July 27, 2016

Mezcal Vago Part II - Tio Rey

Mezcal Month continues here on SmokyBeast with part two of Jake Cahill's piece on Mezcal Vago...  (we'll be back to whiskey in August!)

Alright Alright Alright. Next up for this lovely month of Mezcal madness we're continuing with the imports from Mezcal Vago. Last week we met their original mezcalero Aquilino Garcia Lopez. Today we get to meet another of Vago's sources for their excellent mezcal, Tio Rey.

Maestro Mezcalero Salomon Rey Rodriguez 
(Tio Rey)

Photo by Joanna Pinnero

Tio Rey is doing things in the most old school of ways. He is located in the region of Sola de Vega where almost all of the Mezcal is distilled on “Olla de Barro” clay pot stills. The region itself also sits at just under 5,000 ft above sea level and is quite remote. Tio Rey's family can trace its mezcal lineage back hundreds if not a thousand years. Way up in the mountains, Rey cultivates over 15 different types of agave. Which is easier than it may sound since Sola de Vega has the most agave diversity in the world! 

Photo by Joanna Pinnero


Tio Rey's palenque is on his ranch where he lives with his family. He produces solely for Mezcal Vago (he had never before produced mezcal commercially). He makes for them a Tobala en Barro and his most famous distillate the Ensamble en Barro. Ensamble means that there are numerous types of agave in the spirit. A blend if you will. Tio Rey's batch sizes are always super small. The largest I have seen to date is around four hundred liters and the smallest was only sixty-eight liters!

All agave is one hundred percent hand harvested and dragged down to the Palenque. It's cut into pieces by axe and machete and roasted together, fermented together and distilled together for his field blends, he does not blend batches post-fermentation. The agave is roasted for only two to three days. Roasted agave is ground by hand with wooden mallets/sledgehammers. It's literally put one piece at a time on a wooden platform and pounded down by wooden hammers. I guess they feel that a donkey-pulled stone wheel is just too high tech.

Photo by Joanna Pinnero

The agave juice is fermented in one of his four vats. One of which is almost 100 years old and was carved out of one solid tree trunk from a pine tree into the shape of a giant agave filled canoe. Crazy!! He distills in a series of clay pots that hold only 45 liters each. Just for perspective, from my understanding this whole process takes about 4 times the amount of time and work as it would if he had a stone ground Tehona or if he used copper pots.

Photo by Joanna Pinnero


Tio Rey never adds a drop of water to his mezcals and all are filtered through the same sediment system as Anqilinos just before bottling. Ok so now we know how much incredibly hard work goes into these mezcals. And truly I am blown away by the tradition and lineage of both these producers.

Photo by Joanna Pinnero

Ensamble en Barro
Agave: 58% Espadin 18% Mexicano 15% Coyote 9% Arroqueno  ABV: 51.4%

Nose: Again, go for a more open glass if you can. I am drinking out of my Hicara now for this one because it was too intense out of a glencairn. Everything about this just smells more full bodies and much dirtier. In a good way. Pine needles and mushrooms with a damp smoky earth in the background. Mole chocolate and orange belle peppers. Its really interesting on the nose with a lot happening here. Smoke is subtle and deep.

Palate: There’s that burn again. Similar to the espadin this ABV is just a bit distracting at first. Once that clears out though there is a lot of fun stuff going on here. Super earthy and quite viscous. Charred cinnamon and chestnuts. Acorn squash on a grill. Blue corn tortilla and mushrooms. Cured smoked meat. Really wild stuff here.

Finish: After the burn fades, the earthiness just clings all over your palate and hangs out for quite a while. My taste buds are trying to catch their breath from the high proof but at the same time want more earthy mezcal goodness. Like when a cigar gets too damp at the end of a long smoke.

Verdict

This Ensamble is really unique. You can get all the earthiness and texture and oil from the long and arduous production process, but again its just too over powered by the proof. It abuses and pleases the palate at the same time. Like the Ike and Tina of mezcal. I love that this is such a break from the fruity and smoky sweet mezcals though. The earthiness and full bodied nature make this more of a food mezcal in my mind. Or a mezcal for a cold wet night. But if I had to drink this at proof, I might not buy another bottle. After proofing it down to 47% abv though, this becomes a much more tame beast and a really solid pour.

For both of these the abv was just too high for my liking and really got in the way of the enjoyability of them. And although I assume the gentlemen who made them would disagree with me adding water, I just cant deny the fact that bringing these down a few degrees really helped pull them together. I have had delicious high octane Mezcal that doesn't need a damn thing except my glass. These two were not in that league. However maybe this works in our favor. For the price of one bottle, we can essentially get 1 and a half bottles by proofing it down to 47 each time. There’s always a sliver lining. Love what the folks at Vago are doing and really respect their process, labor and dedication to tradition. I will certainly be revisiting these over time and exploring the rest of their line, although maybe I'll find a pour at a bar before buying a bottle in the future. It may not be what I want to reach for every night, but Vago is very good quality that should hold down at least one spot in your selection. Go for the Ensamble. Its pretty interesting. Oh and the Elote. Try the Elote. Sweet and flavorful and delicious, definitely worth the trip...


Photo by Joanna Pinnero

Till next time.

Cheers/Jake


Thanks for another awesome column, Jake!  Tune in next week as we wrap up mezcal month.

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