Mezcal and Dogmatism in Oaxaca: Alcohol by Volume (Part 4 of 7)

montelobos, mezcal, alcohol by volume

Telling consumers that they should only drink mezcal between 45% and 55% ABV (alcohol by volume) has become somewhat acceptable practice in Oaxaca mezcalerías.  While most artisanal mezcals are within that range, there are excellent products both below and above the “norm.” Spirits consumers who are accustomed to drinking quality yet commercial tequilas or scotches at 40%, may never come around to appreciating 53% mezcals.  So why tell them what ABV they should and should not drink?  If a patron has in mind an evening of imbibing, perhaps three 3-pour flights, consider sneaking in a couple of products outside of your preferred ABV range and gauge interest, welcome commentaries, and discuss.

The rationale for the rule simply does not hold water.  The owners of one particular brand of artisanal mezcal conducted close to 100 blind tastings throughout Mexico before settling upon a 37% spirit for its flagship product. During the first year of operation the brand shipped 16,000 liters from its distillery in Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca, for the national market alone.  The brand continues to thrive, opening new markets.

It is indeed true that some mezcals less than or greater than the stated alcohol by volume (ABV) range do not enable the consumer to fully appreciate the particular spirit’s flavor potential, but this is not always the case. Some mezcals well into the 60%+ category, in the realm of puntas or heads, go down more smoothly than a 45%, and retain exquisite notes.

 

It is suggested that with the current agave scarcity and concomitant dramatic increase in price per kilo of raw piña, producers and exporters will opt for one of two ways to address the “crisis” if they wish to maintain or enhance existing profit levels: significantly increase the price per liter or bottle – but the spirits market will determine the viability of doing so; or reduce the ABV with a view to remaining competitive in the marketplace.  If the latter, the blowhards will have little choice but to temper their dogmatism.

Read our next installment on this thought provoking feature by Alvin Starkman tomorrow where he’ll discuss agave species.  

 

alvin starkman, Oaxaca, mezcalAlvin Starkman is a permanent resident of the city of Oaxaca, from where he operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca.  He can be reached at mezcaleducationaltours@hotmail.com.

Alvin Starkman holds an M.A. in social anthropology from Toronto’s York University and a J.D. from Osgoode Hall Law School.  He has written one book about mezcal (Mezcal in the Global Spirits Market:  Unrivalled Complexity, Innumerable Nuances) and over 35 articles centering upon Mexican craft beer, pulque, mezcal and sustainability, as well as a further 250 articles about Oaxacan life and cultural traditions. He co-authored a chapter in an edited volume on culinary heritage (published August, 2014), and wrote an article about brideprice in a Zapotec village (scheduled for release in autumn, 2014, in the Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies).

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Germán González’s T1 Tequila Uno–Questions and Answers

Response to the interview series with Master Distiller Germán González has been wonderful.

Rightly so, for a man who is a living part of tequila history and continues to make history today with T1 Tequila Uno and Tears of Llorona.

Here are some of your questions answered:

Q:  Does Germán always blend agaves from Tamaulipas and Atotonilco because originally he didn’t have enough from Atotonilco?

A:  As we stated in Tequila From the Heart, Germán blended

T1 Tequila Uno and Tears of Llorona.
T1 Tequila Uno and Tears of Llorona.

agaves from Atotonilco with those from his family ranchos in Tamaulipas only during Chinaco’s resurgence and for his duration with that brand.

T1 Tequila Uno and Tears of Llorona use only agave from the highlands in Atotonilco.

Q:  Did Germán say what blending percentages he uses?
A:   Mas o menos, but…off the record!
T1 Selecto.
T1 Selecto.

Q:  Do all his expressions start as Ultra Fino except Selecto?

