Tobaziche | Celso García Cruz | May 2017 | 40 liters
Available through Of Spine and Vine in California (exclusive for the Bay Area)
The maguey known in Miahuatlán as Tobaziche is an increasingly rare agave endemic to this region. The Tobaziche was one of the many native magueyes nearly eradicated from the area when, in the 1980’s, industrial producers from Jalisco bought up local agaves en masse, encouraging farmers to replace them with Espadín. Prized for its beauty and sugar content, this variety of Agave karwinskii is relatively slow to mature, taking around 16 years before it is ready to harvest.
When the plants are young, the Tobaziche greatly resembles the Madrecuixe, another karwinskii varietal, though there are some clear distinctions between the two. Tobaziches have greener pencas, differently shaped spines, and a rosette that takes a slightly more oval form as the plant gets larger. As they approach maturity, Tobaziches will grow significantly larger than a Madrecuixe, commonly reaching 5-7 feet in height and developing piñas that can weigh well over 300 lbs. It is an agave that is able to reproduce from seed as well as through its root system, though interestingly, the the Miahuatlán Tobaziche is often found growing in beds of agave cultivated from Madrecuixe seedstock. Tobaziche is generally a cultivated, or semi-cultivated varietal, but because of its bizarre relationship to the Madrecuixe, small feral populations do exist.
In April 2017, Celso harvested four nearly-flowering Tobaziches growing in a rocky, white soil hillside near his palenque. When he roasted, mashed, fermented, and distilled them the following month, they yielded just 44 liters at an ABV of 47.2%. Made specifically with Neta in mind, this small batch was the only Tobaziche produced in the community in 2017. It could be a number of years before the world sees another Tobaziche from Celso, making this a particularly special spirit.
Espadín | Candido García Cruz | March 2015 | 900 liters
Though the variety of Agave angustifolia commonly known as Espadín is now widespread in Oaxaca, it is not actually native to the region. Some claim that Espadín began to appear in Oaxaca as early as the 1930’s, but most references date its arrival several decades later when government programs and Matatlán-based business interests began to promote its cultivation. Because Espadín yields well, reproduces easily, and matures quickly, it is prized as a cash crop and is planted widely throughout the state. However, a spirit made from this agave should not be overlooked just because of the ubiquity of its raw material. In fact, precisely for this reason, Espadín serves as an excellent lens for understanding the different terrains and production methods of Oaxaca. A quality Espadín, like this 2015 production from maestro Candido García Cruz, is a reflection both of the spirit’s place of origin and the skill of its maker.
Candido works with quiotudo agaves, meaning he cuts each plant’s quiote before it has a chance to flower. This method, which concentrates the agave’s sugar in the piña rather than sending the energy towards reproduction, requires extra time for each plant to fully ripen in the fields. The extra time improves the yield of each piña and develops a richness of flavor not found in less mature agave.
In March 2015, under the light of a full moon, Candido and his family harvested 90 gigantic, quiotudo Espadín plants from a mineral-rich tierra colorada parcel of their land. On this parcel, they grow their maguey alongside alternating crops of the corn, beans, and squash that provide much of the food for their family. Later that month, they roasted the sugar-rich piñas with mesquite wood in their earthen oven. After unearthing the agave, the caramelized piñas rested for a week before being chopped by machete and passed through a mechanical mill. The dry fibers were let to sit for two days before they added filtered water to the Montezuma cypress fermentation tanks. Espadín, as any well-cooked maguey with a high sugar content, requires a relatively long fermentation time, and in this case, demanded 16 days in water before the tepache was ready for distillation. No longer as agile as he was in his youth, Candido now often plays a supervisory role in his productions – though he remains a present participant in each step of the process. To produce this lot, Candido worked the copper pot stills with his two daughters. Adjusting the richness of the batch with heads, hearts, and común macizo, they yielded roughly 900 liters of this exceptional destilado de Espadín we are proud to share with you.
Bicuixe | Hermógenes Vasquez | April 2016 | 200 liters
In every destilado de agave we select for NETA, aromas and flavors reveal the spirit’s origin and reflect the skill of its maker. One of roughly four batches of Bicuixe that maestro Hermógenes Vásquez and his wife, Paula, will make all year, this bottling contains the story of a specific time and place.
