Thursday, 1 June 2017

We Are All One Family

We Are All One Family

It was one of those funky, loose, freewheeling early afternoons in Mexico, in Tequila Town in 1990. The air was dusty and hot inside my hungover remains, matching the weather of the day. We were looking for something and it found us.

“What are you doing?” came across to me from a Mexican in the street. I was wandering around  and a poster in the back of a car had caught my attention with the word, “Pacifico” on it.

I recoiled in my knee-jerk defense and answered that I was doing nothing and I turned away in would-be self- preservation. My assailant persevered and invited me to his discotheque close by.  The poster in the car was about his disco. Hungover, annoyed and still suspicious I gave in as Phil Bayly – yeah, that Phil Bayly – and two other friends and I went with our guide to see his place, his discotheque.

It turned out to be a large space with a dirt floor and a great deal of it was outside. I imagined that at night in the dark, with lots to drink the place could transform into something more than what I saw before me.

From there he invited us to his ‘local’ to drink, hang out and socialize. We walked across those stone streets, under the punishing sun to the cantina where he belonged. It was immediately clear that he was a central figure, a chingón in the bar. He belonged there. Many years later I learned that the trophies decorating the place had been won by him.

Jose Luis, far right, at La Capilla Bar in 1990

What to drink in this cool place to escape the haunting hangover from the prior night’s excesses of carelessly made tequila? The drinks on offer were made with tequila and various soft drinks, refrescos. To stir the drinks the barman used the same great butcher knife he used to cut his limes. I have since over these years – returning to this refuge – seen, in the absence of a knife, a common table fork used to stir the drinks.

To escape the effects of the heat and the duress of the hangover we drank a lot. The day melted away until our new friend announced he had a football match to play. We made it across the village to the stadium, to the game. This was no ‘sand-lot’ pick-up game for casual fun. This was a proper match with uniforms and referees.

I passed out on the bench of the stadium and got lost and very frightened on my way back to the cantina, which – with the help of providence – I found. I truly believe I have led a charmed life.

I don’t know who won the match but we continued to drink, by now with abandon. How our guide and new friend ever succeeded in playing in that match remains a mystery to me to this day, to this moment. And at this moment I have lost seemingly forever the ability to ask him how he did this accomplishment; how he stepped foot, uniformed onto the pitch and played a full game having been under the influence of all the drinks we had consumed at La Capilla Cantina.

From left to right, Phil Bayly with camera, Tomas Estes, Don Javier, owner of 'La Capilla', Jannet Arellano, Jose Luis' girlfriend, Jose Luis

I have lost my ability to ask because I have lost the reference. I have lost Jose Luis Partida, the man who introduced us to the cantina which would eventually reach #16 in rankings of the 50 Best Bars in the world.  News of Jose Luis’ death reached me as an awakening I did not want, my form of denial.

He is one of those extraordinary, unsung heroes that touch those around them profoundly simply by who they are, by the way they live. He was irrepressible life itself.  He said to me numerous times that we are all one family. This I have parroted many times, taking refuge in its promise. When he came to London Bar Show to represent La Capilla Bar – because Don Javier could not make the trip – he told the crowded audience that they were all his family.

Jose Luis my brother – all of our brother – you have shown us by example the importance of believing that love is a better choice than fear. You are proof incarnate to me of my charmed life for having been blessed by knowing you.

Gracias hermano para todo.

Jose Luis making drinks at 'La Capilla', March 9, 2015

Friday, 15 July 2016

Very Old and Rare Tequilas

Very old and rare tequilas

Sergio Mendoza at the distillery ‘Tequileña’

On a recent trip to Tequila town, I had the grand experience to try some very old, rare tequilas at my friend’s family’s distillery. Sergio Mendoza works with his family on the brand Fuenteseca. This is made at their distillery, ‘Tequileña’, [NOM 1146] in the town of Tequila. The family have been running the distillery since 1980 and have been ‘agaveros’, agave farmers for 5 generations. Enrique Fonseca, Sergio’s uncle is the Master Distiller and Blender.

The barrels used for ageing are French Limousin, Nevers, Slovak (primarily used barrels from Burgundy, Cognac/Armagnac, and other varieties of wines) and small percentages of White American Oak.

