Marteno / Barril Ancestral, 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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Santa Catarina Minas, where Real Minero operates, is sometimes referred to as “Karwinskii country” – a reference to the local abundance of the otherwise increasingly scarce Agave karwinskii varieties. Unlike most agave, which grow close to the ground from a central heart, these agave grow above a trunk or stem, standing tall and proud almost like a palm. The full stem is typically used in fermentation and distillation as well, lending a green, herbaceous fiber to the resulting spirit.
An incredibly rare treat, this unique batch of mezcal from the Ángeles family features an ensamble (blend) of two Agave karwinskii, the shorter and plumper Barril and the rare, hyper-localized Marteño – a variety similar to agaves such as Largo and Cirial, but only known to grow in the village of San Marteño.
This rare variety has previously only been bottled by the Angeles family for their Proyecto LAM charity line of mezcales, an agricultural non-profit line of mezcales available only to visitors to Santa Catarina Minas in Oaxaca. This is the first release of the variety, even in a blend, to the US market. This mezcal, too, was produced in the Ancestral style, meaning that no mechanical tools were implemented whatsoever: agave is cooked in the traditional conical earthen oven, then milled by hand using large wooden mallets, fermented in pine vats and finally distilled in small pot stills handmade from clay.
The mezcal itself is truly special. Full of bright, bold top notes (perhaps a preponderance of heads, or puntas, in the distillate) the spirit offers flowers, Sichuan peppercorns and a touch of baby powder on the nose; the palate is something else entirely. Lively, almost challenging acidity gives way quickly to a fresh, herbaceous alpine quality. Lemon verbena and a whisper of juniper, lavender and wild mountain flowers seem to sparkle on the backend. A challenging mezcal, at high proof, but offering tremendous rewards. Only 260 bottles produced.