A:  Correct.
Q:  What exactly does that mean?
A:  The entire process starts with Ultra Fino, but as you know, Selecto is at a higher alcohol by volume (43% ABV) to acquire a more robust, agave forward flavor profile.
Q:  Does Germán make Selecto from scratch [using] more mature agaves and it was never Ultra Fino? 
A.  As he stated in Tequila From The Heart, Germán always uses mature agave according to his definition, but…
Selecto is distilled to be different than Ultra Fino, which is

Ultra Fino
Ultra Fino

softer on the palate.

Q:  Besides the more mature agave and the different alcohol level, what else is different?
A:  Those answers can be found in the feature article, Germán González–Tequila From The Heart.
Have you seen our video series with Germán González, yet?  If you haven’t, pour yourself a glass of T1 Tequila Uno and watch the entire playlist here:

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

Tasting Tequila Uno with Germán González (5)

T1 Tequila Uno Selecto

Tequila Uno–Selecto

Germán González, distiller of T1 Tequila Uno and Tears of Llorana, shares his views on T1 Selecto, and how he balances alcohol and water to obtain the right amount of agave elements.

Selecto Flavor Notes

Hand selected maduro (mature) agave goes into this blanco at just the right ABV (alcohol by volume) to release an explosion of flavor at mid-palate and up through the nasal passages.

Again, the finish stays within the throat and back of the tongue, not in your stomach.

Read the full story of Germán González and T1 Tequila Uno here.

 

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

Germán González–Tequila From The Heart

german gonzalez

[In early November of 2014, San Antonio resident and neighbor, Germán González, joined us at our home office.  That evening, he brought his full array of Tequila Uno (T1)–Ultra Fino, Selecto, Excepcional, Tequila Estelar, along with the much acclaimed ultra-aged Tears of Llorona. 

In a more relaxed atmosphere and without his signature Panama hat and guayabera, Germán guided us through a tasting of each of his offerings while sharing his wit, wisdom, and knowledge.]

The Present

 “To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts–such is the duty of the artist.”–Robert Schumann

What strikes you first about Germán González is his intense modesty when he discusses his vast accomplishments.  Secondly, it’s realizing the level of genius he possesses as a Master Distiller.  Thirdly, you are awed by the depth of his artistry.

Distilling what was arguable some of the finest tequila available in the

Chinaco logo.
Chinaco logo.

spirits market in the past with his historic family brand, Chinaco, today Germán humbly pours us proper amounts from his own equally lauded labels, T1 (Tequila Uno) and Tears of Llorona, and teaches us his trademark “toast from the heart.”

Taking his branded Riedel Ouverture tequila glass held at the stem, Germán places it over his heart and says, “salúd, from the heart.”  He then reaches out to each of us and, instead of touching at the rim of the fragile vessels, he turns his glass almost sideways and boldly tags the bowls sounding a lyrical crystal clang.

Afterwards, he lovingly looks at the platinum liquid inside his stemmed glass and says, “This tequila is amazing,” as if surprised that it turned out so well.

Coming from a family that played an integral part in both Mexico’s and Tequila’s sweeping history [you can read more about his family history here], Germán González is at once inspired by his past and firmly focused on his future.

The Past

A gentleman farmer by trade and a romantic at heart, Germán literally learned his profession from the ground up under the watchful eye of his father, Guillermo, a lawyer and politician.

At eighteen, Germán permanently moved to the family ranchos in Tamaulipas by himself instead of attending university.  For several years, he spent intensive weekends learning about the land from Don Guillermo, growing agaves, chiles, corn, soybeans and raising cattle.  He felt privileged and grateful to have his father as his instructor and mentor.

Don Guillermo also purposely kept him away from the La Gonzaleña distillery until he felt Germán was ready for the responsibility.

Tough Times

After several years of piloting Chinaco to unprecedented heights, creative differences with his older brothers caused Germán to seek a new distillery from where he could challenge himself to distill even greater tequila.

Luckily, his lifelong friend and owner of La Tequileña (NOM 1146) Enrique Fonseca, himself a celebrated tequilero, most recently with his Fuenteseca brand, literally gave him the keys to his distillery and allowed Germán to pursue his dream of producing the ultimate expressions of tequila that have ever been realized.

