23 + Asis Cortés
Mezcal Family History
We are pleased to welcome Asis Cortés to the show. Asis comes from 6 generations of Zapotec mezcal producers and maguey cultivators in Matatlan, Oaxaca. This podcast is an excellent opportunity to learn about the history of mezcal culture and production from the perspective of a person whose family has been producing since the 1840s.
Asis has been involved in several mezcal projects over that past 15 years. Many of them you may be familiar with: Agave de Cortes, Nuestra Soledad, El Jolgorio, and Origen Raiz. Asis is also the founder of Mezcalogia, Ofrenda Oaxaca, Puro Burro Sunset Bar and the branding agency, Stratos.
This conversation highlights his latest project Mezcal Dixeebe. A collaboration with his father Valentin, developed to honor their ancestors and amplify the connection between agave plants and their culture.
Asis explains how the introduction of adulterated mezcal in the 1980’s and ’90s created a serious problem for his family and other mezcal producers in the region. This proved to be a devastating, protracted event for the communities in and around Oaxaca and caused his father to stop producing mezcal for a time. Adulterated mezcal also called Conejo (rabbit), was mezcal that was altered by adding non-agave spirits or worse, synthetic materials, pushing down the price, and making it very difficult for authentic producers of 100% maguey distilled mezcal to sell their product. This is one of the events that instigated the creation of the D.O and N.O.M and eventually the CRM.
We cover many topics as they relate to Asis’s experience as an entrepreneur, brand developer, mezcal educator, and prolific advocate for the preservation of his culture; the culture of mezcal. This is a podcast not to be missed!
1. Ruta de Mezcal - the mezcal route of Asis's Grandfather. Historically, mezcal was produced to sell within the community and surrounding areas. Abuelo Jose's route was roughly 80-90 kilometer round trip.
2. Asis and his grandfather, Jose Cortés (2015)
3. From left to right: Asis, Asis' paternal grandparents: Crispina Hernandez and Jose Cortés, Asis' mother, Irma and his father Valentín
4. Asis and his maternal grandmother, Maria and Asis' brother, Geovani Cortés (2019)
5. Gregorio Martinez and Valentin Cortés. In 2016 they produced a pechuga together for El Jolgorio
6. Asis’ mother Irma, his maternal grandmother Maria, and his Aunt Eli (2019)
7. The first Mezcal Fair in Oaxaca City (1997)
8. Valentin Cortés (2013)
9. Valentin Cortés in his agave field. These agaves are A. angustifolia (Espadin) and are around 2 yrs old in this pic (2017)
10. The same agave field as in image #9. This pic was taken in May 2020 when they were harvesting the hijuelos
11. Valentin and Asis Cortés standing by their horno (2017)
12.,13. Valentin and Asis uncovering the roasted agave in the horno (2017)
14. Asis, Don Jorge Saravia, Doña Lula Saravia, Don Valentin, Eva, Daniel and Nayeli - the Origen Raiz team in Durango (2019)
15. The Cortés family at an Origen Raiz tasting at Ofrenda
Pictured left to right: Valentin, Irma, Asis, Asis' wife Mar, Geovani, Marisol and Daniel
16. Bildo Saravia with Ignacio Grijalva Santiago. Ignacio is Valentin's long-time friend who relocated to Durango from Oaxaca three years ago to be the mezcalero for Origen Raiz
17. The wild, beautiful landscape of Durango, taken on the Rancho el Ojo property where the vinata is located
18. Sotol plants and A. durangesis (Cenizo) growing wild on the el Ojo property
19. A. durangensis (Cenizo) and what looks like a type of A. karwinskii in the background
20. The horno at the Origen Raiz vinata located on Rancho el Ojo
21. Maestro Mezcalero Ignacio Grijalva Santiago
22. The horno at the Origen Raiz vinata (notice the difference in the oven style from Valentin's in Oaxaca image #11)
23. Expertly stacked cooked maguey
24. Tahona in action at the Origen Raiz vinata
25. These are tinas (the fermentation vats) at the Origen Raiz vinata. They buried them about one meter in the ground to prevent the fermentation process from going dormant due to the cold weather. This was in 2016, since then they have been adapting their technique by adjusting water temperature in the tinas
26.,-31., Preparing the ingredients for a pechuga distillation at Origen Raiz. The recipe includes deer meat and a variety of fruit. The volcanic stones used in the horno are locally sourced from the land.
32.,33. An agave that has gone to seed at Rancho el Ojo in Duranago
34. Flowering Nopales
35. The breathtaking terroir of Durango at Rancho el Ojo. You can see the volcanic stones all over the ground
36.-39. Ofrenda is a petite hotel in the heart of Oaxaca, owned and operated by Asis and Eric Giardina. They just opened Puro Buro Sunset Bar, a mezcal bar founded by Asis and Eric about two blocks away from Ofrenda (not shown here)
40. Don Valentin, Asis and Daniel on the campo in Oaxaca. These are the most recent photos from the family campo taken a few weeks ago. This is a field of espadin agaves (photo credit: Tony White)
41. Dixeebe Tobala with a A. potatorum (tobala) in the backround (photo credit: Tony White)
42. Working in the fields of the campo (photo credit: Tony White)
43. Don Valentin, Asis and Daniel (2020) (photo credit: Tony White)
44. The Cortés family at the official presentation of Mezcal Dixeebe
All photos courtesy of Asis Cortés 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.