Banhez Mezcal: Where's It From And What Is It Like?
by Ellie Balderson
This article talks about Banhez mezcal in depth. Starting from who made it and why.
Additionally, we cover the whole production process and look at the types of mezcal produced.
In the village of San Miguel Ejutla, the central valley of Oaxaca, we have the Banhez Cooperative owned by thirty-six families and it’s ever-growing.
The mezcalero families are farmers and they work together to make award-winning mezcal, like their ancestors have done for generations.
So, what is the story behind Banhez mezcal?
The Story Behind Mezcal Banhez
Javier Perez was born and raised in Oaxaca and he saw the hardship that his fellow family members were going through while making mezcal. It was part of their heritage to make mezcal but life was difficult and unsustainable, leaving the family with no choice but to separate.
He knew first hand what it felt like to have to leave a family behind to look for work, he came up with an idea to keep the hardworking families together and help them work towards achieving a common goal.
His mother had started an agave nursery with some of her neighbours. She taught Javier exactly how to grow and nurture the plants. His mother and brother passed on not so long after that, but he kept going with the work the family had started.
He was elected as the president of the National Mezcal Council in 2004, and afterward, he received a federal fund to build nurseries and start distilleries around Ejutla. He established the Oaxaca Mezcal Maguey Council which is a platform for the local mezcaleros and industry members to organize.
His family inspired him to work hard, and his work changed the tradition of making mezcal into a community. A community committed to the traditional craft of mezcal making and supporting one another. Banhez Cooperative producers and farmers were unified by Javier and went ahead to form Unión Productores de Agropecuarios del Distrito de Ejutla de Crespo (UPADEC) run by his son Luis.
Back in the days, the life of a mezcalero meant having inconsistent work, an uncertain future, and low wages. The 36 families have changed this and continue to evolve the industry with the help of the Banhez Cooperative.
Generations of Traditions
We cannot tell the story of mezcal without mentioning agave, or maguey as it is also known. There have never been accurate answers on when the production of mezcal began, but evidence suggests that humans started using agave as far as 11,000 years ago. As things progressed, people began growing it in various regions by several native groups. They include Mixtec, Aztec, Zapotec, and many more.
The agave went on to be an important aspect of daily life, used in making medicine, clothes, and tools. It was highly regarded in ancient Mesoamerica. The maguey was personified to be Mayahuel, the goddess of nourishment and fertility.
In Oaxaca, communities often lived in isolation from each other because of the rugged landscapes, allowing for different dialects to emerge, traditions, and methods of making mezcal. Because agave can withstand a variety of climates, its environment affects its overall taste.
The Banhez Cooperation is dedicated to using sustainable techniques to make mezcal. The techniques are artisanal, utilising a horse-ulled tahona, natural fermantation, earthen wood-fired ovens and small-batch distillation.
The Production Process
It starts with just a small seed. The families responsible for plating agave have known the land for centuries and take great caution to ensure that the fields are grown organically and naturally. Wild plants, insects, birds, and bats are encouraged to populate the fields by this semi-cultivated method. The result is healthy crops with a unique flavor.
An agave can only mature once in its lifetime. When harvesting the plant, the Mescaleros first cut the quiote. They then wait and later trim the outer leaves and below the plant’s heart, the piña.
The piñas are split and roasted in earthen pots with river stones for the lining. The piñas are loaded in after the stones have been heated by wood-fire, covered with shredded dried agave obtained from the last harvests, and roasted for as long as three to seven days depending on the humidity and temperature and the desired flavor outcome.
The piñas are chopped into smaller pieces after they have been cooled and placed into a tahona. A horse or donkey pulls the giant stone wheel to crush the piñas. This is to prepare them for fermentation afterward.
They break down the piñas into a mash and move the agave shreds to an open-air wooden fermentation tanks. They are covered in water and left for approximately one week to rest. Microbes and wild yeast form from the agave plant during this time. The surrounding palenque and wooden vessel will convert the natural sugars into alcohol and add some extra flavor.
After the fermentation process is complete, the liquid and mash are filtered and refined in the wood-fired copper alembics. The still often used in Ejutla are fitted with a refrescador.
This kind of still design constitutes a large pot that surrounds the head of the still and copper plates on the inside. Water is continuously added to the pot. The unique configuration allows for the happy hour distillation which is two distillations in one eight-hour pass and makes a mezcal light in smoke and filled with vibrant flavors.
They bottle and label the mezcal by hand. Every hand that takes part in the process from caring for the agave plants to labeling the bottles- is a member of the Banhez Cooperative.
It takes a very long time for a single agave plant to mature. Therefore they have to keep on sowing more agave plants to harvest and keep the cycle going. Growing, harvesting, roasting, crushing, fermenting, distilling, bottling, and drinking!
Types of Mezcal Banhez
This comprises 90% espadin and 10% barril agaves. You will get a delightful, fruity, and floral taste from this mezcal. If it is your first time having a taste of mezcal then the Ensemble will be a good start.
Its scarcity and small size have made it one of the most revered agaves. It takes 30 years for tobala to be fully grown. Banhez Tobalá is a characteristic of smooth flavors and an intense aroma. The tasting notes consist of fresh green herbs, leather, and green mango.
Ancestral vs Artesanal
It comprises 90% espadin and 10% barill. It is an enjoyable mild, floral, and fruity mezcal good for those tasting mezcal for the first time and wonderful for cocktail innovation.
Ancestral Banhez Mezcal
Ancestral mezcal is agave cooked in an opening in the ground over firewood. Crushed by a tahona or hand. Agave fiber can be used sometimes to ferment it in a wide range of receptacle types. They can be made of wood, be a pit in the ground, clay or brick, or animal skin.
Banhez Mezcal Artesanal
This is a combination of espadin and barril agaves, which forms a mezcal with a mild, floral, and fruity pineapple taste. A new kind of experiment for the adventurous ones.
Banhez Mezcal: Give It A Try
Banhez mezcal is a great Mexican drink that you will have a good time drinking. It is made by a dedicated team to ensure that it is of the best quality.
If you love traditionally made drinks then this drink from the central valley of Oaxaca may be an answer to your prayers.
To keep things even more traditional, drink your mezcal from an authentic copita. If long drinks are more your style, we have some beautiful cocktail glasses to choose from, and impressive barware to help you make wonderful mezcal cocktails.