My two oldest sons have been in Oaxaca, Mexico for the past four weeks. They're taking "immersion classes," which means, "Do everything in Spanish for four weeks." They live with a Spanish mom, take Spanish classes in Spanish, take excursions in Spanish . . . and drink like Mexicans.
And that means plenty of mezcal. I didn't realize it, but Oaxaca is the mezcal capital of Mexico . . . thereby making it the mezcal capital of the world.
What is mezcal? Well, it's tequila, kinda:
Once demonized as the drink of Mexico's rural poor, mezcal – which in simplest terms can be described as a distillate of agave that has been produced in Mexico for centuries – has become what one L.A. bartender dubbed "the hipster's Cognac." Unlike tequila, which can only be made with blue agave, mezcal can be made with more than 40 varietals, lending the category a vast spectrum of flavors. The mezcal boom north of the border parallels the popularity of modern Mexican restaurants and a surge of interest in regional Mexican cuisine; in the last decade, dedicated mezcalerias have popped up in every major city in America, from Baltimore to Seattle.
Alex and Jack have been hitting the mezcal and having a great time, one night landing themselves in an Oaxacan ghetto, much to their Mexican mom's consternation when she heard about it the next day. They had been digitally introduced to the cousin of a Mexican friend here in Michigan; they hit the town one night and eventually found themselves in an apocalyptic-looking neighborhood with huge wild dogs roaming all over the place. Like I said, their Mexican mom wasn't amused when they recounted the story the next day.
On a safer note, they also met the king of mezcal: Ulises Torrentera. They went into his place, not knowing that he is "The Man" of all things mezcal, talked with him for a bit, drank a bit, then left. They later Googled him and were like, "Oh wow. We were talking with Mr. Mezcal himself." From the LA Times:
"You can't really speak of mezcal in Oaxaca without knowing Ulises," Lopez says, and you can't speak of mezcal without speaking of the state of Oaxaca, where mezcal is as essential to life as mole. "My family has been making mezcal forever,” Lopez adds, “but it wasn't until I met Ulises that I started seeing it like wine, with different agaves and flavor profiles. I think everybody knows there are Cabs and Merlots, but most people don't know there are mexicanas and tobaziches, and he was the person who opened my eyes to that."
They said Ulises was a heckuva nice guy. Unpretentious, but obviously pretty smart with a great sense of humor (politically-incorrect humor, incidentally, but that's not surprising; I've heard on a few occasions that Mexicans are extremely politically-incorrect, which is probably why I get along with the Mexicans in my town well).
Anyway, the whole thing makes me want to try mezcal. Unfortunately, I had a tequila indiscretion in Guadalajara when I was 17 that dogs me to this day. The smell of tequila makes my stomach quiver. I think I'm going to try some quality mezcal with a different flavor.
We'll see. Alex and Jack get home in a few days. I'll discuss it with them. They're now the closest thing I have to an expert on such matters.