Espadín/ Barril, Real Minero
From the Ángeles Carreño family in Santa Catarina Minas comes the brand Real Minero, helmed by sibling fifth-generation mezcal producers Graciela and Edgar Ángeles Carreño.
Graciela is considered one of the thought-leaders in the field, conducting extensive scientific and historic research into agave and mezcal. She employs several botanists who work with the brand to maintain a nursery and laboratory dedicated to protecting, preserving, and studying the plants, vigorously champions social justice and economic and labor issues within the mezcal industry, and funnels a portion of proceeds into creating the first library in the rural mining community of Santa Catarina Minas.
Yet, Real Minero is as deeply rustic and culturally historic as mezcal production can get. Roughly translated as “royal miner”, the brand is exemplary of the minero style of mezcal which can only be certified from Santa Catarina Minas, specifically. Minero implies a production method otherwise referred to as en barro or en olla; distillation occurs in handmade, clay pots using a carved, wooden spoon suspended on string to collect condensed distillate. Much of their agave is broken down after cooking by hand-mashing with massive, wooden bats—like a mortar and pestle of overwhelming size. These countryside methods have not changed in hundreds of years.
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Increasingly, maestros Edgar and Graciela at Real Minero are leading the charge back to traditional “ensambles” – co-fermented blends of mezcales, which predate our modern predilection for tasting unique and often endangered varieties as a unique distillate of their own. A common practice is to use primarily Espadín agave (which accounts for almost 96% of the agave in Oaxaca, as of a few years ago) and a small amount of a rare species of agave, such as Jabalí or Largo, bringing all that unique flavor and nuance to bear on the more pliable and versatile Espadin.
Santa Catarina Minas, where Real Minero operates their elegant palenque (or distillation site), is known for its abundance of the rare Agave karwinskii, and some of their most delightful distillates spring from various subspecies of this variety. However, this is the first time the family has ever bottled an ensamble of Espadin (Agave angustifolia) with Barril (a short, thick subspecies of Agave karwinskii), and it is a confounding treat to experience. Delightful and strong at 53% ABV, the spirit manages to somehow obfuscate its flavors – hints of grass and salty, cured game swim among licorice and anise, capped with deep dried brown fruit (think dates or prunes) – yet all of these marry so fully that it’s a real challenge to pull them apart. A delicious challenge. This first-ever release kept us coming back for more, looking quizzical but thrilled. At only 349 bottles produced, let’s hope another batch is made soon.