Food & Drink

Mezcal’s Old Soul

Ingredients, patience, and age-old technique combine for a Mexican tradition
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Felipe Cortés, a longtime maestro mezcalero, harvests an agave, or maguey, plant in the first step of an age-old process.

photo: Jody Horton

Some mezcaleros pound the roasted maguey with a wooden mallet to loosen the caramelized fivers before fermentation.

photo: Jody Horton

Mezcal’s bubbles, or “pearls,” bespeak quality.

photo: Jody Horton

Felipe and Ageo Cortés search for a ripe maguey.

photo: Jody Horton

Oaxaca’s Santo Domingo monastery.

photo: Jody Horton

Ramón Cruz Garcia and sons.

photo: Jody Horton

Oxen turn a millstone.

photo: Jody Horton

Residue from a still.

photo: Jody Horton

Mezcaloteca co-founder Marco Ochoa.

photo: Jody Horton

Ramón Cruz Garcia.

photo: Jody Horton

Mezcaloteca’s labels speak volumes.

photo: Jody Horton

Maguey hearts cool after roasting.

photo: Jody Horton

Mezcalero Victor Ramos and his wife, Tilde.

photo: Jody Horton

Pit-roasted maguey hearts.

photo: Jody Horton

Felipe Cortés tests the level of fermentation by smelling the mash.

photo: Jody Horton

Some Mezcaleros cultivate their own mezcal plants, to ensure future supply.

photo: Jody Horton

Harvesting the maguey plants.

photo: Jody Horton

A copper still cap is sealed with cloth strips soaked in mud and stringy agave pulp, called bagazo.

photo: Jody Horton

Long copper pipes slant down from each still cap to a central basin.

photo: Jody Horton

After completing the first distillation, it will be distilled again for an even more pure and high-alcohol spirit.

photo: Jody Horton

Tasting the product.

photo: Jody Horton