Chiapas, Mexico, is not known for its mezcal, it’s better known for indigenous revolutions and late-classic Mayan architecture, but it was in the beautiful city of San Cristobal de las Casas that I came across a line of mezcals that blew my mind.
Strangely, San Cristobal reminded me of Jackson. It may have been in part because of the dramatic sunsets that exploded from behind jungle covered mountains or the cool temperatures at night that prompted tourists wondering San Cristobal’s beautiful streets to dawn jackets, but it also had something to do with the people I met.
Friendly, well-educated young people seemed to have either chosen to transplant or remain in San Cristobal because it offered beauty and opportunity, as well as a vibrant community.
Alejandra Cervantez moved to San Cristobal from Mexico City two years ago. Tired of her nine-to-five she immersed herself in the world of artisanal mezcals and opened a mezcaleria to promote her own line. La Surreal, her brand of hand crafted mezcals, prides itself in coming from wild agave and being produced by Mexican families – not companies – with a long history in the trade.
Cervantez said her goal was to do something that was representative of her home country. “Mexico is surreal and Mexico is mezcal,” she said in Spanish. “That is where the idea came from.”
Over the course of an evening of tasting, Cervantez poured me mezcal after mezcal from beautiful clear glass bottles etched with a mermaid and emblazoned with the name of the agave used to make each bottle. Each variety burst with a thousand smoky flavors.
There are more than 30 types of agaves used to make mezcal, and each brings a unique flavor. Cervantez explained how the hearts of the agaves are massed together and cooked underground beneath bonfires and then crushed with stone wheels moved by donkeys. For the fermentation process that follows many of the families Cervantez works with use clay pots, a hole in the ground or even cow hides. Finally the mezcal is distilled, and even in this process there is the opportunity to add flavor and determine the strength of the spirit.
Most of La Surreal’s mezcals were 55 percent alcohol. Despite the high alcohol volume, I walked out feeling surreally high, jovial, but clear headed and fresh. Many mezcal aficionados claim the lack of preservatives, artificial sugars and other chemicals make mezcal the purest of alcohols.
Unfortunately to get your hands on a bottle of La Surreal you may have to travel to San Cristobal de Las Casas. Having exhausted the bottle of La Surreal Tabal mezcal I brought back from Mexico, I asked Jeff Grdinich, the head bartender at The Rose, if he had any suggestions about mezcals on this side of the border.
Grdinich previously worked for Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal and stands by his company.
“The best available anywhere is still the original company who deals exclusively with traditionally and sustainably produced agave, Del Maguey by Ron Cooper,” Grdinich said. “There’s no way to point towards a specific favorite bottling of theirs, there are currently over 15, because each reflects completely unique terroir and maker.”
Like La Surreal, Del Maguey’s prides itself in supporting producers who use ancient practices to create their mezcal. “Made by farmers, not factories,” the Del Maguey website boasts. Both La Surreal and Del Maguey definitely believe in quality over quantity.
To see for yourself, stop by the Rose where Grdinich keeps a selection of Del Maguey available.