I began my tasting with their tequila just off the still at 55% abv:  

Nose: tropical yellow fruits, acetone [this is good by the way],cereal [agave?] = wood fibers?, green papaya, alcohol, lily flower, gardenia

Palate: the same as the nose with the flowers coming at the end

Next I tried their 9 year, 43% tequila:

Nose: sherry, old wood, red stewed fruit, nutmeg, caramel, ripe tropical fruit

Palate: wood, fruit, dry

The next was their 12 year, 45%:

Nose: vanilla, creme caramel, dried coconut

Palate: creamy, sharp, bright fruits, finishes dry with spice [pepper], fruit at end is deeper

Next was an 18 year, 45%:

Lighter in color than the 12 year old

Nose: lower, more closed than the 12 year old, water like minerality, cedar, vegetable perfume

Palate: light, fine, surprisingly fresh for its age, good integration of alcohol, burnt orange zest

The following are comments from Sergio to me.

Fuenteseca is the root word from where our last name, Fonseca, originates. The tequilas you tasted are the oldest tequilas ever to be bottled. Some of them predate the CRT regulation for ageing. Each batch is unique in the sense that they come from a single harvest/vintage, that is, they are not blended from different vintages, but everything in each bottle comes from a single harvest. That said, there might always be new batches of the Fuenteseca 9 Year, but they will come from other harvests, so the actual year of harvest, more so than the age, is the most important information on the label.

The tequilas you tried are 
- 9 year - Cosecha 2003
- 12 year - Cosecha 2001
- 18 Year - Cosecha 1995 

Additionally we have a 
- 7 year - Cosecha 2005
- 15 year - Cosecha 1998 (my favorite)
- 21 year - Cosecha 1993

Thank you my friend Sergio. Anybody interested in these tequilas can contact Sergio directly at:

A Fun Story I Heard at Ocho's 8th Birthday Party in London

A Fun Story I Heard at Ocho's 8th Birthday Party in London

Mario, Victoria and Tomas at Ocho's 8th Birthday Party in London

'The event was amazing, all the drinks were beautiful, my personal favourite was Jesse's drink, my beautiful girlfriend Victoria (I have found a tequila loving woman at last) loved Andrea's cocktail but we had fun all night.

You asked me to send you a picture of us three and include the story about my first Ocho experience I told you about, so here it is:

My friend Louis who knows how much I love good tequila bought me my first bottle of Ocho blanco for my 27th bday (it will have been 4 years in July). Because it was a great gift, I decided to keep it for a special occasion. Nearly a year later, at the end of May I was facing my final criminal law exam at the university. Because of my bad planning, I was completely unprepared the day before the exam and I made a decision not to go. My uni mates were trying to convince me all day to change my mind and give it a go, since it was the last exam and my summer could start in less than 24 hours, but every time I tried to open the book and study, nothing was going in since I was too stressed and tired. Around midnight, I was very disappointed with myself, feeling down about the fact that I'll have to wait another two months for the retakes so I decided to open my Ocho. I had a few drinks in my bed, feeling sorry for myself when the drink (which was beautiful by the way) kicked in and I started feeling a lot more relaxed. I decided to open the book again and it didn't feel so difficult anymore. So after I posted a few selfies of me doing shots of tequila whilst studying, I continued to read and drink until 8am. Some 300 pages later and nearly a whole bottle of tequila later, I took a shower and sat the 3 hour exam (needless to say very drunk, with the rest of the tequila in my bag). I got pretty lucky with the topics that came up (including the topic of "intoxication" - how ironic) and a few weeks later not only I learned that I passed but I got the highest possible mark and my summer could start properly. So thank you for saving my life and thank you for the most enjoyable revision session of my life.'

- Mario Konkol

Monday, 2 May 2016

Carlos Camarena in "Rancho La Latilla

Having talked with Carlos the producer of Ocho in late February I have some bits of information from him.

Carlos and 2 other 'agaveros' -those that grow agaves- are doing a "Bat Friendly" program. This is a commitment to leave between 5 and 10% of their planted agaves go to 'quiote'-the flowering, reproductive stalk of the agave. Normally this is not done because the generation of the 'quiote' will render the agave useless since it robs the plant's energy. 

To allow these 'quiotes' to grow will encourage the bats that cross pollinate agaves to regenerate their number which has been diminishing in recent years. The overall goal is to encourage the survival of the Blue agave weber tequiliana by having a stronger variety of genes. There is concern on the part of many that the Blue agave -the only variety allowable for use in the making of tequila-is in jeopardy because it is a monoculture.

Carlos is planting other varieties of agaves on parts of his land in the hopes that the genetics in the Blue agave will strengthen by cross pollinating. This will likely take decades.


Carlos has 800K agaves and is planting in 2016 another 220K.

