Mexico’s Sour Mash Whiskey

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We are all familiar with Mexico’s most renowned liquor, and the State of Jalisco makes some of the very best Tequilas I have ever sampled; smooth and delicious. But a new beverage has arrived – Sour Mash Whiskey, in a small fishing village no less! As you walk down to the beaches at Boca de Tamlatan, you pass a few small businesses, homes and this distillery. Los 2 Compadres is a very good small distillery at that; making a Single Cask Sour Mash Whiskey, a “Shine Whiskey” and a Coffee Liquor.
As we wandered into in, the air was heavy and humid with the smell of fermenting corn. The casks of aging whiskey and “shine” [a shortened form of moonshine] are sitting there – just passing the time away. The five fermenting tanks are busy transforming the local Aztecan Maize into the “wash” that will be distilled to make the whiskey. They are bit unique here, in that they use a 100% mash bill

for their Whiskey. In the center of the room sits the large distilling kettle; stainless steel with bright blue feet, just waiting for the next batch to be cooked. Larry Dorwart was on hand to pour us a sample, or two, and gave us the tour.

The Corn Mash

The Corn Mash

The Fermenting Containers

The Fermenting Containers

The Distilling Kettle

The Distilling Kettle

The Condenser

The Condenser

The Aging Casks

The Aging Casks

This is a small local artisan distillery. He gets his heirloom corn from the hills surrounding the little village of Boca de Tamlatan from a farmer who goes there on mules. I am not kidding! The water, an essential component, is perfectly suited for this use. Larry should know, for he refers to a long family tradition of making “shine” through the years – even during Prohibition. Therefore, when he retired and moved down here, this seemed like the thing to do.

Aztecan Maize

Aztecan Maize

The Cask Whiskey is based on an American Bourbon recipe. As such, some of the prior soured mash is used to get the fermenting started.  The tanks also are not sealed, so as to allow the wild natural yeasts in this region to help flavour the whiskey. After being freshly distilled, the liquor goes to the wooden casks to age.  They use old French wine barrels; taken apart and charred to their specs.  I was intrigued by the nuanced aromatic differences in the casks, depending upon which of the barrels the whiskey was aging in. The colour of this young whiskey is attributable, no doubt to the use of theses casks.  Currently they produce about 1500 bottles per month but are getting ready to increase that and offer a Blended Whiskey also. The whiskey rests for year in these barrels, then bottled by hand.   Los 2 Compadres Whiskey is reminiscent of some Kentucky’s lighter bourbons.  For me it has definite caramel overtones along with a hint of vanilla and agave essences.  I found it to possess a very nice mouth finish, fresh, not heavy but with a light finish consistent with it’s aging.  Eminently sippable, I prefer mine just in a snifter.  However, on the rocks or with a bit of water added also works

.A small amount of this aged Whiskey is used to blend in their “Gringo Larry’s Shine”. This whiskey is aged for a shorter period and much lighter in colour. Los 2 Compadres shine is a full flavour, but not a harsh biting shine. It feels full in the mouth with lovely warmth as swallowed. Much smoother than other moonshine offerings I have had before.

The much unexpected third offering from them is a delicious Coffee-Creamed Liquor; Licor de Café’ Mexicano. Think Vietnamese coffee, dark roasted and locally grown beans and sweetened condensed milk, combined with their “Shine” to make it 40 proof! Larry’s affection for the cuisine of Vietnam lead him create this beverage. It is fantastic over ice and a great way to finish a meal.

The Single Cask Whiskey, Gringo Larry’s Shine and even the Licor de Café’ Mexico are available locally in several bars and restaurants, along with stand he mans at the Saturday Farmer’s Market in Puerto Vallarta.

Holiday Aromas -Rodolfo el Reno

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The other morning I was heading out to do some street photography, when my nose caught whiff of something very familiar; cinnamon, sugar and freshly made pastry. An immediate detour was required. I rounded the corner and discovered “Rodolfo el Reno”. A brother and sister team carrying on a family tradition, creating Buñuelos.
Buñuelos are a fried delicate pastry, made from yeast-raised dough, flavoured with a hint of anise and coated with cinnamon and sugar. This kind of pastry appears in many cultures, each with its own variation, some are rounded, others are filled with custard or jelly and in several countries, and they are made from cassava and malanga. From my own heritage, Jews in Turkey make them from matzo meal and serve them during Passover.
At this shop, Goel and Hortencia start early in the morning during the holiday season, to make hundreds of these each day. This tradition has been carried on from their mother, who made them for years in this little shop. These pastries are very popular with Vallarta’s Las Posadas celebrations. Boxes and boxes were being filled when I arrived, each containing bags of warm buñuelos.

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I left with my own bag of warm Buñuelos, headed back to my apartment, and made some café de olla. I shared them with my good friend, Ramon and delayed my trip to town. This is what I love about Vallarta; so many wonderful little shops scattered throughout the city just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed

My Saturday Ritual in Vallarta

Squash Flowers

Squash Flowers

Saturdays are very busy in PV.  Local shops are bustling, buses fill quickly with families heading off to the beaches and several city blocks become home to the weekly Farmers Market.  There are actually two separate markets; One is in the Paradise Community Centre in the Zona Romantica and the other market is in the Colonial Emiliano Zapata section of town, (This market is located on Basilio Badillo,  Pino Suarez streets and the neighborhood Kindergarten School) only a few blocks away each other.

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Angela’s – Delicous tacos

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Sandra of Mamma Jamma Preserves

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Cloud Coffee – Local, Organic, micro producer – a few cups a day for me please!

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Lorene, owner and creator of Artisan Bread Co.

Artisans and craftsmen offer up selections from glass work, intricate embroidery, jewelry, soaps and clothing accessories.  Everything here is locally made or grown – with 50 km of Vallarta and you are meeting the producers directly – it does not get any better.  And then there is the FOOD!!  Breads, pies, quiches, tacos, pastries, jams, fruits, meats, fresh cheeses and coffee lure you.  Bring a big bag and savour them all.  I personally grab a couple of loaves of bread, a few pieces of Queso Fresco every week along with my weekly supply of locally produced rich coffee, some fresh produce and few cigars.  [I am still using my jar of Papaya Jam I picked up a couple of weeks ago – but I don’t think I’ll be able to bring it back through customs]  The Kindergarten school has a number of eateries in the courtyard – excellent food and great prices.  In the Paradise center there are also eateries and many, many baked goods!Saturday-Famers-Market (1 of 36) Saturday-Famers-Market (22 of 36) Saturday-Famers-Market (26 of 36) Saturday-Famers-Market (29 of 36) Saturday-Famers-Market (38 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (40 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (39 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (42 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (50 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (52 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (56 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (57 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (59 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (55 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (49 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (47 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (6 of 36)

It is best to arrive early, as the season progresses the crowds are getting much larger.  By early afternoon many of the vendors are getting low on supplies.  But they will be back next week, just like me.

A Trip to Coffee Country

The “highway” to La Estancia climbs over 4000 feet up the mountains. Winding and very narrow at times, I am glad I am not driving. The bus makes various stops along the way, not only to pick-up and discharge passengers, but also to act as rural package delivery transport and school bus. When I do get off, La Estancia is a very small town on the highway to Mascota and Talpa.

The view from town Square in La Estancia

The view from town Square in La Estancia

Joe Thompson [Manager of the hacienda] picked me up and off to San Sebastian we went. We climbed a bit more and finally arrived at Hacienda Jalisco, San Sebastian del Oeste. The house sits in a valley surrounded high peaks with remains of its history everywhere. La-Hacienda-San-Sebastian (36 of 36)La-Hacienda-San-Sebastian (12 of 36)La-Hacienda-San-Sebastian (27 of 36)The hacienda was built in the 1700’s by the Spanish to be the headquarters for its mining operations [in this region]; specifically Lead, Pyrite, Gold and Silver.
In the mine’s heyday, over 180 people lived and worked here along with many others who were responsible for the transportation and operation of the estate. At the height of the mines operation, over ten tons of silver a day were produced. Today, Maguey Cactus and Coffee are the crops of choice.
Stepping into the house, the sense of its history is palpable. The original art de’ toile is still on the walls along with much of the original flooring and beams. Additionally you notice the three foot thick walls, the large table piled with impressive ledgers and several rooms containing a variety of artifacts from the Hacienda’s almost 300 year history. Joe led me through the house, pointing out both its long past and more recent Hollywood connection. [John Houston spent quite a bit of time here] The quietness of the surroundings allows you to sit undisturbed on the chairs of the house’s wrap around veranda. The house does not have electricity, but relies on oil lamps for evening light, along with fireplaces to take the high altitude chill off.

The large hall.

The large hall.

The original wall painting detail

The original wall painting detail

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John Huston's bedroom

John Huston’s bedroom

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We continued outside to look over the remains of the foundries, stables and workers quarters. Then it was on to the reason for the trip – Coffee! There in the shade of oak and pine trees are the coffee plants. When I went almost all the berries were green; we did find a few turning red and I sampled them. The pods popped open under pressure and yielded a couple of beans each; I chewed on the pods and found them sweet and slightly flowery. The coffee from this region is mostly all organically produced and when roasted becomes richly flavoured, but with a low acidity. Roasting was to occur later in the day [approximately 15 kilos for the farmers market the next day], but I had to leave and catch the bus back to Vallarta. La-Hacienda-San-Sebastian (29 of 36)

the dried green coffee beans, ready for roasting.

the dried green coffee beans, ready for roasting.

A couple of ripe berries

A couple of ripe berries

The trip up to Hacienda Jalisco, San Sebastian del Oeste illuminated an almost forgotten Mexico, which influenced my photography choices. I felt I just had to capture much of the house in Monochrome; from the chairs that came centuries ago from Spain, and the containers that held the mercury [brought from Europe] for the refining of silver, to the death mask of a forgotten worker. It was a side excursion I will not soon forget.

The Spanish chairs

The Spanish chairs

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Mercury containers

Mercury containers

Piloncillo moulds -the traditional hard brown sugar of Mexico

Piloncillo moulds -the traditional hard brown sugar of Mexico

Unknown workers death mask

Unknown workers death mask

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Child's toy and mule pelvic bone

Child’s toy and mule pelvic bone

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Handmade copper bed detail.

Handmade copper bed detail.

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Rare Aztec Lily

Rare Aztec Lily

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