La Cosecha (The Harvest)
Utilizing 50 years of experience, father and son Margarito and Artemio, come together to begin the process of creating Esfuerzo Mezcal Artesanal. Hand-selecting agave plants for production is the integral first step. A large portion of the agave that they use comes from their family land in and around San Dionisio Ocotepec; land they are intimately familiar with. Generation after generation, they have watched these agaves grow alongside their own children. Their inherent connection to this land results in the deep-rooted knowledge needed to guide these agaves from seedling to maturity. Once selected, the agave plants are broken down, the pencas (leaves) are removed to reveal the piña (agave heart), where a majority of the agave’s starches are stored. Throughout the process, these starches will be converted into sugar and then distilled to extract the essence of the plant
El Horno (Bake)
The broken down agave piñas are then moved into a large horno (conical earthen pit oven) that is fueled by a fire made with locally sourced wood. The pina’s are strategically stacked within the oven to maintain a consistent temperature throughout the baking process. The agave is then covered with organic material to encapsulate the heat of the horno, and only then can the baking commence. While in the ground, the starches within the piñas begin to caramelize as they are slowly converted into sugars. Once the agave is thoroughly cooked, it is left underground for 3-4 days to steep. This will develop the complex flavor that is key. The cooked agave is then moved to an open air storage area. Any burnt or undercooked portions are removed to ensure a proper balance of taste in the final distilled batch. The agave rests here for about a day before being moved to the milling station.
To preserve the integrity of the process, Margarito and Artemio forsake electrical machinery in favor of a tahona (large round stone wheel), that is pulled by their family’s horse, Bonita, to mash and mill the cooked agave. The agave is lifted onto the base of the molino by hand in very small batches, the tahona is then used to slowly break down the cooked agave fibers to create a pulp that releases the juices created during the cooking stage.
The mashed agave fibers, along with their rich juices, are transferred to a set of large tinas (wooden vats), made of Ocote Pine wood, and are then mixed with warm distilled water to kick-start the fermentation stage. The mixture is fermented solely by ambient yeast. No outside microorganisms are introduced here, allowing the length of the fermentation process to depend on two factors: the region that the agave was grown in, and the current season. The agave mash is hand-stirred throughout the fermentation stage under the watchful eye of the maestro mezcalero.
The final stage: distillation. The process of removing all of the remaining layers of the fermented mash in order to reveal the liquid essence of the agave plant. This multi-step stage requires a significant amount of fine-tuning to get the desired flavor profile. There are a thousand choices that must be made leading up to this moment, and here is where the skill of the maestro mezcalero truly shines. The mezcalero cuts the distillation at the exact moment necessary to get to the cuerpo (body) of the batch. Harnessing their ancestral knowledge, their intuition, and their five physical senses. This is Esfuerzo Mezcal Artesanal.