The Mexican market for Carlos' products including Ocho is 60% reposado, 30% blanco and 10% añejo.

Of the 170 registered tequila distilleries 55-73 are producing.

A lot of 4-5 year old agaves are being used by others for tequila production and even 3-4 year old plants are used. This will definitely affect flavor.



Francisco Soltero, Jaime Orendain of Tequila Arette and me at lunch in Guadalajara. Francisco was the Director General of the CNIT - The Mexican National Tequila Chamber- at this time. He is now Director of Strategic Planning and Public Affairs for Tequila Patron. He is on my left. He invited me to come to Hacienda Patron to visit him and since I am the Ambassador of Tequila of the CNIT and a personal friend I gladly accepted the invitation.

This is the "patio", the place where the harvested agave is placed ready to go into the oven.  There are 1300 employees at the distillery including the offices and bottling facility. Francisco tells me that Patron has a "people centered" approach to accomplish their small batch, artisanal, hand made, traditional tequila. At more than 2 million 9 liter cases a year production this is a challenge. 70 trucks a week carry Patron to the US.

This comparison was unique for me. The undercooked agave was watery and tasteless. The over cooked agave was concentrated in flavor like dried fruit. The middle sample was sweet and juicy. All is kept clean and orderly to avoid smells and bacteria. There are routinely tours of the distillery being conducted. There are 2 shifts a day in the plant. 60 hands touch the product along the way.

This is the "tahona" where the cooked agave is mashed. The sweet juice from this is mixed with roller mill juice extraction at a ratio of about 1 to 1. To achieve enormous volumes and still retain a "hands on" approach there are modules made up of ovens , milling, fermentation and distilling.  There are 5 modules of 6 ovens each, 2 tahona a, 39 wood fermenters and 11 stills.

This is Julio my guide showing me the wooden fermentation tanks. They use their own proprietary yeast. The copper stills are in the background. In between first and second distillation the "ordinario" is filtered. The water used in fermentation is from Patron's own well. Water is important since it makes up a large part of what goes into the fermentation tanks along with the sweet cooked agave juice and yeast.

The roller mill extracting juice from the cooked, shredded agave.

Part of the purification process of "vinasas" (that liquid left over after distillation which can be harmful to the environment). Patron has a strong desire to be careful with environmental matters.

The agave fibers left over from production are composted to break them down to be used as soil enrichment. This is part of the respect that Patron expresses. 

This respect is also evident in,

- the treatment of the employees
- the neighbors, Patron has programs in Atotonilco -the city in which it is located- which support needy children , a food bank and education for growing one's own food
- on the day I visited Francisco had been to the city of Atotonilco to plan development of tourism for the city to bring in income 
- the relations with "agaveros"- the agave farmers-by having fair agreements with them for future agave prices

Casa Patrón

This is Julio and Francisco outside of "Casa Patron". I may have been one of the first visitors to this facility. It is a distillery that used to be owned by Tequila Viejito and is now part of Patron production. This is in a residential neighborhood of Atotonilco that grew up around the plant. The respect for the neighbors is important.

                                        The "patio" of Casa Patron. Everything is clean and maintained.

An oven at Casa Patron, notice the screen door. Something I've not seen before having visited scores of tequila distilleries.

Roller mill at Casa Patron.

Wooden fermenters at Casa Patron. The 55% abv tequila from here is transported to Hacienda Patron to be blended with Patron made there. 

Here we are doing a comparative tasting at the Hacienda Patron. One sample is 100% roller mill tequila at 58 % abv and the other is 100% tahona tequila at 55%abv. For the standard line of Patron the 2 are mixed together. The 2 are definitely different. Between Julio, Francisco and I we had different favorites. We knew which was which while comparing and this undoubtedly influenced me and I suspect the others too. 

The Hacienda is completing construction on a hotel to receive guests and is expected to be done this summer, 2016. It is on the grounds of the Hacienda and should be as extraordinary as the tequilas that are produced there.

Monday, 11 April 2016

An update from my travels


Fun in Crete; The Greeks love agave spirits and cocktails.

Shake it!

More cocktail craft from our friends on Crete, a wonderful place to drink, eat and be merry!

Raicilla Country

Raicilla, the lesser known agave spirit is produced in the Mexican state of Jalisco, the same state where 95% or more of all tequila is made. Here is a 'vivero', (nursery) where baby agaves are being raised by seed which creates a genetically strong plant since the seeds are created by cross pollination. 
This region is west of the tequila region in the coastal mountains. The seeds are gathered by hand from wild Maximiliana agaves.

