Sunday, June 12, 2011

San Diego la Mesa Tochimiltzingo

San Diego la Mesa Tochimiltzingo is literally at the end of the road. Wrapped in the folds of the low sierra on Puebla's high plain, the town is reached by a winding road patrolled by lethargic cattle and skittish burros. It is in small towns such as San Diego Tochimiltzingo that mezcal is not a question of chic cachet and slick marketing but of daily life and trickling tradition, of knowledge passed from generation to generation and sold in tired two-liter soda bottles.

At the base of the town, a small salmon-colored cinderblock building is home to Don Braulio's mezcaleria. Here, agave hearts are roasted on a stone fire pit until their flesh turns dark orange and acquires the caramel sweetness of a candied yam, then chopped and mashed by hand before being loaded into heavy wooden tanks for fermentation. Pungent smoke from wood fires under the imported copper stills wafts through the building. The clear, strong distilled liquor that flows from a spout on the side of these tanks is collected in plastic jugs to be bottled under the label 'Milagro de San Diego' or sold within the town. Periodically, Braulio or one of his workers check the strength of the liquid by pouring it into jicaras, dried squash husk drinking vessels, watching for the distinctive pearls that signal the strength of the alcohol.

Braulio's children and nephews flit in and out of the building; he expects that by age 15 they will know the entire process. The rhythms of mezcal production seem embedded in the family, as well as the town. In a few weeks, regular rains that chill the air and slow fermentation will bring work at the simple cinderblock factory to an end. On the hillside above, Braulio's uncle, Don Gerardo, offers visitors to his home sips of last year's batch from a small mayonnaise jar.

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