Anyone lucky enough to have traveled to Antigua Guatemala—the beautiful, volcano-surrounded colonial capital, where layers of decay balance out striations of vibrancy and create an uneasy truce between life and entropy—has seen the heart of Guatemala.
Anyone lucky enough to have stumbled into Café No Sé, while navigating the dim, history-patinated cobblestones of Antigua, has found the heart of the city in the rough-and-tumble bar. There, expats wax literary alongside locals, and visitors are greeted as fresh friends and only ever-gently as prey.
Anyone lucky enough to have spied the dwarf-sized refrigerator door—anchored low on one of No Sé's graffiti-covered walls—and bravely opened it, crouched down and stepped through the looking glass into the secret mezcal bar, has found the heart of the piña—the agave core that is cooked and distilled into mezcal.
Liberal libators who took note of SFR staff writer Alexa Schirtzinger's mezcal experience at Jesse's in the Hotel Plaza Real or who followed SFR's love affair with Del Maguey "single village mezcal" will know Santa Fe is no longer relegated to cheap mezcal with marketing gimmicks, such as floating worms and scorpions. Instead, we prefer limited editions of pure, organic agave ambrosia, made available by small importers: including Del Maguey.
When visiting the Mexican state of Oaxaca, one barely sees the cheap mezcal of 1980s, collegiate alcohol abuse fame. Rather, one may blissfully wander from storefront to storefront or from bar to bar or, indeed, from village to village, sampling some of the finest, purest, smokiest and most alluring liquor on the planet. In the spirit of variety and friendly competition, one hopes that New Mexico-based Del Maguey will welcome the rascally rude boys from Café No Sé when their signature mezcal, Ilegal Mezcal, goes on sale here beginning Jan. 1, 2011.
Because mezcal is produced in Oaxaca, the owners of No Sé allegedly had to smuggle mezcal into Guatemala before they were able to open legitimate channels, thus the "illegal" moniker.
From the Ilegal Mezcal website:
We smuggled it just after sunset on wooden rafts made from planking and truck inner-tubes. The river was not wide, perhaps a half a kilometer, nor was it deep. The boxes were passed from the banks, hand to hand, and in the twilight it was hard to keep count. On the raft next to ours were televisions, on another a family from El Salvador. Everyone moved quickly, cash changed hands. We piled on and a shirtless figure slung a rope over his shoulder and began to pull the raft across, wading deeper into the gray water, and then swimming, and then again wading until we reached the Guatemalan side.
Ilegal Mezcal's offerings follow the standard format for mezcal and tequila: a light, young distillation called a joven; a smokier, older version called reposado; and a rich, velvety, sediment-rich añejo. Personally, I'm a fan of joven mezcal—the crisp bite and loitering heat balance the smoke and make a perfect slow-sipper of a drink.
Soon enough, you’ll be able to test for yourself. SFR is currently in secret negotiations with Ilegal Mezcal and local venues about hosting one hell of a release party shortly after this upstart import hits the streets. Stay tuned.
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Note to curious beverage managers and retail stores: Ilegal Mezcal is available through National Distributing Company