10 + Alex Jandernoa & Mariah Kunkel / Banhez Mezcal Artesanal
/ That's how I ended up with a portrait of Ejutla on my chest
Mariah is the Brand Development Manager for Banhez. Alex until recently was the Banhez Brand Manager (Mexico), and is now the Director of Education for Banhez and CNI Brands.
Banhez is owned by a cooperative of producers based in Ejutla, Oaxaca, Mexico. This co-op (Unión de Productores Agropecuarios del Distrito de Ejutla de Crespo) UPADEC is partnered with CNI Brands who is the exclusive importer of Banhez.
We discuss this relationship in great detail including the structure of the co-op, how the partnership works and how this model ensures financial security for its members.
Other topics we talked about included their signature blend and maintaining product consistency, the Ejutla style still, their Bat Project as well as some of the limited single expressions the brand offers.
We took a deep dive into the workings of Banhez with Alex and Mariah who were both gracious and transparent with all of their information. After we recorded this we followed up with a question about how the co-op manages the requirement of the CRM. Below is our question and Alex’s response.
Q: We spoke a lot about the co-op, but we never asked you an important question: It's our understanding that each palenque needs to be certified by the CRM before a spirit made there can be labeled mezcal. Because there are several palenques that comprise the co-op, how does that certification work?
“All of the palenques in the Co-op are certified by the CRM. Many times a potential member comes to Francisco or Luis with an amazing product but they are un-certified. This means that when building their membership contract UPADEC itself works with CRM to get the palenque or agaves certified. These contracts are reviewed each year so that the members and co-op can grow and change with the market. The rest of the CRM costs associated with getting the product to market are taken care of by UPADEC at their bottling plant."
+ If you want to read more about Banhez we recommend Mezcalistas latest article about their experience attending the Dia del Mezcalero event this year.
1. Dia Del Mezcalero 2018 at the San Miguel Ejutla Palenque
2. Some of the Maestros of the UPADEC Co-op with Francisco the president
3. Polo and his son Juan in one of his families fields / The tree stand is so he can take a nap while his cows graze and not get bothered by snakes
4. Agaves in a field (La Noria, Oaxaca)
5. Communal espadin fields (Agua Del Espino, Ejutla)
6. Last espadin harvest of the year (Agua Del Espino, Ejutla)
7. Etumio and Gerardo splitting Barril agaves for the oven loading
8. Juan Costellanos (Concha) loading the Barril agaves into the oven (San Miguel Ejutla)
9. Juan covering the oven with a protective layer of wet bagazo (the leftover agave fiber in the still after distillation)
10. Roasted Agave (Maguey)
11. A new roof was added 2 years ago allowing for regular tahona usage and thus consistent production and more financial security
12. Apolonio Patricio Lopez
13. Crushed agave fermenting in a wooden tina (San Agustín Amatengo, Ejutla)
14. Sergio Heranandez from Las Salinas / His family uses the Ejutla Stills but live outside the current borders of Ejutla
15. Inside the co-operative palenque / Barril roasted and ready to grind / Each palenque can request a grinder to make work easier or simply to continue production during the rain
16. Consistent cool water is the key to efficiency / They are lucky to have a great aquifer right below the surface
17. Refescadora on an alembique in San Miguel Ejutla / This cooling process is essential to the specific regional mezcal produced in this area
18. Collection of Mezcal in a fancy black clay container / These are given as wedding presents with the names and date etched on the container
19. Maestro Polo Partricio with a jicara of Tepeztate
20. Every label is placed on each bottle by hand / The bottling plant, which is owned by the co-op, employees numerous people from San Miguel Ejutla
21. Willy, Alex, and Kate attaching bat houses / The bat houses sit above an agave nursery
22. Banhez bat houses and an abandoned still from a former potential European buyer years ago
23. Ejutla, Oaxaca
24. Maestro Polo checking out his field tattooed on Alex's chest!
25. Maestros from around Ejutla at a 2018 largest piña competition
26. Curt (Left) and Scott (Right) Goldman, owners of CNI Brands
+ All images courtesy of Mariah and Alex unless otherwise noted
Lorena Terán Ibarra is the director of Copita Project for El Buho Mezcal where she leads the regenerative agriculture and educational programs.
Initiated by the founders of El Buho, the Copita Project seeks to replenish and preserve the balance of the natural environment while planting cultivated and semi-cultivated agaves.