Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Summer 2007 Car Trip - 15

Our next stop on this day long guided tour was at a mezcal factory. Even though they did produce a drinkable mezcal, I think the factory we visited existed purely as a tourist attraction. There were other groups and buses of people when we got there. We were ushered from process to process. We followed the group ahead and we were in turn followed by another group.

Mezcal is a distilled spirit made from the agave plant. It is not to be confused with tequila, which is made only from the blue agave. Mezcal can be made by any other agave. The agave plants are harvested in the field. The workers go around with machetes and chop off the leaves. The resultant plant is called a heart or a pineapple. These things are big and heavy. They are piled up at the factory, waiting to be cooked.

Here B illustrates how big these hearts are.

These hearts are then placed in an oven and cooked for 3-5 days to allow the natural sugars to come out.

These rock hard baked hearts and then taken to the grinder. Here's the grinder at work. Yup. It's a horse that walks around that circle, turning that stone, for hours on end. Should he dare to slow down, his keeper is ready, willing and able to give him a good swat with that stick. This horse was meaner than a cornered snake and there were signs all around not to get too close...he bites. Small wonder that he has an evil disposition given his lot in life.

When his keeper has to stop for a break or to refill the wheel well, he stops this horse on the other side. Well out of reach of stupid tourists who would try to pet him as he walks by. People, the sign means what it says. Get bitten then. Maybe you will learn.

Here's a picture of the broken up hearts, ready to be put into the grinder.

Can you tell this whole process fascinated me? Mostly, though, I was feeling terrifically sorry for this poor horse.

The pulverized mash is then carried by pitchfork full to the cookers. The distilling process takes place and voila! you have Mezcal.

For an in depth summary of this process, go here.

The finished mezcal is then put in barrels to age and ferment more. There are three types of mezcal:

AƱejo ("aged") – aged for at least a year in barrels no larger than 350 litres.
Reposado ("rested") – aged two months to a year.
Joven or blanco ("young" or "white", often marketed as "silver" in English) – colorless mezcal, aged less than two months

What they had mostly on offer at the factory was the blanco. Quickest turn around to sell to tourists. They did have the other two kinds available, but they were very expensive. The final stop on the tour was, of course, the sample table and store.

All visitors are allowed to sample as many and as much mezcal as they want. Samples are served in those little plastic cups like you put condiments in at fast food restaurants. It comes in all flavors and colors. I had two samples and stopped. I instantly had a headache from this almost raw tasting booze and wanted nothing more to do with it.

B bought three small bottles. Two for our house. He wanted to be able to offer the real thing to our Mexican friends when they stopped over to visit. One was a gift. We were later to very much regret our decision to buy any of this stuff.

Tour over, we loaded back into the van. We pulled out of the driveway, made a left turn onto the main road and immediately turned into the next driveway! This was the restaurant next door. We were not aware that the tour involved stopping for lunch or we would not have packed our own. L joined the young couple from France at their table, we joined the Argentinian girl at her table, since she was the only other smoker on the tour. The ladies from DF sat at their own table, as close to the kitchen as they could get! We had some kind of enchilada, being not very hungry at this point.

Lunch over and we headed back to Oaxaca to be disgorged from this stifling hot van. But not forgetting to not see a speed bump on the way home! The driver went over it so fast and so hard that I was bounced up out of my seat and banged my head on the roof of the van! Not a word of apology flowed from the drivers' mouth either.

Later on in the evening we found an out of the way family run restaurant and had a pleasant little meal. We had the restaurant all to ourselves. After dinner we strolled around a bit and I bought even more of the fantastic home made french fries from the street vendor. We ambled our way back to our hotel and fell into bed as three exhausted travellers should do...at 9:30 PM!


John W said...

OK Wayne--I just gotta know. Why did you regret buying the mescal?

Of course, maybe that's a stupid question with an obvious answer... :)

wayne said...

John: We carried the stuff in a brown paper bag (original container!) under the driver's seat of the car. Along the way, the tops came loose. By the time we noticed the smell, they had all leaked into the carpeting and the contents had crystallized. It was a mess and we ended up throwing it all away!