I and a colleague, chemical / food & drink engineer Cynthia Ruiz Villalobos, are arranging a special mezcal tour, which takes us to Santa Catarina Albarradas, a Oaxacan village known for distilling in clay vessels as opposed to copper pot stills. The day will be long, roughly from 7 am to 8 pm, and take in a lot of territory both geographically and educationally, and include visits to both palenques (small distilleries) distilling in copper and in clay, as well as possibly one or two other stops. Enrolment will be capped at no more than 18 participants, and likely no less than 12. If less than 12 sign up and we decide to not proceed with this special excursion, you will nevertheless attend a regular mezcal excursion with me, and be subject to the day, price, terms and conditions as set out in the companion attachment. Accordingly it is important that you review the companion attachment. In either case, November 27, 2020, will result in a fine cultural, educational, and highly rewarding and enjoyable experience, of course with buying opportunities.  For 2019, the excursion was along one of the regular routes because of dispute between two villages, and one village blockading access to the village where we had planned to have our comida.  Accordingly, circumstances can arise dictating changing from what we had initially planned, to a more conventional touring day.  So please keep this in mind. If this happens, the total cost to you will either remain the same or be reduced.

My qualifications are contained under. Regarding Cynthia, over the last few years she has been working on a fair trade model for palenqueros, attempting to illustrate to them how much it actually costs them to produce mezcal, in order to assist them in setting more appropriate prices, the ultimate goal being to improve their standard of living. The palenquero we will visit in Santa Catarina Albarradas is one of the producers with whom she has been working. Typically producers don’t have a clue as to their actual costs.  Both Cynthia and I are working towards helping to get this palenquero certified, giving him access to the export market.

Our air conditioned, late – model touring van will be waiting for you at a designated address in downtown Oaxaca at 7 am or thereabouts, precise time to be indicated as the date approaches. Our first stop (after our breakfast stop at a small roadside eatery) will be at a traditional palenque where distillation is in copper alembics. It is located just over an hour from Oaxaca. En route, and actually throughout the day, I will explain about why no two batches of artisanal mezcal are the same, the differences between mezcal and tequila, recent regulatory and other changes in the industry, how Oaxaca has adapted as a result of the mezcal boom, and the global impact of the spirit. Cynthia and I will be open to questions and discussion throughout the day.

A couple of hours later we’ll arrive in Santa Catarina Albarradas at the home and palenque of Alberto Martínez López and his family. The differences are stark between traditional artisanal mezcal production methods, and how Maestro Alberto produces his “ancestral” mezcal in clay pots, ferments in non-traditional vats, and his mashing technique. If we see another palenquero en route to Albarradas who is engaged in production, we will likely stop for a brief encounter.

We’ll spend a couple of hours with the family in Albarradas, learning about production, embarking on a brief (optional) hike, and having comida (lunch) made by Maestro Alberto’s wife and other family member.

Of course there will be buying opportunities at this and other palenques we visit, where you will pay a mere fraction of the price you would pay back home or even in the city of Oaxaca, quality unsurpassed. But there is never any obligation to buy. If you do, at your option your mezcal can be bottled, sealed and labelled to ensure no issues leaving Mexico or entering your home country.

The cost per person is $170 USD, which includes all mezcal sampling, food and beverages throughout the day (breakfast and lunch), touring, transportation from about 7 am until we drop you off at the end of the day. However, as suggested at the outset, if there are not a minimum of 12 participants signed up, or if other circumstances dictate and the special excursion is cancelled, your day will proceed and be subject to the lesser of $170 USD per person or the amount indicated in the companion attachment.

In either case a modest deposit by paypal will be required to confirm your reservation.

Alvin Starkman holds an M.A. in social anthropology from Toronto’s York University and a J.D. from Osgoode Hall Law School.  He has written one book about mezcal (Mezcal in the Global Spirits Market:  Unrivalled Complexity, Innumerable Nuances) and over 35 articles centering upon Mexican craft beer, pulque, mezcal and sustainability, as well as a further 250 articles about Oaxacan life and cultural traditions.

Alvin co-authored a chapter in an edited social anthropology volume on culinary heritage (Edible Identities, published August, 2014), and wrote an article about brideprice in a Zapotec village (published in the Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies).