Thursday, March 22, 2012

More Mescal

I was invited by friend and fellow Mexican homebrewer Barry to go on a little road trip the other day. A 90 mile excursion north to the 'Valley of the Kings' near the city of San Luis Potosi located in the Free and Sovereign State of San Luis Potosi. Our goal? Cheap but delicious mezcal.

Grinding wheel
Barry drove us North East for most of the ninety miles through the wide open spaces of the high desert. Vast expanses of beautiful Mexican countryside flew past us as he swerved around the slow moving farm tractors and autobuses until we reach a rugged unpaved road off the highway leading us to the mescaleria slash dairy farm. A couple of farm hands (possibly armed guards) removed the padlock from the chained gate allowing us to enter. They didn't question our motives, our thirst for alcohol obviously evident on our parched faces.

Doors to the good stuff

Another couple hundred yards of driveway and we came to an adobe building as old as the hills and the same color with the exception of the printed sign claiming to be the "Fabrica de Mezcal San Francisco". The excitement was building as we entered the compound. Nobody was around and I took the opportunity to get a couple of photographs of the antique machinery. This was at one time a large scale operation judging by the enormous grinding wheel and press used to process the agave pina for it's sugars, but most of this equipment obviously hadn't been used in many years.

You may ask what the difference is between mescal and tequila? Mainly, in any product distilled from the maguey, it's the type of plant. There are numerous plants that fall into this family. The blue agave that grows within the state of Jalisco is considered and sanctioned by Mexico as 'True' tequila. But, generally speaking, it can be considered tequila if it is produced using only the blue agave plant no matter the region. Mescal (spelled with a z in Spanish) can be made with a variety of plants and raicilla is made with an entirely different plant. In other words, the plant type is the main difference.

Barrel of Mezcal
It wasn't long before a farmhand met us and then disappeared through a pair of ancient wooden doors into the darkness of the earthen building. The new equipment somewhere deep within was kept hidden from prying eyes, like mine. We were not allowed into the facility to see their operation and I was disappointed about this but it didn't stop me from shoving my camera into the doorway to get of shot of a wooden barrel used for aging the mescal. I could also see our attendant pouring mescal through a funnel from large plastic drums into our smaller containers. But, that was about it.

Plasticos de mezcal
He brought the filled containers back out and we paid the 35 peso per liter fee and thanked him for his efforts. 35 pesos by the way, at today's rate, is the equivalent of about $2.50 a liter. For good home distilled mescal, that's an amazing cost. I was anxious to sample some and just outside I took a sip from my bottle. Smooth and dry with a mild smokey flavor. In the wrong hands (mine) I could tell this could get you into trouble. Easy to drink and flavorful with none of the burn or bite in the back of the throat. Barry suggested it be drunk chilled with lime. I'll be taking his suggestion very soon. This is a lot different than the mescal I brought back from the Palomas Mensajeras distillery in Patzcuaro a couple of years ago. It is far less smokey and judging from the taste and burn I'd say it has a lower percentage of alcohol too but I can't determine that at this time.
As we posed for a picture outside I experienced a bit a container envy as I held one of my two 600 milliliter water bottles and compared it to Barry's five (count them 5) full gallon jugs set at our feet.

Packing to go home

But, I was preparing to leave San Miguel in a few days and I needed to consider how much I could pack into my checked baggage. I hear you're only allowed 2 liters of alcohol at the most. I've also got some raicilla and a bottle of tequila infused beer that needed to be packed, so this was the most mescal I dared take.

I'm excited to share this mescal with my homebrew club when I return to Santa Cruz and maybe do a taste comparison with the raicilla but for now I need to get busy, I've got a few homebrews to drink before we leave San Miguel. Cheers!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Brew Sculpture Design

If I'm able to follow through on my plans to spend more time in Mexico teaching brewing, I'm going to need to start collecting equipment. After comparing the prices for shipping from the States compared to having a brew system fabricated here it's a no-brainer, I'll make it here.

Brewing in Santa Cruz

I normally use a three tiered, gravity fed system for my personal brewing and also when I teach the all-grain method so I decided that a duplicate of that system would work equally as well here in San Miguel. I contracted a local herrero (iron worker/welder) Alfredo Moreno to fabricate the brew sculpture. It's identical to the one that Scott A. made for me while I was living in Washington. Alfredo quoted me a price of 1,850 pesos which is the equivalent of $130 usd. That seemed like a pretty good deal, in fact a great deal compared to what I'd pay in S.C. so I told him to start building. Oh yeah, that cost includes delivery!

Brew sculpture diagram
I thought you might be interested in the details that I gave Alfredo to build this sculpture. It was originally designed so that the gas piping could run down inside the center column, allowing for the burners and gas tank to connect through holes located six inches below the platforms that will support the brewing kettles.

During the process of building the sculpture, Alfredo had a few questions and I had my concerns but between his limited English and my bad Spanish we managed to get our thoughts expressed and after a couple weeks the end results were perfect.
This system is made to support keggles (kettles made out of beer kegs) for the brewing process but when I have a future one made I will have the platform size changed to accommodate kettles that I'll also have fabricated here. Or, have the kettles made to fit the platform. I'll spend some of the time I have left here to locate someone that can make the kettles and get some pricing on those.
Another thought I'm having while writing this is the fact that a larger system for brewing could be manufactured for relatively little more cost than this one. Fabricating a system that I could use to brew, let's say a full barrel (bbl) or larger, may be ideal for a possible future nano-brewery. I'm excited by the possibilities here because of how in-expensive it is compared to California.

Alfredo the welder

In the mean time, I'll leave this one here in the good hands of friend and fellow homebrewer Francisco to use and I'll probably have another made when I return.

* For all Beer Diary... members only-
As a way of saying Thanks! I'll send you a free PDF copy of the above design if you want. Just send me an email message of your interest.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Calavera's Smoky Scottish Ale 80

Cerveceria Calavera is another stand out micro brewery in Mexico. From the many beers I've tasted down here, there are only a handful of breweries that rise to the top of my list in regards to a consistently good selection of styles.

Calavera ranks in my top three, following closely behind my favorite, La Chingoneria who produce my all time best "Armargator". Calavera comes in next with their take on a Belgian Tripel and then Tijuana Brewing with their 'Guera'.  However, I have to say that I take exception with Tijuana Brewing because of their proximity to San Diego and the obvious influence of the So. California beer scene.

Calavera Smoky Scottish Ale

Today, I revisiting Calavera by trying out a glass of the Smoky Scottish Ale 80/- down at Cafe Mesa Grande. I've never been a big fan of the Scottish style as it tends to be too sweet and cloying for my tastes but if the Mexican brewers are trying to make it, I want to sample their take on the style.

In this case, it's a beer I'm enjoying and maybe that's because it doesn't live up to the classic commercial examples. This beer is much dryer than I expected with very mild (almost non-existent) smoke flavor that hides behind a mild layer of raisin and caramel malt and some phenol spice. With a fluffy, light tan head that drops quickly, the beer is dark amber with a much thinner mouthfeel than the classic Scottish ale. This is a bottle conditioned beer and has some yeast flavors along with a little stale metallic quality. Overall, the detractors are a minor component as I find the beer pleasing and easy to drink but again, (like their example of a Belgian Dubbel) it doesn't measure up to the classic styles I'm use to drinking in the States.

Just as a side note: I'll be using this blog as a way of posting updates to my attempts at starting a brewing school in Mexico. Keep your fingers crossed and feel free to give opinions as I progress. Cheers!

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