At the same time, Germán uprooted his family and moved to San Antonio, Texas in 2007 to learn about the liquor distribution system and also to study the fickle American palate.  He officially launched Tequila Uno in 2009.

Lessons Learned

Germán memorized two very important principles from his father where tequila was concerned–

That the quality of the agave will always assure favorable results and consistency.  That’s why he insists on using estate grown agave from a single plot of land or grove (huerta), and…

Used scotch whisky barrels are the secret to capturing just the right balance when resting tequila.

He deliberately employs the used barrels to take only the rough edges off of the Selecto when resting for his Excepcional.  Germán believes that this practice results in a more traditional reposado.

“It’s how reposados should taste–not like añejos,” Germán declares.

Then, he boldly adds, “I don’t care about the color, I care about the flavor.”

The Meaning of Mature

Germán believes the maturity of blue agave has nothing to do with the plant’s brix (sugar content) or age.  He judges the maturity of agave by its look and feel.

He prefers using  agave from Atotonilco, in the highlands of Jalisco, since he determined that they produce a close flavor profile to agave from Tamaulipas, and thus, compliment each other.

He had blended highlands agave with those from Tamaulipas when in charge of Chinaco during its second resurgence.  At that time, La Gonzaleña didn’t have enough agave in reserve as it had in its heyday.

Inside the Mind of An Artist

Tequila Uno
Tequila Uno

“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work.  It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” –Michelangelo

Behaving more like a painter or chef–hands on, using all of his senses–Germán González has in mind exactly what he wants Tequila Uno and Tears of Llorona to taste like and what effect he wants to attain with each expression.

He knows that flavor profile exists within the plant and the resulting juice, just like Michaelangelo knew that inside each slab of marble was a statue waiting to be released.

Germán distills Tequila Uno to set the flavors free!

  Chemistry vs. Alchemy

“Tones sound, and roar and storm about me until I have set them down in notes.”–Ludwig van Beethoven

Unless prompted, Germán never talks about the numbers, the chemistry or science of distillation like famed Master Distillers Carlos Camarena (Tapatío), Marko Karakasevic (Charbay), or Melkon Khosrovian (Ixa Tequila by Greenbar) have been known to do.  In fact, those were Germán’s worst subjects in high school.

Much like a mezcalero (mezcal distiller) does when producing mezcal, he uses his senses to tell him what alcohol by volume (ABV) his tequila should have to achieve the desired flavor and aroma.  The numbers then become minor details in the entire scope of things.  He allows the formation and density of the lingering bubbles (perlas) in his glass to be his signposts that he has succeeded.

 Balance Is Everything

Germán asserts that alcohol in tequila is not just about getting drunk.  He describes it as a necessary element in any tequila’s flavor profile.  In fact, he contends that mezcals, by and large, should be distilled at 45% ABV or higher to achieve its balance and to acquire its unique flavor profiles.

The key is finding the balance between the ABV and other elements of the highlands agave to bring about the nuances Germán demands for T1. That’s why Selecto is at one measure of ABV and Ultra Fino is at another. It has allowed him to produce two types of tequila for different

The full line of T1.
The full line of T1.

consumers–

The novice just beginning to explore tequila (Ultra Fino), and the collector or connoisseur (Selecto, Excepcional, Estelar) with more discerning tastes.  We encountered this technique at our tasting of Roca Patrón.  González has perfected this method into his own signature art form.

The Future

Germán González shares his global desires for T1.

Composer, artist, distiller–Germán González has elevated tequila into what it has always aspired to be–

A spirit worthy of the attention and appreciation of the masses throughout the world.

Whatever Germán’s next composition, be assured that it, too, will be a work of art, from his heart to yours.

 

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

How to Get Paid to Drink Tequila:

How you can turn your passion into profits and get paid to drink tequila as a blogger, vlogger, podcaster or author

 

Salud!!