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Madre Mezcal: Kindred Spirits - Ultra-Pure Mezcal from the Oaxacan Highlands…

Madre Mezcal: Kindred Spirits - Ultra-Pure Mezcal from the Oaxacan Highlands…

Have you heard the one about the foreigner who went to Mexico and ‘discovered’ Mezcal? Probably, and more than once. Which is why Chris Stephenson is a bit put out. He felt that no sooner had Madre taken off in the United States, much of the narrative around the spirit focussed the story on himself and his co-founders. He responded by printing the name of the producer of Madre’s principal Mezcal, Ensamble, on its front label.

Jose Ines Garcia Morales and his family have made Mezcal in their beautiful valley outside San Dionisio, Oaxaca, for generations. He is the nephew of Alberto ‘Beto’ Morales, of the respected Wahaka palenque, and his small operation is the definition of an artisanal craft distillery. Jose’s father and brothers lift and cut the agaves, his mother blesses the agave hearts before roasting, his wife plants new agaves on the land, and an extended group of uncles and cousins oversee the hours of distillation.

Drawing on the work of his father and grandfather before him, his palenque is certified Artesanal, meaning agave piñas are traditionally roasted in fire pits for up to five days and crushed using a horse-drawn tahona (stone wheel). Fermentation occurs outside in tinas (or oak vats) relying only on the microbe-rich airborne yeasts. The final process is double-distillation in two small wood-fired, heirloom copper stills.

When Madre first met Jose Morales, this tiny distillery could only manage 1,000 litres of Mezcal per day, and right off the bat, the mezcalero made it clear that he would only work with Madre if they were in it for the long term. “They wanted us to know what went into the Mezcal and how it was made”, explains Madre, “to build a deep understanding of the traditions of the region and the family.”

Almost immediately, the parties found common ground. Both believed that Mezcal’s signature smokiness, which comes from roasting the agave heart in rock-lined pits before fermentation, could obscure the plant’s vibrant, site-driven qualities. To this end, the Morales palenque does not allow the thick smoke from the roasting to infiltrate the fermentation and distillation processes, which take place on different days. 

This is one reason a Madre Mezcal tastes so clean and pure: it shows great respect for its raw ingredient's diverse and complex weave of mineral, floral and herbal flavours. Another is the high percentage of Cuishe used (in the Ensamble); a slow-growing, semi-wild agave that, while hard to work with, brings crispness and piquant savour to balance the intensity of the sweeter Espadin agave.

Some have termed Madre’s Mezcals as ‘Gateway’, in that their spirits are not defined by that often-polarising blanket of smokiness that dominates at the market’s entry-level. This is not something that Madre has shied away from. While smoke will always be part of the story, they want Madre to inspire a new generation of Mezcal drinkers while at the same time appealing to experienced Mezcal palates. And on both fronts, they are succeeding.

The combination of the puritan style, the qualities of the spirit and the inspired branding (by Austin-based design studio, Land) have proven to be explosive; despite being independently distributed, Madre has shot up to become the fastest-growing Mezcal brand in the US.

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