Eating and drinking my way through life and learning all the while

An incredible Mezcal filled trip to Oaxaca

So, I’ve serendipitously ended up in Oaxaca, pronounced Wa ha ka – I am pinching myself a bit as I don’t think I could have picked a better forced detour if I tried. Oaxaca for many drinks geeks, like myself, is on the bucket list of drinks pilgrimages and for a reason, it’s the spiritual home of Mezcal and it is incredible!

The first night I go to the one and only bar I have on my list Selva. I’m assured it makes damn fine cocktails, and it sure as hell does. The bartender there is awesome, ignoring my terrible Spanish and gently speaking slow Spanish to me, which I understand for the most part. I truly believe as long as you have the name of one good bar in a city, the rest will figure itself out when you arrive, which is just as well as I did very little planning for this trip.

I start with the eponymous house special, Selva, a fresh, vibrant, refreshing Mezcal cocktail made using Ancho Reyes verde, agave honey, lemon, bitter juniper and Hoja Santa – a green leaf from the region which imparts a special character. And finish up the with Ocotlán – named after the Mexican state which grows an abundance of incredibly tasty treats, it’s sort of a twist on a martini – with Mezcal, elderflower liquer, dry vermouth and espagueti de nopal – a prickly pear cactus, there are so many new flavours and ingredients I discover on this trip – I love it.

I leave the bar with a choice selection of food and drink tips plugged into my phone, courtesy of my new bartender friend, and a smile on my face.

While I’m here I decided to take full advantage and get myself a proper education in mezcal. In Situ Mezcalería seems like a good place to start and came highly recommended.

The menu is split into different species of agave, different distillation methods etc. At this point I just don’t know enough to make an informed decision there are over 180 options here and I’m pretty overwhelmed by choice. Whilst I’m fairly well-versed in whisky, gin, tequila, rum etc – I’ve only ever really enjoyed Mezcal in a cocktail and occasionally neat before and have never done any comparative mezcal tastings, which for me is the only way to really get your head around a spirit and find out what you like.

I explain my conundrum, and my genuine interest in learning more and I’m recommended to start with a degustación, a tasting. This incredible lady takes me through three different mezcals in Spanish, and it’s like Mezcal training and Spanish class in one. I’m impressed by the variety and that I understand 95% of what’s being said, I can only hope one day to be able to say 95% of the things I’m thinking in Spanish.

I leave with a better understanding of Mezcal and a promise to come back for more tutored tastings and by the end of the week I will know a lot more.

When I head back for the third time for a tasting of different expressions and varieties of Mezcal – I explain I want to learn even more and visit agave fields, I’m given a card to the man that can help me with all of that.

My days involve early work calls, I’m still mostly on European time, but an early start allows for an earlier finish so I’m fine with that. I start around 6am and finish up my day around 4pm just in time for street tacos, a quick siestita and time to explore explore.

Some of my fav spots included the Mercado 20 de Noviembre – where I got massively upsold on chiles, moles and coffee – which I don’t regret in the slightest – a fun Tiki bar – Aloha Oaxaca and Boulenc – a cool bakery, breakfast, brunch and pizza spot that bakes its own artisanal bread and is set in a beautiful courtyard.

I have loved Mexico ever since I first came here years ago on a tequila-related work trip. Since I’ve started learning Spanish I’ve dreamed of coming back and at one point had planned a 3 month trip here, as a back-up plan if our Spanish residency didn’t work out.

I just knew coming here with some language skills would be a game changing experience and I couldn’t wait to try out my Castellan Spanish in Mexico. Truth be told, I’m more than a little rusty after 5 months away from Spain, not speaking Spanish much aside from my weekly conversation class.

But I absolutely would not have been able to navigate or negotiate the experiences I did without a certain degree of language skills.

The highlight of Oaxaca stay was visiting Sr Israel Perez at Son de La Luna – I can’t overstate how amazing this man is, he is a real deal industry legend mezcalero maestro.

I spend a whole afternoon with him at Son de la Luna, visiting the agave fields, seeing firsthand the different species of agave all growing side by side in the field, touring this artesanal distillery, interviewing him in Spanish, and having the most phenomenal tasting, before just sitting back and watching as friends and businesses associates dropped by to say hello and the afternoon developed.

I’ll go into more detail on him in a future post, after I’ve finished transcribing my interview with him in, it might take me a while but trust me it’ll be worth it, this dude has some incredible stories and incredible mezcals.

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