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  1. Zachary Mazi at |

    Dang, I am not sure if my original comment posted. We found yet another agave distillate last night at Lanie Bayless’ Bar Sótano in Chicago. It is a beverage made in Chiapas from a mash of roasted agave and sugercane, which is then distilled. The resulting liquor has a full-bodied mouthfeel and is quite lovely. Here is a link to the bottle we tapped into last night.

    https://www.oldtowntequila.com/dantano-ancestral-blanco-comiteco/

    Reply
  2. Zachary Mazi at |

    Hi! Thank you so much for this super informational post! I have become obsessed recently with the agave distillates, and am pouring my heart into explorations both in the US and in Mexico.

    Last night, at Lanie Bayless’ Bar Sótano we were introduced to yet another version of these distillates that I did not see mentioned here, produces in Chiapas, that uses both roasted agave AND sugarcane for the mash before the distillation! The resulting liquor has a thick mouthfeel, full bodied, and slightly sweet taste, and while it is reminiscent of mezcal, it is clearly something different and special.

    Here is a link to his particular brand of this liquor:
    https://www.oldtowntequila.com/dantano-ancestral-blanco-comiteco/

    Keep it up!

    Reply
  3. Pennfield Jensen at |

    This is good information. Thank you.
    Question: Wikipedia states that Sotol grows and is being produced in Texas. Is this true, and if so, by whom?
    Hacienda is the only commercial producer of Sotol, as far as I know.
    Thoughts?

    Reply
  4. anthony goffe at |

    Dear Sir,
    Thanks for a very informative piece on the alcoholic possibilities of the Agave plant.
    In Jamaica, back in the 50’s and ’60’s, (until the advent of extrudable plastics), on our dry southern coastal plains, at least 2,000 acres of Agave Sisalana was cultivated.
    Rope and twine were the final products.
    You say there are many species of Agave that may be used in alcohol production. How would one go about determining the concentration of our local sisals in this respect ? Would it be simple process ? Any suggestions welcome.
    Sincerely,
    Anthony Goffe,
    Mandeville,
    Jamaica

    Reply
    1. David at |

      The sugar content is determined after cooking the cleaned up pinas, making a mash to break down the pina pulp using a tahona mill or a kitchen meat grinder or even a garbage disposal unit like people do for apple cider making and measuring the degree Brix of the clear filtered sugar solution. Same measurements are made for grape brandy from crushed grapes and sour mash Bourbon whisky. Whether you bake them over charcoal coals and buried under earth for smokiness or in a modern autoclave for 24-36 hours, the idea is break down the inulins and stored plant starches into soluble and fermentable sugars using prolonged heat and steam. Really the best way to get at what you want is to have access to a small autoclave and weigh your chopped pinas, autoclave them for a set amount of time and then ferment them for say 1 or 2 weeks. This can also be done using a kitchen pressure cooker or large pressure canner but don’t let it run dry of steam or risk a fire. If you know the starting degree Brix and the final Brix, you can determine the percent alcohol of your mash. This method avoids the unfermentable sugar contribution. Anything over 4- 5% ethyl alcohol is easily recoverable as a distillate with higher mash alcohol being obviously desirable from an industrial recovery perspective. Measuring the recovered alcohol with a small scale test distillation (eBay for lab glass etc) will give you an even more accurate measure of recoverable total alcohol yield as you can remove the heads and tails to approximate the real world yield. A one liter test pyrex glass apparatus with interchangeable ground glass joints is not so expensive and you can learn so much about what you are trying to sell by performing small scale test distillations many times over. Throw in a bubble plate to approximate a continuous column still or perform multiple pass distillation to approximate a simple Alembic still like used for Cognacs and Armagnacs and Mezcals.

      Now this doesn’t begin to address taste and desirability of your distlllate as you should also be aware of methanol and higher congeners that should be carefully controlled in the fermentation (some wild yeasts make very undesirable levels of methyl alcohol and fusel oils). Also these undesirable congeners and poison alcohols can be controlled by controlling the percentage of complex carbs and sugar oligosaccharides in the cooked / digested pina’s before fermentation. Commercial Tequila production brings all the modern technologies of yeast genetics and more into play with fancy stainless steel autoclaves cycling 24-7 continuously while artisanal Mezcal producers rely on years of experience and their eyes, ears and nose to create something desirable on a much smaller single batch scale. But obviously if the Agave pina has little starch inulin to contribute, there will be no alcohols to distill and recover so that is the first step to be done before you attempt to create a new masterpiece for the world to buy. A careful measurement of alcohol yield under different growing conditions and at different life stages of the Agave is the most important info on final yield of distillate and your overall cost of production. Really, that is the heart of your process and your most important trade secret besides your craft contribution to overall aroma and taste of your distilled product.

