On the evening of January 15, 2016, during the busy San Antonio Cocktail Conference weekend, Tequila Aficionado’s Mike Morales was invited to sit in on mezcal historian and author Ulises Torrentera’s Arte del Mezcal class and discussion.
As a bonus, the event was sponsored by the luscious Wahaka Mezcal brand and moderated and translated by its co-founder, Raza Zaidi.
The course, endorsed by mezcal’s regulating body, the Consejo Regulador del Mezcal (CRM), through its official document CRM/PD-069/15, would cover four main topics–
Pre-Hispanic beverages, raw material (maguey/agave), distillation and mezcal’s invention, as well as its history, myths, legends, culture and beyond.
The event was held at the intimate El Mirador Mexican restaurant and featured a delicious menu to accompany the entire line of Wahaka mezcals and Sr. Torrentera’s discourse.
Ulises, considered a preeminent mezcal historian and icon, is the author of “Mezcalaria, The Cult of Mezcal,” and the owner of In Situ Mezcaleria in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Arte del Mezcal Highlights
Introduction to Wahaka Mezcal
In the following snippet, co-founder, Raza Zaidi, introduces Wahaka’s core line of mezcals and the “one-off” creations by their maestro mezcalero, Alberto Morales.
Clay Pot Distillation
With a GoPro attached, another palenquero demonstrates the very rare method of mezcal fermentation and distillation in clay pots.
Raza later explained that such a technique was implemented because it was easily mobile and allowed movement to avoid authorities from confiscating copper stills.
The Legend of Mayahuel and the 400 Rabbits
Translated by Raza, Ulises explains what pulque is and the legend of Mayahuel and her 400 Rabbits.
Germán González, distiller of T1 Tequila Uno and Tears of Llorana, explains in-depth his process of agave selection and distillation for his tequilas. From hand selecting mature agave to purposely aging in used scotch whisky barrels, this tequila master doesn’t miss a trick.
Read the full story of Germán González and T1 Tequila Uno here.
On two separate occasions, Carlos Camarena, the third generation master distiller of El Tesoro de Don Felipe and the equally famous and classic Tequila Tapatío, stepped outside of Las Perlas mezcal and tequila bar in the heart of downtown Los Angeles to enjoy a cigarette.
Taking in the scenery of a chilly and overcast Sunday afternoon in early June, he witnessed the pursuit of a purse snatcher by LAPD, and then an attempted carjacking by another perpetrator while the police were arresting the purse snatcher!
Carlos smiled and shook his head. Surrounded by movie cameras and flood lights outside the front entrance to Las Perlas, his only thought was…
Another average day in LA.
La Perla Tapatía
Once inside the rustic and darkly lit Las Perlas, one of the more complete tequila and mezcal bars in Los Angeles, one realized that the movie cameras weren’t there to record street crimes or another TV reality show. They were there to film an historic event–
The triumphant entrance of the iconic Tequila Tapatío into California and the rest of the United States.
Jeff Couch and Vaughn Halyard, the co-partners of Congenial Spirits, a nimble distributor focused on boutique, handcrafted spirits, and the chosen distributor for Tapatío, had the foresight to sense the importance of documenting its US premier, even adding a professional photographer and a press wall for that red carpet feeling.
The invitees, comprised of LA spirits industry professionals and mixologists, settled in and Raul Yrastorza, the general manager and curator of Las Perlas, began the introductions for this question and answer segment with the guests of honor.
The Charbay Connection
Producing wines, ports, liqueurs, aperitifs, vodkas, rums, and whiskies at the famed Charbay Winery & Distillery in St. Helena, CA, Marko Karakasevic is also the importer of Tapatío under his Marko K Spirits of California banner.
Marko, a bear of a man who looks more like a right tackle for the Oakland Raiders instead of a barely 40 year old 13th generation master distiller, jokingly explains:
“In a family of distillers, no fruit, no root, is safe.”
Here, Marko recounts his first meeting with Carlos Camarena that lead to his family being invited to distill its own brand of Charbay Tequila at La Alteña distillery.
Heads, Hearts & Tails
So what do master distillers talk about in the wee hours of the morning over endless tequila? Distillation, of course!
Carlos Camarena and Marko Karakasevic tell the story of their awkward first encounter that turned into what can only be an enduring relationship based on mutual respect and admiration.
The Upside Down World of Agave Spirits
Carlos chuckled that Miles Karakasevic, Marko’s father, the retired 12th generation master distiller of Charbay, and he did not get along that evening.
Whenever Carlos tried to explain the physics and biochemistry of tequila distillation versus the distillation of other spirits, it was in complete contrast to Miles’ years of education.
