July 20, 2016

Mezcal Vago Part 1 - Mezcalero Aquilino Garcia Lopez

We hope you're enjoying Mezcal Month here on SmokyBeast. Here's part one of another great piece from our resident mezcal maniac Jake Cahill!
Mezcal, real, true and traditional mezcal, is not something you can talk about without mentioning where it comes from, the people who make it, and how it makes its way into our hands. Vago is a producer that should be quite familiar to Mezcal fans here in New York and quite a few other states in the country. Although the production for these guys is quite small, their reach is long and impactful.

Vago has, for lack of a more eloquent phrase, so much cool shit about them. Now we aren’t even talking about the mezcals themselves yet. I am talking about everything from how they were started as a brand, the two main palenque they work with and how long they have been doing this, how old school their operation is and all the way down to the paper they use on their labels. Too much to cover but I’ll start with a quick blurb about how the brand was started. Then go into the Mezcaleros and their operations and finally the tasting notes and verdict on a few of their most well known Mezcals.

Mezcal Vago

It all starts with a lovely age old story of two gringos wondering around Oaxaca looking for a good time. Gringo #2 gets handed a gasoline can full of Mezcal randomly in the street! He drinks it and loves it! Gringo ends up in a hospital somehow years later (unrelated to Mezcal). Gets fixed up by a beautiful local girl who is very much not a gringo. Gringo falls in love with her at first sight. Gringo gets his ass kicked for her love because she was vowed to another. She falls in love with the Gringo. Gringo goes to meet the Family! Fears for his life meeting her father. Father turns out to be an amazing and well respected distiller of Mezcal! Gringo falls in love with mezcal as well as his new bride and decides that the world should taste how good his distillate is! Mezcal Vago is born and a Gringo becomes a loved part of the family. (This is very condensed and possible slight miscalculations but I was told the story once and had a lot of mezcal when it was told to me so…)

All palenque photos courtesy of Mezcal Vago

Maestro Mezcalero Aquilino Garcia Lopez

At current time there are 2 Mezcaleros producing for Mezcal Vago and each has a very very different style and process. Aquilino is the father from the story above. He has had mezcal in his life since birth. And so has over 5 generations of his family. His great great grandfather started distilling Mezcal in the Mid 19th Century and has passed that tradition down to every generation since. He produces most of the mezcal in the Vago range including the Espadin, Mexicano, Cuixe and the Elote (which is a Maize infused mezcal, which is delicious). His Palenque is located on his ranch where he and his family live. He and his son Mateo do pretty much all of the work themselves. From the flowering and mating process of the agave, to the cultivation and care of the plants as they mature all way up to harvest time and production. 

They are located in Candelaria Yegole (same area as Rey Campero from last week), so its very fun to see just how different the hands of the Mezcalero influence final product if you do a side by side of these two producers. Aquilino and Vago are very aware of the footprint they have on the earth so they re-plant agave and nursery as often as possible and make sure nothing goes to waste. The labels on the bottles are actually made from left over agave mash which they boil and mash together and dry out into sheets of rough paper. Pretty darn resourceful! 

Mezcal Vago ESPADIN

Aquilino's Espadin is harvested between 7-12 yrs old. It's dug up and shorn with a machete, and hand cut into quarters before being roasted in an earthen pit for 3-5 days. Once roasted, it's stone ground. Fermentation happens in old 1200 liter pine vats for about a week as it is left to ferment spontaneously.  Aquilino distills the mash before it has fermented fully dry. So there is a much higher sugar content in his mash when it goes into the still.  Finally it's distilled twice on tiny copper pot stills. All the cuts are made by smell and taste. All of Aquilino’s mezcal goes through a simple sediment filtration through a tubular cellulose filter before bottling. This is the only thing that happens to the mezcal between distillation and bottling.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Holy Crap. Ok folks if you have this in a glencairn glass, do not dig your nose in too deep. Transfer this one over to a rocks glass if you can so it can really open up and not focus the aromas. The alcohol is very intense. Once its opened up though, this is really fun to smell. Roasted marshmallows, sweet potato, citrus and gunpowder with some sweet grilled pineapple coming through and just a bit of burnt rubber in the background.

Palate: Again the alcohol is super intense and dominates the first sip or two. Once my palate (and apparently thigh high skirt) adjusts, the flavors start to shine through a bit. Sweet potato comes back with the addition of anise and vanilla. There is a slight herbal character to it like pine or sage. And a distinct caramel note.

Finish: Burn baby burn! It leaves you breathing out through your mouth like you just took a bite of food that was a little to hot but you didn’t want to spit it out in front of your date. When this dissipates however there is a really nice texture. Like burn ointment after you forget to use an oven mitt. Its soothing and cooling almost minty or aloe which is needed after all that proof.


I usually do pretty well with high proof stuff. This is by no means the highest proof Mezcal I have had and the others were beauteous. This is a bit clumsy for me and just too overwhelming at its proof. I want to like it so badly out of the bottle but I just don’t. The alcohol is too distracting from all the nice flavors trying to sneak past the burn. HOWEVER! I have never put water in my mezcal before. But I did with this guy and had a second go round at it. The water helped immensely with my enjoyment. I know they wouldn’t do it and I hate to even insult them the slightest bit. But proofing this down to about 47-48% really made this much better for me. All of the flavors were free of their chains and there is a wonderfully subtle oiliness to it that I didn’t feel at full proof. The smoke is soft and sweet and really tasty. So basically, out of the bottle this Espadin is high octane and a bit distracting. But a little bit of water and this became a very enjoyable mezcal that I will have again. Not my favorite but very good. Each batch is different too so I will have to try another one down the line and report back.


Tune in next week for Mezcal Vago part II - Tio Rey!

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