Madrecuixe in Miahutalán

Madrecuixe in Miahutalán

Madrecuixe | Grupo Logoche | October 2016

The maguey known locally as “Madrecuixe” is a truly remarkable plant. Similar in appearance to what is known by the same name in other parts of Oaxaca, this Madrecuixe is a distinct and particular subspecies endemic to the Miahuatlán county of the Sierra Sur region. Characterized by a large, light blue and spherical rosette, Madrecuixe can weigh anywhere from 60 to more than 200 pounds, depending on environmental conditions. Cultivated for centuries, if not millennia, as a food and beverage source, the Madrecuixe is renowned for both its exquisite flavor as well as its genetic potential. In Miahuatlán, this particular Karwinskii varietal has the title of “Mother” or madre because the plant is capable of cross pollination (of course with the help of bats, hummingbirds, and moths) and producing seed that develops into very distinct varietals. Seed from the Miahuatlán Madrecuixe will often yield the varieties known locally as Verde or Cuixe Verde, Tobaziche, and Coyote. One can find agave that resemble Tobala type plants, Americana varietals, and Jabali looking maguey, all born from Madrecuixe seed. Often, the mezcaleros and growers find expressions that they themselves have never seen and cannot identify. This type of mixed outcome is so commonplace, that in order to ensure the reproduction of pure Madrecuixe, many maestros prefer to simply transplant the plantlets that propagate from the plants’ root system. However, growing from seed ensures strong and healthy plants while also maintaining the biodiversity for which Miahuatlán is so renowned.

This 399 liter batch was made by the collective efforts of the mezcaleros of Grupo Logoche in Lachigüizo in October 2016, coming out just before the Day of the Dead celebrations. Only fully mature, cultivated and semi-cultivated maguey was harvested by the community, keeping production as sustainable as possible and ensuring the continued existence of this beautiful maguey. This batch will be made available in California, as well as in Europe.

 

 
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Bicuixe | Celso Garcia Cruz | April 2017

The maguey commonly known as Bicuixe (pronounced bee-queesh or bee-quishay) in Miahuatlán is perhaps the most commonly found Agave karwinskii in the region. It is primarily a wild species but in many cases, could be considered semi-cultivated as it is frequently transplanted and used to demarcate property lines and prevent soil erosion in the fields. This subspecies is far from uniform in appearance as there are multiple phenotypes and ecotypes, but is principally characterized by its long and relatively thin tree-like stalk, often greater than the actual piña in size. While the Bicuixe piña has a moderate sugar content, they are small in comparison to other A. karwinskii varietals and have a much larger stalk to piña ratio, which translates to slightly bitter notes, giving the distilled spirit an incredible balance of flavors. The Bicuixe, or Cuixe, as it is also called in the area, plays such a quintessential role in local mezcal and agave spirits production that it could be considered the most archetypal and definitive expression of the tierras and culturas of Miahuatlán. The names of agaves in Oaxaca, and throughout Mexico, are regionally, culturally, and sometimes linguistically specific and should be treated as such. They are colloquial and can change from village to village and region to region. The Miahuatlán Bicuixe are very similar, perhaps even identical to what is called Tobaziche in parts of the Ejutla valley, and in some cases, quite similar to the Tobaziche of Santa Catarina Minas, as well as the Cirial from other parts of the Central Valleys. However, it is critical to remember that the soil, water, native yeasts, processes, and hand of the maker will always result in very different flavors, textures, and qualities.

This 200 liter batch from Maestro Mezcalero Celso Garcia Cruz is a perfect expression of the natural elements of the region, the flavors of the plant, and the nuances imparted by its maker and palenque. Bicuixe thrives in the rocky, reddish cascajo soil of Celso’s lands outside of Miahuatlán de Porfirio Díaz where these roughly 15-year- old magueyes were harvested on March 17, 2017, just days after a full moon. The practice of harvesting ripe maguey under a full moon is a traditional method employed to take advantage of the natural concentrations of the plant’s sugars, which are believed to change in accordance with moon cycles.

These 300 bicuixe piñas were quiotudo and left caponado for over one year before harvest, meaning that the flowering stock, or quiote, was cut before inflorescence, allowing the plant’s energies to concentrate on sugar production instead of reproduction. This ancient technique translates to a significantly greater yield, with more robust and profound flavors in the distilled spirit. The use of fully matured agave is rare in industrial mezcal production, but is a hallmark practice of traditional mezcal and agave spirit craftsmen and women.

With the help of his family and neighbors, these Bicuixe piñas were cooked with mezquite and other local acacia woods for five days in a rock-lined earthen oven with before being dug out and shade rested for a week, a process that starts the initial stages of the dry fermentation process. Celso and his family, like many in the community, first hand-chop the cooked agave with a machete or axe before passing the select material through a mechanical mill. The shredded agave is then placed in wooden tanks made from Montezuma cypress, or sabino, where the dry fermentation process continues. Celso’s dry fermentation lasted two days before filtered well water was added. After careful monitoring over over seven days, the fermented mosto and fibers were distilled together in a 250lt capacity copper still on April 15. The shishe or común was rested for three days before being refined, with a final cut being made at about 40% ABV. Distilled water was added to adjust the alcohol levels to 47.8% ABV.

 

 
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Jabalí | Candido García Cruz | March 2015

Known most commonly as  Jabalín or Jabalí, Spanish for wild boar, this maguey has been classified as both A. Convallis and A. Kerchovei. This somewhat common agave is found in a few variant forms between southern Puebla and most of Oaxaca state, either in densely clustered groups or in solitary form, both wild and semi-cultivated. The pencas are a rich green with a subtle yellow stripe down the inside of the leaf, and are equally notable for their very pronounced, jagged spines. While the Jabalín, as it is most commonly called in Lachigüizo, does have a high sugar content, it has historically not been an agave preferred for distillation, but rather, prized for its durable fibers and use as natural fencing. In the last number of years, facing increased pressure put on the supply of more traditionally used maguey, as well as the Espadín, mezcaleros and campo moonshiners have begun to explore alternatives and have started to work with different species and varieties that customarily would have been reserved for specific uses such as fiber and pulque production. The Agave convallis contains elevated amounts of saponin, the same natural compounds historically used for organic soap making, resulting in a challenging and very bubbly fermentation. This intimidating process continues into distillation with first and more than often, second rounds yielding a liquid that is greenish in color and capped with a thick layer of soap-like foam. For this reason, the Jabalín is commonly triple distilled, allowing for a crystalline appearance.

This experimental batch made by Candido García Cruz in March 2015 beautifully reflects the subtleties of the maguey and lands outside of Miahuatlán, Oaxaca. Candido has worked the palenque since a child, and in over 50 years of experience with agave, this was his first time fermenting and distilling Jabalín. The fifty piñas of maguey were harvest from a rocky tierra colorada ( a lighter red colored soil than what is described as tierra roja) from one of Candido’s flatter parcels. After baking for four days with local acacia woods, the agave was rested for nearly a week before being chopped with machetes and passed through a mechanical mill. Candido filled one, 1,000 liter sabino wood fermentation tank and dry fermented the Jabalín fibers for 2 days. River water was added and the wet fermentation process ran for eight days prior to distillation in a 250 liter capacity copper pot still. With help from the family, a total of 85 liters at 48.46 ABV was produced, after the alcohol levels were adjusted with shishe, the first round of distillate, that fell between 30-45% ABV. After some local and auto-consumption, Neta was able to acquire the remaining amount for this special 69 liter bottling destined for France.