Bullshit was uttered more than once.
“It’s not right!” exclaimed Marko.
Carlos discusses the upside down world of agave spirits distillation in depth…
Why Did It Take So Long To Get Here?
On my first visit to La Alteña in 2006, I asked Carlos what would happen if there was a sudden demand in El Tesoro de Don Felipe. Would he be able to fill orders, or be forced to cut corners?
He declared that at any given time, he had approximately one million liters of tequila in storage to handle any spike in demand. There would never be any need to cut corners and suffer a loss in quality. No doubt, his policy also carried over to the Tapatío brand.
Here, Carlos demystifies his reasons for taking almost 76 years to bring Tapatío into the US market, and gives a bit of family history, as well.
During the course of the question and answer session, Congenial Spirits’ Vaughn and Jeff made sure that each of the Tapatío expressions were being served to the crowd in specially branded Tapatío shot glasses, starting with the 80 proof blanco and ending with the stellar Tapatío 110 proof.
Sipping it immediately brought back fond memories of my first trip to La Alteña and tasting this tequila directly from the still.
It hadn’t changed a bit.
Once the Q & A ended, it was time to unleash the infinite possibilities that Tapatío 110 could provide. Amanda Gunderson, Tapatío’s brand ambassador and designer of the evening’s drinks menu, wowed the crowd with her signature cocktails.
Names like Lolita Swizzle and La Alteña guaranteed that everyone in attendance would get a feel of what it would be like to visit Tapatío’s legendary distillery. To say that these cocktails were lethally delicious would be an understatement.
Be aware that Tapatío 110 proof will not only shine in your cocktail and take you back to the Highlands of Jalisco, but it will sing to you for the rest of the evening. Definitely, sip wisely.
The Source Of Life
Since many in attendance weren’t as well versed in the science of distillation as Carlos and Marko were, I asked Camarena how he would define distillation to a lay person.
Here’s what he had to say…
When Tequila Tapatío can be considered the source of life on this planet, there can be no such thing as just an average day in LA–or anywhere else, for that matter.
View more photos of this momentous event on our Facebook page here.
Tequila Aficionado’s CEO, Mike Morales, reveals rumored environmental polluters of Mexico’s Paisaje Agavero (Agave Landscape) in the controversial and hard-hitting report, Vinazas: The Corpse of the Spirit of Mexico.
“In 2008, the tequila industry produced 310 million liters of tequila,” reports Morales. “For every liter of tequila distilled, 10 liters of vinazas (wastewater) is produced. In 2008, over 2.5 billion liters of vinazas is unaccounted for.”
Vinazas: The Corpse of the Spirit of Mexico defines that country’s next pandemic—The Vinazas Crisis—as the unconscionable pollution of rivers, streams, arroyos, and land along the Paisaje Agavero (the Agave Landscape) voted a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2006.
“Close to 80 percent of the tequila produced in Mexico is exported into the United States,” explains Morales, “so the key is to make as many tequila consumers aware of the ecological dangers of mass produced tequila.”
Morales’ ambitious goal is to reach 40,000 individuals with Vinazas: The Corpse of the Spirit of Mexico.
“Tequila drinkers are killing the environment and they don’t even know it,” Morales continues. In 2008, the tequila industry produced 310 million liters of tequila. For every liter of tequila distilled, 10 liters of vinazas (wastewater) is produced. In 2008, over 2.5 billion liters of vinazas is unaccounted for.
“It’s urgently important to educate ecologically minded spirits purchasers on these crimes.”
Moreover, this report will inform readers of the possible solutions to the Vinazas Crisis being used in the race to save the Paisaje Agavero.
“To have the stark beauty of the Highlands and the Lowlands of the Mexican state of Jalisco strangled by a toxic sludge that has reached crisis levels should frighten all of us,” stresses Morales, “from the casual margarita drinker, to the professional mixologist, to the diehard purist.”
Mike Morales hopes that the next time you reach for your favorite tequila at your local liquor store or supermarket that you ask yourself two questions… Is my brand eco-friendly? And… Am I directly contributing to the uncontrolled pollution of the Paisaje Agavero by supporting my brand’s total disregard for the environment?
“It is up to the socially conscious, ecologically minded, environmentally active tequila and/or spirits consumer to up level the catch phrase ‘drink responsibly,’”adds Morales.
“The time has come to not only drink responsibly, but to also think responsibly and act accordingly.”
To buy your copy of Vinazas: The Corpse of the Spirit of Mexico for a mere $0.99, visit Amazon.com now!