The 280 Karwinskii magueyes were harvested under a full moon at peak maturity from red and rocky tierra colorada at about 4,600 feet above sea level. These Bicuixe piñas were pit-roasted with mesquite wood, rested for a week, and then chopped with a machete. The fibrous chunks, carefully selected for their sugars, were run through a mechanical mill and then dry fermented for two days in two separate 1,000 liter Montezuma cypress wood tanks. They then added well water, beginning the wet fermentation process which ran for an additional eight days. After adjusting the alcohol levels with común macizo, the 25-40% ABV liquid from the first round of distillation, Hermógenes was left with a total of 200 liters of Bicuixe at 46.9% ABV.
Ensamble de Madrecuixe, Bicuixe, and Espadín | Ranulfo García Pacheco | May 2018 | 800 liters
Ranulfo has been distilling agave spirits consistently for over four decades, working principally with the same three varieties of maguey: Madrecuixe, Bicuixe, and Espadín. Though the maestro will often distill single-agave productions, he usually combines different varietals to produce an ensamble, like the one we’re excited to share with you this spring. The different agave are roasted, macerated, fermented, and distilled together — true ensambles are never composed of cold blends of finished spirits. Producing an ensamble is one of the oldest methods of agave distillation. Working with the perfectly ripe agave of any number of species, this traditional approach to crop management and distilling helps sustain a healthy supply of maguey and produces a complex and flavorful spirit.
For this approximately 800-liter batch, Ranulfo harvested a mix of fully mature Madrecuixe, Bicuixe, and Espadín agaves from the lands that neighbor his ranch in El Sauz, Miahuatlán. Unlike the palenqueros of Lachigüizo and most other villages in the region, Ranulfo continues to use a refrescadera with his copper pot still. Distilling with a refrescadera, a stainless-steel cylinder which is placed around the cap of the still and filled with cold water, can yield a high proof spirit in a single distillation. Doing it well, however, demands a well-learned palate and significant experience. As the fermented agave liquid boils in the pot below, the vapors rise and, with the help of the cold refrescadera, condense, falling back into the boiler pot below. There they are heated again before they finally pass through the copper condensing coil and, now liquid, fall into the containers the maestro has set to capture them. Ranulfo fills his refrescadera four times and carefully selects multiple cuts from each run of the still. With his cuts, he is separating the perla-rich “cordon” liquid from the tails which he calls shishe or colas.
This shishe is in turn mixed into the next postura of ready to be distilled fermented agave juices and fibers. Distilling with a refrescadera is an old and now slightly unusual technique, but it yields a chemically clean spirit with an array of robust flavors. Every sip lends a remarkable sense of place and could not be more Miahuateco.
Ranulfo is a master of traditional distillation techniques and has honed his recipes over the decades. To produce each lot, he uses only his senses and the classic palenquero utensils – a jicara and venencia. This ensamble is an exemplary representation of his craft and a tangible reflection of the lands where it was made.
Madrecuixe | Grupo Logoche | October 2016 | 399 liters
The maguey known locally as “Madrecuixe” is a truly remarkable plant. Similar in appearance to what is known by the same name in other parts of Oaxaca, this Madrecuixe is a distinct subspecies endemic to Miahuatlán. Characterized by a large, light-blue, spherical rosette, Madrecuixe can weigh anywhere from 60 pounds to more than 200, depending on its environment.
Cultivated for centuries, if not millennia, as a food and beverage source, Madrecuixe is renowned for its exquisite flavor as well as its genetic potential. In Miahuatlán, this particular Karwinskii varietal has the title madre, meaning mother, because the plant is capable of cross-pollination and produces seed that develops into very distinct varietals. Seed from the Miahuatlán Madrecuixe will often yield the varieties known locally as Verde (or Cuixe Verde), Tobaziche, and Coyote. One can also find agave that resemble Tobalá, Jabalí, and some Americana varietals, all born from Madrecuixe seed.
Often, the mezcaleros and growers find expressions that they themselves have never seen and cannot identify. This type of mixed outcome is so commonplace, that in order to ensure the reproduction of pure Madrecuixe, many maestros prefer to simply transplant the plantlets that propagate from the agave’s root system. However, growing from seed ensures strong and healthy plants while also maintaining the biodiversity for which Miahuatlán is so renowned.
