My First Mezcal Trip
Super excited! The day had finally arrived. My first mezcal trip into the hills of Michoacan to explore some mezcal vinatas. A vinatata is where they produce the mezcal here in Michoacan. In Oaxaca they call them palenques.
Anyway, our Morelia-dwelling friends who had been so welcoming to us, showing us around their city, were in for a treat. They had never been to a vinata. The Australian interloper was about to show them something amazing in their own backyard.
So, it’s a beautiful sunny Sunday and we take off for the short, but beautiful drive to Tzitzio. Up winding roads lined with pine trees. Passing through small towns full of burros (donkeys), dogs and family homes selling tacos.
Finally we arrived at Tzitzio. Well, it was only 45 minutes but I was keen! It’s a small town nestled in the mountains. I had done my research, that is to say, saw a few things mentioned on Facebook. And I was aware that Tzitzio was one of the principal mezcal producing areas of Michoacan. Producers such as La Nueva Perla de Tzitzio, Desentierro and Khurikua are based here. I had already tried some of the delicious mezcals produced by these guys in the bars of Morelia, and boy was I was excited!
In my mind, I had imagined something similar to a sunny Sunday afternoon In Australia. Or California. Or France. As opposed to wandering from winery to winery in these places….trying their produce…we would be doing the same here. Except with mezcal! I was expecting tourists, tours of production processes and maybe some delicious food.
I was wrong.
Everything was closed! Yes closed. Man was I flat. So much for impressing our Mexican friends with my knowledge of their area. Ha!
Ruta del Mezcal
We rolled into town, pulled over to the first small open fronted restaurant…and asked them about the Ruta del Mezcal – The Mezcal Route. This was what I had read about on the interwebs. A touristic trail you can follow to visit the various mezcal producers. No, no…it is not open on Sundays, came the reply. Anyway, you don’t need to go there, we have much cheaper and better mezcal here!
Really? This can’t be true. I mean Sunday is the only day that Mexicans don’t go to work. Surely this is the day for this fantastical tourist attraction that is the Ruta del Mezcal to be open. They are just saying these things to us in an effort to tempt us into buying their dodgy mezcal. I was not ready to give up on my perfectly planned mezcal Sunday just yet!
We tried the mezcal. Firewater. Rough and nasty. It doesn’t put hairs on your chest, it burns them off. I’m amazed that it didn’t burn through the plastic Coke bottle it was stored in. On reflection, perhaps the Coke bottle was somewhat of a warning that the product was not likely to be top-notch.
Close by we bought some delicious flat bread cooked in a huge wood fire oven. It really was fantastic, but I was hoping that this was not going to be the highlight of my day!
Next, another open fronted café…the tacos smelled great, so this time we sat down. They had some mezcal on display and we discussed the Ruta del Mezcal. We were told the same thing. Closed Sundays, but we were pointed in the direction of where the trail started. We were welcome to go and have a look for ourselves. I was starting to believe that today was not going to be what I had imagined.
Anyway, we ate the tacos…the very good tacos…while the owner told us about the apparent magical powers of Mezcal. Her 18 year old daughter has epilepsy and had over a long period of time suffered from seizures. However, for the last 2 years, every morning with breakfast the daughter had drunk one shot of mezcal, and since then had experienced no seizures! This lead to a long conversation regarding all the ailments that mezcal can cure…such as stress, depression, arthritis, bad backs, migraines, and of course….impotence. All true, of course!
It may also be true that after the above discussion my GF started to drink a shot each morning with breakfast. For two weeks this became part of her daily routine. However, when no effects were noted other than being drunk at her morning work meeting, the practice was ceased.
Gold in Plastic
Of course we tried the mezcal on offer here. They were stored in large plastic drums. Like the ones you put petrol in when you run out of fuel on the roadside. Or in the drive through of McDonalds as I may have done once. Only once.
The mezcal was excellent! I’ve discovered I like complex mezcals with big flavours and alcohol levels. Sometimes though, it’s nice to have a subtle and smooth one. This one was super smooth. We were told the price for the mezcal if we wanted it in a glass bottle with a label. Alternatively, we could pay half of the already cheap price and take it in a plastic bottle with no label. We all stocked up with plastic bottles. Later to be transferred into glass at home to protect the precious contents.
Closed? Surely not!
We then ventured off to the Ruta del Mezcal. If nothing else I had already tried and bought some nice mezcal, and eaten some good food. Still, I wanted to get into a vinata!
We soon found the entrance to Desentierro. There was a very large gate, with a huge padlock on it. Closed. Very closed. Soon, a man with a sombrero walked towards us. He worked at Desentierro. Yes, it is closed Sundays. It is sometimes possible to organise a visit in advance if you can come on a Friday. He believed all the vinatas were closed today. We could try the mountain top restaurant at the nearby town of Clarin. They have mezcals there from the region.
Flat again. Disappointed. A little embarrassed having promised great adventures to our friends. They didn’t mind, they were having a good time. Great company as always.
Clarity from the Mountain Top
Off to Clarin we went. Up to the restaurant. Wow, what a great view. People jumping off the mountain and hang gliding. Large eagles soaring above us in the bright blue sky. We ate, again. We drank mezcal.
It really wasn’t a disaster. As I looked down at the amazing view, including the town of Tsitzio, I realised this was the first step in getting to know this area better. I understood that mezcal has only recently become very popular in this region. It is raw. Local. Not yet full of tourists. I know there are huge plans for the Ruta del Mezcal and I will be here to learn more about it and enjoy it.
Finding information about the industry here in Michoacan is not always easy, but this adds a touch of mystery to it. It’s exciting. Since this visit to Tsitzio I have been learning more and more… Meeting new people in the industry, having more experiences. I’m looking forward to sharing it all here.