      Boom! Saved you many thousands of class fees (actually, tens of thousands as those classes are very exoensive!) at various ADI courses on craft distilling and classroom study sessions. Have you priced a brand new gleaming all polished copper still yet? Its’ the new must have accessory for the retired corporate lawyer or LBO king. Cheaper than a racing yacht but always a conversation starter. My conversation begins like this: Didja know the still is the least important part of the whole process but the most visible so always made into a big deal by new distilleries? Anyone can run a still, even moonshiners with a 3rd grade edumacation can figure it out. The important stuff all happens before you run that still and after when letting your spirits rest and mature.

      Maybe for your Jamaican Mezcal, the fermentation microbes could come from an old Dunder pit yet undiscovered and filled with magic bugs and old goat heads? Or you could investigate the Okinawan Japanese methods used to produce Imo (sweet potato) Shochu. They use various saccharifying enzymes produced by molds like Aspergillus oryzae, (called koji in Japan) to break down the plant inulins and starches. It would still involve steaming the pinas but then you would inoculate the steamed pinas with a culture of said molds or Koji and let the mold enzymes do the work for you. Saves energy costs and has much higher yield of fermentable sugars. 5 thousand year old biotechnology in action. Plus unique flavor profiles are possible with many black and white Koji cultures available. And don’t forget about the many Chinese fungal enzymes used to make all those yellow and red rice wines and distilled spirits. And don’t forget to create a real bad story involving Rastafarian myths and DanceHall groups so you spirit is on every London club bar shelf at a ridiculous price. Send me a bottle when you are in production.

      Reply
  5. M at |

    Thank you so much for the article and after reading your article I better understand the differences between different kinds of mezcal.

    Will definitely love trying different kinds of Mezcal and possibly I will be able to find a way to get Mezcal that is usually only in Mexico even though I live in America.

    Thank you again for the wonderful article and all the best to you,

    M

    Reply
  6. Marcos G at |

    Ok Guys
    I will clean up this mess ..

    Raicilla is divided in two areas, Sierra or Costa ( coast or mountain ) .. the sierra kind is MOSTLY made from Agave Maximiliana, this is actually the one referred to raicilla commonly ( maximiliana is NOT KNOWN as pata de mula, thats another variety ), Sierra Raicillas tend to be more floral and YES they are smoky, smoke doesnt necessary comes from underground cooking process, smokiness comes from wood, adobe and volcanic rocks .. the more of those ingredients present in the cooking process the more smokiness, the most fragant, balanced and flavorfull raicillas are made in the Sierra Region in my personal opinion as costa tend to be very mineral tasting.. The costa region uses a wide variety of agaves ( weve counted around 8 ) some of most importance are orejon, verde, rodacantha etc..

    THERE ARE amazing raicillas, THERE IS great branding, probably better than MOST mezcals and tequilas out there, just check out NINFA ( ninfaraicilla.com) or estancia ( estancia-raicilla.com) ..

    Cheers

    Reply
  7. […] national system to classify locally made booze, called a Denominacion de Origen. Agave spirits made outside those recognized regions, such as raicilla, sotol, and bacanora, aren’t part of the […]

  8. rosco betunada at |

    skimmed thru’ once before, um … after I came back from P.V. (axually’ Sigh-U-leeta) where I encountered Raicilla, only to then learn Tequila/Mezcal “wasn’t everything.” This was Feb. 2016 — tried to get Raicilla from local store — which they either wouldn’t or couldn’t get, but they had Sotol! the “top shelf” is the h.deCHIH ANEJO which I find to be eminently sip-able by itself, no ice, etc. so, i’ll try to find bacanora …

    Just wanted to say “thanks” for this exposition of ALL THINGS AGAVE (distilled spirits therefrom).

    Reply
    1. Douglas at |

      I’ve been bringing Raicilla home from PV for about 10 years now. First bottle was from Juan Duenos in an Adobe hut above San Sebastian del Oeste. Many of the tourist trap “tequila factories” have it if you know to ask. Last trip I picked up a bottle of Raicilla Reposado at the Botanical Gardens, first time I’ve seen it with a tax stamp on it and the most I’ve ever paid too. Also the smokiest I’ve had. There’s still plenty of Mexican moonshine available when you get off the beaten path too.

      Reply
  9. rosco betunada at |

    skimmed thru’ once before, um … after I came back from P.V. (axually’ Sigh-U-leeta) where I encountered Raicilla, only to then learn Tequila/Mezcal “wasn’t everything.” This was Feb. 2016 — tried to get Raicilla from local store — which they either wouldn’t or couldn’t get, but they had Sotol! the “top shelf” is the h.deCHIH ANEJO which I find to be eminently sip-able by itself, no ice, etc. so, i’ll try to find bacanora …

    Just wanted to say “thanks” for this exposition of ALL THINGS AGAVE (distilled spirits therefrom).

    Reply
  10. […] Mezcal, Tequila, Sotol, Bacanora, Raicilla, Pulque, and More… […]

  11. elrichiboy at |

    Most sotoles are cooked in the ground, like mezcal. The only one that I know of that’s cooked in ovens is Hacienda de Chihuahua, which is produced like tequila.

    Reply
  12. […] Mezcal PhD has a really useful article and chart of agave […]

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