Bicuixe | Celso Garcia Cruz | April 2017 | 200 liters
Available through Mezcal Brothers in France
In Miahuatlán, the maguey Bicuixe (pronounced bee-queesh or bee-quishay) is perhaps the most prevalent of the micro-endemic Agave karwinskii. While it is primarily a wild species, it could also be considered semi-cultivated as it is frequently transplanted and used to demarcate property lines and prevent soil erosion in the fields. This subspecies is far from uniform in appearance as there are multiple phenotypes and ecotypes, but one of its primary characteristics is its long and relatively thin tree-like stalk, often larger than the actual piña in size. While the Bicuixe piña has a moderate sugar content, they are small in comparison to other A. karwinskii varietals and have a much larger stalk to piña ratio, which can translate into slightly bitter notes, lending the distilled spirit an incredible balance of flavors. The Bicuixe, or Cuixe, as it can also be called in the area, plays such a quintessential role in local mezcal and agave spirits production that it could be considered the most archetypal and definitive expression of the tierras and culturas of Miahuatlán. The names of agaves in Oaxaca, and throughout Mexico, are regionally, culturally, and sometimes linguistically specific and should be treated as such. They are colloquial and can change from village to village and region to region. The Bicuixe found in Miahuatlan is very similar, and perhaps even identical to what is called Tobaziche in parts of the Ejutla valley, the Tobaziche of Santa Catarina Minas, as well as the Cirial from other parts of the Central Valleys.
This 200 liter batch from Maestro Mezcalero Celso Garcia Cruz is an incredible expression of the natural elements of the region, the flavors of the plant, and the nuances imparted by its maker and palenque. Bicuixe thrives in the rocky, reddish cascajo soil of Celso’s lands outside of Miahuatlán de Porfirio Díaz where these roughly 15-year- old magueyes were harvested on March 17, 2017, just days after a full moon. The practice of harvesting ripe maguey under a full moon is a traditional method employed to take advantage of the natural concentrations of the plant’s sugars, which are believed to change in accordance with moon cycles.
These 300 Bicuixe piñas were quiotudo and left caponado for over one year before harvest, meaning that the flowering stock, or quiote, was cut before inflorescence, allowing the plant’s energies to concentrate on sugar production instead of sexual reproduction. This ancient technique translates to a significantly greater yield, with more robust and profound flavors in the distilled spirit. The use of fully matured agave is rare in industrial mezcal production but is a hallmark practice of traditional mezcal and agave spirit craftsmen and women.
Jabalín | Candido García Cruz | March 2015 | 85 liters
Available through Mezcal Brothers in France
Known as Jabalín or Jabalí, Spanish for “wild boar”, this maguey has been classified as both A. Convallis and A. Kerchovei of the sub-genus Littaea. This somewhat prevalent agave is found in a few variant forms between southern Puebla and most of Oaxaca state, either in densely clustered groups or in solitary form, both wild and semi-cultivated. The pencas are a rich green color with a subtle yellow stripe down the inside of the leaf, and are equally notable for their very pronounced, jagged spines. While the Jabalín does have a high sugar content, it historically has not been an agave preferred for distillation, but instead prized for its durable fibers and use as natural fencing. The Agave convallis contains elevated amounts of sapogenins, the same natural compounds used for organic soap making, resulting in a challenging and very bubbly fermentation. This intimidating process continues into distillation with first -- and more than often -- second rounds yielding a liquid that is greenish in color and capped with a thick layer of soap-like foam. For this reason, the Jabalín is commonly triple-distilled, allowing for a crystalline appearance.
This experimental batch made by Candido García Cruz in March 2015 beautifully reflects the subtleties of the maguey and lands of Miahuatlán, Oaxaca. Candido has worked the palenque since he was a child, and in over 50 years of experience with agave, this was his first time fermenting and distilling Jabalín. The fifty piñas were harvested from rocky tierra colorada (a lighter red-colored soil than what is described as tierra roja) from one of Candido’s flatter parcels. After baking for four days with local acacia woods, the agave was rested for nearly a week before being chopped with machetes and passed through a small mechanical mill. Candido filled one, 1,000 liter sabino wood fermentation tank and dry fermented the Jabalín fibers for 2 days. River water was added and the wet fermentation process ran for eight days prior to distillation in a 300-liter capacity copper pot still. With help from the family, a total of 85 liters at 48.46 ABV was produced, after the alcohol levels were adjusted with shishe, the first round of distillate, that fell between 30-45% ABV. After some local and auto-consumption, Neta was able to acquire the remaining amount for this special 69-liter bottling destined for France.