*goes to a mezcal palenque once*
A photo report from Real Minero, one of Mexico's premiere mezcal producers
Hello and welcome back to Fingers, a newsletter about drinking in America! Or should I say…
*hammers the sentence above into Babelfish, which—holy shit!—still exists*
¡Hola y bienvenidos de nuevo a Fingers, un boletín sobre la bebida en Estados Unidos!
This is basically how it went last week as your ol’ pal Dave vacationed in Oaxaca de Juarez, the capital city of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. I guess it’s an appropriate fate for a dipshit American tourist who used high school Spanish classes as an excuse to rack up high scores in Snake 2 on the Nokia 3310 that his parents got me for emergencies only. Don’t make the same mistakes I have, Fingers Fam.
Anyway: I’m back in Los Estados Unidos, but unfortunately, I contracted a truly gnarly case of food poisoning on my last day in Oaxaca, and the symptoms have carried over into this week. As such, I’m not quite ready to get back on the boozeletter horse (?) full gallop (???), so instead of the usual format, I figured I’d share some photos & notes I took on-location at Real Minero, an influential family-owned and -operated mezcal distillery (a palenque, as Oaxaqueños would call it) outside of Oaxaca proper that’s been producing some of the most sought-after agave spirits in the world since 1896.
Graciela Ángeles Carreño leads her family’s business today, and has been an outspoken advocate for ancestral production techniques and regenerative agricultural practices. In March 2022, Food & Wine magazine named her its Drinks Innovator of the Year for her recent decision to withdraw Real Minero from the Mexico’s Consejo Regulador del Mezcal over differences in vision for mezcal’s future. Graciela is charming, charismatic, and razor-sharp, and we were lucky enough to spend the afternoon tasting many of Real Minero’s 18 production mezcals with her.
[Disclosure: I didn’t pay for the tour of Real Minero, as it was set up through a friend. Regardless, we paid for the bottles we purchased from the distillery after the tasting, and I’m writing about the experience only my own volition.]
Even on vacation, I couldn’t help slipping into reporter mode a bit: though Graciela spoke only a little more English than I speak Spanish, with translation help from our driver Felix and Spanish-speaking Friend of Fingers Brandon U.1 we were able to chat about some of the challenges of running a legacy palenque during what she calls mezcal’s “gold rush” era.
I’ll be back to full-strength next week, thanks all for your patience. In the meantime, a humble plea—August was damn near flat in terms of new paid subscribers to Fingers, which is not ideal for the sustainability of this project longterm. I know summer is slow and you probably/hopefully didn’t spend it in your inbox, but if you enjoy reading my work, and you haven’t yet, please consider purchasing a subscription today:
Your paid subscription gets you access to this entire Oaxacan dispatch, plus the whole Fingers archive and all the original coverage and commentary I publish in the future. Plus you’ll receive the warm and fuzzy feeling of supporting an independent journalist (me!), and if you think about it, really, isn’t that kinda priceless?
OK, let’s get to those photos from Real Minero! This will be just like the back-to-school show-and-tells you used to do during the first week of class when you were a kid, but presumably with a lot more mezcal. Presumably.
Thanks as always for reading. ¡Hasta luego!—Dave.
📍Welcome to Real Minero, one of Mexico’s most influential palenques
Real Minero is located about an hour south of Oaxaca the city in Oaxaca the state, specifically in the small village of Santa Catarina Minas. The facility is actually two facilities: there’s a beautiful main building where packaging and other business functions occur, and the palenque itself, where Graciela’s brother, mezcal master distiller Édgar Ángeles Carreño, oversees production. They’re about five minutes apart by car. Our visit started with a walk through the nurseries and botanical gardens full of different agaves that surround the maguey-green headquarters, led by Adriana Ángeles Carreño. (Adriana is Graciela’s sister; all in, four of seven adult Carreño children from this generation work at Real Minero.)
The gardens around the main building are incredibly lush and chock full of agave plants (maguey, in local parlance) in various stages of life. No one is exactly sure how many agave species there are out there, or how many of them are used in mezcal production, but the numbers typically hover around 270 and 40, respectively. Agave plants come in all shapes and sizes, but my favorites are the ones whose spiky fronds grow higher than even the tallest human. They look primordial but also extraterrestrial, and very rad. Also, they reproduce in an incredibly dramatic fashion, as we quickly learned.