Here the seedlings are ready to take to the field to plant.

Here in the fields the planting is done at random in "semi- cultivation" style.

Here are Maximiliana agaves growing in the wild.

Here is Esteban Morales who brings Venenosa brand raicilla to market. He is checking out a field of "semi- cultivated" Maximiliana agaves (often called 'magueyes') in this region. Why "semi-cultivated" instead of being in neat rows as in the tequila culture? The idea is that these plants will resemble more the wild plants leading to eventual taste profiles in the spirit closer to that of the wild grown plants. Think of "terroir".
Look it up if you don't much get it yet.

A portable bar. Esteban, Anselmo and Ruben , the raicillero with Squirt, cola and raicilla. 
What else do you need?

Earthen oven to cook the agaves.

Another example of how to extract the juice from the cooked agave.

Fermentation pit. Yeast -and all sorts of other things- comes naturally into the "mosto". 

Fermentation at another "taberna". 

Distillation. The still for distillation.

Distillation. Other stills and condensers , these made of clay.

Another oven to cook the agaves. 
This one is above ground and the plant hearts are placed directly on top of the burning charcoal.

Mother Nature.

This is the way the juice is extracted . The cooked agave is placed in the "canoe" and the "hatchet" is used to maul and beat the juice from the fiber by hand. Maybe you thought the tahona (millstone) was primitive?


A break from Agave. A shop late at night in Tequila town.

Have a look at these blue tequiliana weber agaves. The way they've been trimmed they start looking like karwinskies. I wonder if their flavor as a spirit would be different?

Have a look at the history in this wall on the way from downtown Tequila to Tequila Fortaleza.

La Capilla

Jose Luis the man who first took Phil Bayly and I to La Capilla about 25 years ago.

Don Javier and his nephew Aaron receiving one of their 50 Best Bars in the World awards at La Capilla. Don Javier is revered the world over for being a model host in his bar. He says, "Everyone is welcome", I say , "Welcome by his love". Don Javier has been tending his bar since 1945. Let that sink in.

In the doorway in the soft, Mexican early afternoon, sitting on the floor against the wall is a figure that in most other settings is a pariah.  He is a Mexican man with down syndrome. In this place he is accepted, welcome as is everyone. I am again in La Capilla. 

I have arrived with Francisco Soltero –the Director General of the Mexican National Tequila Chamber – along with Miguel Cedeño- the Chamber’s Master Distiller- and Rodolfo Fernandez who Eduardo Orendain-also present- calls the walking library since he knows so much.  Rodolfo is a University Professor and an authority on many things, with a speciality in agave culture, including tequila.

Eduardo Orendain of the venerable “Tequilero” family is the current President elect of the Chamber. We have gathered in Tequila Town to present to Don Javier Delgado Corona, the owner of La Capilla his recognition for having won 20th best bar in the world according to the ‘Academy’ of Drinks International magazine.

We are having a few of Don Javier’s signature drinks, stirred with his usual butcher knife. We are taking photos and enjoying the celebrity of La Capilla and its owner Don Javier. This is a matter of national pride, number 20th in the world.

The talk is characteristically lively and Eduardo Orendain makes a dramatic announcement. He tells the group that Don Javier has served four generations of Eduardo’s  family in La Capilla, his grandfather and father when they were both young , he himself and his son. This is over a period of more than 66 years during which time Don Javier has been a barkeeper. Think what the world was in 1945 when he began.

Jose Luis Partida is with us, he being the one who first brought me to La Capilla more than 25 years ago. He has often reminded me that we are all one family, something I have repeated and retold many times to others.

I tell the group that for me there are numerous significant levels to the award to La Capilla. One is the recognition to Mexico itself another is to tequila since both are integral to the bar. The last and most important part of all the attention is that Don Javier is given appreciation for running a place that as he says, “Is about love”. We are benefactors of this love, the family that has gathered here, including the man sitting in the doorway.

Aaron making drinks at La Capilla.

Good times at La Capilla.

La Capilla. Sophie and her 'little one' getting blessings from Don Javier.

Again in La Capilla with Don Javier, my pilgrimage.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Puerta Del Aire harvest

During my latest visit to La Altena, Carlos and his team were busy harvesting the next field for Ocho, Puerta del Aire:

Puerta del Aire field, located near the La Alteña distillery

The red patched indicate ripeness in the plant, which usually means higher sugar content
The jimadores hard at work in the fields
The plants are around 7 years old and the piñas in this field are much larger than normal, some weighing up to 100 kgs.