Oaxaca: Mexico's Mezcal County
"Mezcal is more than just a spirit; it is a way of life, a family’s business and the livelihood of many small communities all over Mexico..."
Along with the premiere of Trippin & Dangerous Don's short film on Celso Martinez, Maestro de Mezcal, we spoke to founder, Thea Cumming, on her connection to Mexico and her experience travelling to the ever-charming Oaxaca state. Here, she gets a glimpse into the intricate and delicate process of creating one of Mexico's most prized liquors.
I first travelled to Mexico five years ago after a long trip around the states, which led me through Central America. I ended up meeting up with a friend in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca. There, I met a local legend called, Frank, who was living opposite us and he was making his own homemade version of a coffee Patron. It was Frank’s stories, the view of the ocean and the taste of mezcal that had me captivated; I decided right there and then that I would start a mezcal brand and name it after my Dad whose university nickname was ‘Dangerous Don’.
Mezcal is a spirit made from the heart of the agave plant. It originated from Mexico and is one of the oldest spirits in the Americas. Production is community-based and regional; mezcal production, along with language, textiles and cooking, form part of the community's identity, and is something they are proud of, and rightly so. Since 1994, mezcal has had its own Denomination of Origin meaning that mezcal must be made in certain states and following strict rules.
Last spring, I travelled to Oaxaca with Phoebe White who runs the project here in London with me and we invited friend and filmmaker, Leo Stamps, along with us to capture a little of the story. We were staying in Central Oaxaca, a few blocks from Santo Domingo in a typically Oaxacan home. Terracotta and soft pastel walls, beautiful woven fabrics from the neighbouring villages and, of course, a healthy mezcal collection. It was April and so the weather was hot and mezcal production at my producer's palenque was in full flow.
On our first day, we got up nice and early and set off on the drive to Santiago Matatlan, around 45 minutes from the city centre. On arriving at the palenque we were greeted by the beaming smiles of Don Celso Martinez, his wife Lorena and their son Pedro with his wife and their children. Celso was in the middle of a distillation and so the fires were lit and the stills were rolling. He was also crushing agaves from a roast he had done the week before and so the palenque was filled with the sweet smell of agave. Celso’s banda music was blaring out from inside his house, as it always is.
We travelled out into the fields before it got too hot and Celso navigated his truck through the windy, bumpy tracks out to where he was growing agaves. After parking the truck we trekked up though the hills and Celso told us about all of the different plants, animals and told us stories of the landscape where his grandfather had produced mezcal before him. Celso’s deep understanding of the land is part of what makes his mezcal so great; it was his ancestors who passed down this knowledge. Mezcal production runs in families and traditions; recipes and techniques are passed down from generation to generation, Celso is a fourth generation producer and his son, daughter-in-law and their children are already learning the trade.
Mezcal is more than just a spirit; it is a way of life, a family’s business and the livelihood of many small communities all over Mexico. Mexico is a very special place for me - full of so much love, madness and it has a spirit unlike anywhere I have ever been before. Mezcal is the binding force between me, Mexico, its rich history and traditional process, and Don Celso and his family. It is my mission to spread this word and share the mezcal love.
Watch the full film here.