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David Driscoll writes about his recent agave spirits trip

June 3, 2014

agaveTravel through Mexico’s backcountry with K&L Wine Merchant’s spirits writer David Driscoll as he recounts his recent visit to the distilleries producing Haas Brothers’ various agave spirit products.

Just a few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to spend some time in Mexico visiting some of the finest producers of agave spirits and getting the chance to see their operations firsthand. I began my trip in the region of Oaxaca, a southern state that sits along the Pacific Coast just before Mexico turns into Chiapas and Guatemala. It is known for its intense, smoky, and rustic mezcals, distilled from various species of both cultivated and wild agave. I finished my trip in the state of Jalisco, a northern state and the home of tequila, the world-renowned spirit distilled from the prized agave azul, or blue agave. While both mezcal and tequila are distilled from agave, and are the product of one country, they couldn’t be more different in their flavors. Much like Cognac versus Armagnac, or Scotch versus bourbon, the refined flavors of tequila and the metropolitan feel of Guadalajara stand in stark contrast to the bucolic, rugged landscape of Oaxaca and its indigenous culture, much of which is still untapped and unchanged.

Passion for mezcal at real de Mina
I was on this trip with Jake Lustig and his partner Jose Espinoza, the guys behind the ArteNOM tequilas and a number of different mezcals from Oaxaca. Jake Lustig grew up dividing his time between his mother, who moved to Oaxaca City, and his father in the Bay Area. Thirty years later, after spending many a summer meandering through the eclectic and colorful streets, he is a knowledgeable tour guide, with a wealth of information about the many sights and sounds happening around the area. We began our adventure by heading south of Oaxaca de Juárez to Santa Catarina Minas — literally translated: the mines of St. Catherine. There was once a large silver and nickel business operating deep underneath the terrain of the montañas, but today it’s mostly just a maze of empty tunnels…

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