Mezcal Vago A Connoisseurs Mezcal
TELLURIDE – Two Telluride ski bums are bringing a Mexican family’s tradition and art form to the U.S. in the form of handcrafted and complex-flavored mezcals called Mezcal Vago.
Mezcal Vago isn’t the mezcal most of us know. It’s not the harsh-tasting “I dare you” mezcal with that nasty worm floating at the bottom. Mezcal Vago is a connoisseurs’ mezcal that uses a variety of agaves from remote regions within the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Co-owners Dylan Sloan and Judah Kuper seek out small-batch mezcaleros, who for generations have perfected the craft of making complex and pure mezcals in traditional ways.
“Half of what I do is explain to people what true mezcal is,” Sloan says. “It’s not hallucinogenic, it’s not cheap tequila. There are so many flavors in mezcal. The world of mezcal is enormous, and we are constantly trying to find the best.”
Sloan and Kuper met in the fall of 1994, when they were neighbors, camping next to each other in Bear Creek. Besides ski bumming in Telluride over the years, the two found themselves exploring remote areas of Mexico in off season. While looking for a taqueria in Oaxaca, they were overrun by a bunch of Oaxacaños who had just graduated from trade school, celebrating with fireworks, banners and gasoline cans. The two Americans were grabbed and pulled into the street by the graduates, then handed the gasoline cans while everyone chanted, “Toma! Toma! Toma!”
What to do but drink the contents? Under the peer pressure, the two raised the gas cans high and drank. What they found was a smoky and powerful taste that wasn’t gasoline but, rather, their first taste of mezcal. It was a taste and experience they would never forget.
The duo continued to explore Oaxaca’s remote beaches, and later found themselves on an island west of Puerto Escondido that was their idea of paradise, where they opened a beachside bar.
Here, Kuper got an ear infection that changed their future. At a rural health clinic, he met a nurse named Valentina, whose family lived in Oaxaca’s mezcal country, making traditional, handcrafted mezcals. Kuper courted Valentina, who broke off her engagement to another man; the two eventually wed.
Valentina’s father, Aquilino Garcia Lopez, comes from a long line of mezcal producers, and for more generations than they could remember, going back 500 years, the family has been producing mezcal. Kuper and Sloan learned the craft, tasting many different varieties made with different agaves and techniques. Mezcal, they found, should not be drunk quickly, in a shot, but rather savored, by the sip, to appreciate the flavor.
“It’s interesting on how much I didn’t know about it, until I was taken under the wing of my father in law,” Kuper says. “In tasting all the varieties, I realized how expansive and different the flavors were.
“I never realized how elegant a spirit it is.”
And Mexico, says Kuper, has more agave varieties than anywhere else in the world, with Oaxaca alone boasting more than 239 varieties, many of which can be used to make mezcal.
“The difference in flavors you can get are incredible,” Kuper says. “Some are cultivated because of their high sugar content, and some are totally wild.”
Kuper and Sloan decided to form Mezcal Vago to export Oaxaca’s finest and undiscovered mezcals. Like fine wines, mezcal varies with each batch. A lot of the mezcal Mezcal Vago imports comes from Kuper’s father-in-law, while others come from other master mezcaleros in remote towns.
Each of the seven varieties of Mezcal Vago is unique. On each bottle’s label, you can find information about where its made, what agave is used, the process it was made by, the size of the batch, and more.
Mezcal Vago’s Espadin variety carries an aroma of sweet potatoes, flint and citrus. The Elote has flavors of honeycomb, sweet tropical fruit and smoke while the Tobala has flavors of roasted yams, butterscotch and cloves. “There is a mezcal for every mood,” Kuper says. “I do enjoy the complexities. What I look for in a mezcal is balance and flavors. You can get a bold, strong flavor with a nice surprise in the middle. Sometimes the best flavors come out as you breath out several minutes later.”
Bottles of Mezcal Vago can be found in liquor stores in Telluride, Montrose and Ouray and throughout Colorado. They are also being distributed to stores in New York and Texas as well. On Friday, July 12, from 3-5 p.m., Sloan will be host a mezcal tasting at Bottleworks in Telluride. Five of Mezcal Vago varieties will be available to try.
Sloan and Kuper are proud to be able to present these varieties of mezcal, which they say is “art in a bottle.”
“The most important thing for us is the family connection that we bring,” Kuper says. “We’re not just gringos taking money out of Mexico. These people are our family, and they are true generational mezcal masters.
“It’s about celebrating this art and we have to give credit to those guys. That is what our bottles are all about. My personal story is very interesting but I like to celebrate these masters by educating people about mezcal and blowing people’s minds by taking them through seven different mezcals.”