Mezcal Vago - The Oaxacan Sweetheart
by Greg Rutkowski
Like any other mezcal, Mezcal Vago has found its place in people’s hearts. It has a great history behind it and its production. In this article, you'll find the different types of Mezcal Vago that can turn you up with just a single sip, as well as where to find them.
Whenever you go to Mexico, you will never miss Mezcal Vago in the Mezcalerias. This mezcal is very popular in Oaxaca and the neighborhood and it depicts the Mexican culture in taste, flavor and art.
So, before we go any further, how did it all begin?
History of Mezcal Vago
The introduction of Mezcal Vago dates back to 1994 when the co-founder, Judah Emanuel Kuper, and his friend, Dylan Sloan, visited Oaxaca. At first, Kuper did not find the mezcals in Oaxaca very impressive, but years later, he started admiring the culture behind the mezcals. Later on, he and his friend opened up a bar on the beach of an island in Puerto Escondido. It was then that they started producing Mezcal Vago, a collection of mezcals that has become part of the growing portfolio of Samson and Surrey. During this period, Kuper also met Valentina, whom he made his wife. His love for her developed alongside his passion for Mezcal Vago. For generations, Valentina’s family has been making the Mezcal, and the art and production process plays a significant role in this connoisseur mezcal.
The different types of Mezcal Vago come about as a result of the differences in production processes. Although most of the techniques are the same, some are specific for different mezcal types.
The production process of Mezcal Vago utilizes 100% natural agricultural techniques, which have been passed down from one generation to another. The Mezcal harvests cultivated and wild agave, which the master mezcaleros select for peak maturity. The maturity of the agave plants takes around 15 to 20, and after harvesting, the team plants three agaves for every harvested one. They also plant more agave varieties than they harvested to grow and scale their production. This approach has been very effective for the future projects of the Mezcal as well as the environmental impact.
After harvesting, the production team roasts the hearts or starch-rich pinas underground for around 3 to 5 days. This period allows the starches to break down into fermentable sugars.
After roasting and cooling the roasted agave, the mezcaleros ferment the agave inside wooden tanks. They add water and use ambient yeast to convert the sugars into alcohol.
The crushing process involves the use of a stone wheel (tahona) or wooden mallets (mezos)—the mezcaleros crush the agave fibers, which release the sugars inside.
Following the traditions and arts of their ancestors, the mezcaleros distill the fermented agaves twice, either in clay Filipino stills or copper alembic stills. This results to the artisanal mezcals.
Every label on the bottles of Mezcal Vago justifies the commitment of the mezcaleros. The labels have all the information concerning the Mezcal. Such information includes the producers, the pueblo, the agaves, the batch sizes, the ages of the mezcals, and the distillation dates. However, all brands of Mezcal Vago are young (Joven).
The bottles also show Vago’s commitment to sustainability, which is crucial to Mezcal’s future. The labels will also show you that the Mezcal constitutes 100% recycled agave.
Types of Mezcal Vago
Mezcal Vago Espadin by Joel Barriga Aragon
Don Joel Barriga produces mezcal in Tapanla, Oaxaca at his ranch. The climate of the area is arid and is similar to that of Aquilino. The mezcalero makes narrow cuts and removes large portions of colas during the production. As a result, they use small portions of the mixture together with distilled water to bring down their Mezcal to bottling proof. This Mezcal is best enjoyed in cocktails like Sangrita and Paloma.
Style: Funky and Spicy
Aroma: pineapple soda, lemon balm, and camphor
Flavor: plum, peppered citrus, and green apple
Bottom Line: A piquant aroma that leads to a silky and fruity palate in the artisanal Mezcal
Mezcal Vago Espadin by Emigdio Jarquin Ramrez
The production of Mezcal Vago Espadin of mezcalero Emigdio Jarquin Ramirez takes place in Miahuatlan, Oaxaca. The agave Espadin that produces this Mezcal undergoes distillation in copper refrescadera stills after crushing by the tahona. The stills in the refrescador technique are very similar to copper alembic stills but with stainless steel cylinders surrounding them. Emigdio is very popular throughout the Miahuatlan region, following his expertise in distillation. His mezcals are of a very high standard in the entire area, and every batch of the spirit varies slightly. You can enjoy this amazing Mezcal neat, on the rocks and in cocktails like Sangrita and Paloma.
Style: Smoky and Funky
Aroma: pancetta, mint, smoked mango, and hazelnut
Flavor: hints of black olives and coffee
Bottom Line: A satisfying and savory mezcal with flavors of big meat
Mezcal Vago Ensamble by Tío Rey
The agave fields and palenque of Tío Rey or Salomón Rey Rodriguez lie in the mezcal region of Sola de Vega. This region is very famous for its agave Tobala, and its distillations exclusively involve the use of Olla de Barro (clay pots). The spring water flowing through Tio Rey has been essential in the production of the Mezcal, and it also plays a part in its fantastic flavor. The cool climate and mineral-rich soils in the region are perfect for the growth of different agave varieties. Due to this reason, Sola de Vega is famous for having the most diverse agaves in Oaxaca and the entire world.
Tio Rey cultivates more than 15 agave varieties which include Arroqueño, Coyote, Espadín, Tobalá, Mexicano, Barril Madre Cuixe and Sierra Negra. The production of the Mezcal utilizes the use of Olla de Barro techniques, and every batch of Ensamble en Barro is unique in its way. However, they generally are rich, earthy, and full-bodied, and the clay and mineral tones justify the production style. Mezcal Vago often uses this Mezcal as tasting flights that accent both Elote and Espadin. You can either enjoy Mezcal Vago on rocks, with some drops of water or in cocktails such as Sangrita and Paloma.
Style: Spicy and Rich
Aroma: salted caramel, roasted peanuts, mulberry, raisins, corn husk, and leather
Flavor: salted caramel, roasted peanuts, corn husk, raisins, mulberry, and leather
Bottom Line: A somewhat nutty and vinous mezcal.
Mezcal Elote By Aquilino Garcia Lopez
Aquilino is the co-founder of Judah Kuper’s father-in-law. The connection between the family alongside Aquilino’s exquisite Mezcal inspired them to come up with Mezcal Vago. He had commercially produced mezcals back then before the introduction of Mezcal Vago and later on worked exclusively on making Vago. Every batch of the Mezcal undergoes fermentation for about 6 to 7 days, depending on the temperatures during the fermentation period. Unlike the other Mezcaleros’ techniques, Aquilino distills the fermented mash even before all the sugars have been fermented. He uses a copper still, which weighs 250 liters, and he makes the cuts or separations by taste and smell. His heads vary between 30% and 70% AVB, while the tails vary between 15% and 30% AVB. You can enjoy Mezcal Elote either on rocks, neat, or in cocktails like Sangrita and Paloma.
Style: Fruity, Complex, Spicy, and Rich
Aroma: ripe papaya, pineapple, kiwi, mesquite honey, and sweet pea blossoms
Flavor: allspice, curry, ripe banana, cumin, and peppercorns
Bottom Line: A silky and spicy mixture of flavors with a lot of complexities
Why Choose Mezcal Vago
The natural preparation of each of the expressions of Mezcal Vago in the traditional palenques involves no additives. Therefore, the Mezcal exhibits all its characteristics from the artisanal production process. You would want to try out the drink whenever you are in Oaxaca.