact that artisan Mezcal is produced by maestros that know their craft well and pride from it. Every batch a signature as unique as the maestro behind the process. I learned tasting and choosing a favorite Mezcal becomes a personal task, no one can claim one is better than the other, only the right one for them. As the locals pledge: “you can never have too much Mezcal. Mezcal will enchant you.”
Photos by Pauline Stevens