El Rey Zapoteco
El Rey Zapoteco mezcal is a craft spirit founded in 1960 by the Hernandez family in Santiago Matatlán, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. It is one of the oldest brands of mezcal on the market. Nowadays, the company is being run by three brothers: José Augusto, Hernan and Efrain. They are the second generation of the Hernandez family, which is still under their mother’s control, Mama Doña Juana.
The flavour and the quality of their mezcals is the result of a painstaking traditional process of exploiting agaves, from seeding to bottling. With over a half century of experience, their priorities always remain the respect of Mother Earth and of the meticulous traditional craft production method. The outcome is a sophisticated and unique handcrafted spirit that will satisfy the most refined and demanding palates.
Their selection of products is very complete, as their mezcals come from cultivated, semi-cultivated, and wild agaves. The Zapotecs were a pre-Columbian Native American civilization that lived in the valleys of Oaxaca for over 2,000 years and witnessed the arrival of the Spanish colonists during the 16th century. Their language, the Zapotec, is still spoken in many Oaxacan villages by the elders. El Rey Zapoteco wanted to pay tribute to the heritage left by their forefathers. Agaves were indeed a vital element of their everyday lives.
The making of mezcal " El Rey zapoteco "
Sacrificing the agave
An agave is a monocarpic plant, which means that it flowers only once in its lifetime, before setting seeds and dying. The time it takes to reach maturity is different from one variety to the other (7 to 10 years for the espadín agave, up to 25 years for the tepeztate agave). The flowering is interrupted by the maestro mezcalero when it’s time to harvest. The pencas (leaves) are then cut off, leaving only the piña (heart of the agave), which can weight from 20 to 200 kg.
Cooking and grinding the piña
Once the piñas are collected, they are cut into several pieces before being steamed in a craft oven. The maestro mezcalero arranges different layers in this conical oven dug underground: wood set ablaze, volcanic or river rocks to drive the heat, piña chunks covered with bagazo (agave fibres from previous distillations) and finally a layer of earth in order to muffle the cooking, which will last two to four days. This cooking method gives mezcal its typical earthy and smoky flavour. Through the cooking process, the agaves’ sugars are transformed into fermentable sugars.
Once the piñas are cooked, they are cut into smaller pieces in order to be ground. El Rey Zapoteco uses a tahona chilena (round millstone pulled by a horse or a donkey). The maestro mezcalero then retrieves the agave juice and fibres (bagazo) in order to proceed with the fermentation.
Fermentation and distillation
The agave juice and fibres are placed in wood vats (usually oak or pine) that have a capacity of approximately 1,000 kg each. Well water is then added to the vats. The fermentation is accomplished thanks to the sugars contained in the agaves’ hearts, the natural yeast and the microorganisms living in the palenque (distillery). This step can last between 7 and 20 days, depending on the season of the year and on the geographic location. The surrounding environment has a big influence on the mezcal’s final taste.
El Rey Zapoteco uses a copper still distillation. The bagazo (agave fibres) and the tepache (fermented agave must) are placed at the bottom of the vat and then heated with firewood in order to separate the volatile elements (alcohols) from the solid elements. Alcohol vapours travel through a swan neck and into a coil. When coming in contact with water, the coil transforms the alcohol vapours into the ancestral elixir called mezcal. The maestro mezcalero then proceeds to a second distillation in order to obtain a mezcal that is suitable for consumption.