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.

Vallarta’s Gardens

VBG (36 of 52)Vallarta’s Botanical Gardens are a special place that definitely should not be missed. A combination of Orchid houses, nurseries, nature trails, a very nice restaurant and even a place to take a dip, await you upon arrival.  It was just what I needed to relax and escape into nature for a day.

Getting there is easy; catch the bus, bound for El Tuito, at the corner of Aguacate and Carranza streets in the Romantic Sector of PV.  The fare is 20 pesos, and you are dropped off right at the Garden’s entrance.  Now for me, on my Sunday visit, I did have an adventure getting there.  Our bus had a small calamity. The turbine overheated, filling the bus with smoke and causing us to pull over to the side of the road, the driver quickly doused the engine compartment with water and we all spread out and awaited another bus to pick us up.  The thing was; nobody got terribly upset, we all just sat roadside and waited the 20 minutes for our rescue – boarded our new bus and headed off to our destination.

After picking up a map at the entrance, I set off.  I decided to walk the nature trails down by the Emerald Pools first.  This path is rated Difficult, but with a good set of walking shoes, it is very manageable.  The clear and cool stream, the deep green pools of water along with the sound of the rushing water made it all very worth it.   I lingered for quite a bit of time there.

[Video] Vallarta Botanical Gardens – Emerald Pools.

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The trail back up was well marked out and while difficult, was a great nature walkway.  The work they have done here to reforest this land is astonishing.  Much of the land here had been used for cattle and was terribly overgrazed and cleared.   The volunteers and the staff have totally transformed this place.

The trail lead me back to the Hacienda de Oro, just in time for lunch!  The building is covered with Bouganvillas and is brilliantly painted.  There is a very nice gift shop, offering many local products, including some wonderful and such fragrant whole Vanilla Beans.  Upstairs is the restaurant, where I settle in for a lite lunch of Tortilla Soup and an Agua Fresca  [Hibiscus flavoured] .  On this Sunday morning, opera arias were playing in the background and the view from up here is magnificent.  My lunch started with a little tray of fresh cucumbers, jicama and radishes sprinkled with Tajin.  This has been served to me in several other restaurants here; and is a habit I intend on continuing.  Crisp, refreshing and a bit spicy – an excellent tradition. The soup arrived in a diminutive earthenware pitcher and bowl.  A delightful presentation and delicious to boot; It was richly flavoured and topped Guacamole and Sour Cream.  The restaurant offers wood-fired oven pizzas and other traditional Mexican offerings, along with an extensive selection of tequilas.

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After lunch, I joined the tour through the Orchid house and nursery.  I would highly recommend joining this – the varieties are almost endless.  Robert Price, Founder and Curator of the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens has developed an outstanding collection of orchids and in the propagation lab, endangered species of orchids are being cultivated.

To finish my day, I headed off down to the Vanilla Trail area; a more rainforest feel to these gardens.  Coffee plants abound along with Vanilla orchids and Capomo trees.  Theses trails are a bit easier to navigate and were a great way to finish up my trip to the gardens.  I cannot over state the special nature of this place; a bit of paradise not far away for the city of Puerto Vallarta and a must visit.

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VBG (37 of 52)

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.

Walking and Eating on the Street in Vallarta

Once you settle in to your villa and go out to eat in one of the many great restaurants in town, it is now time to go try the other culinary treasures that abound in Vallarta. The Taquerias. They are the little food carts that are on every street, almost everywhere! So, make this your day three agenda in Vallarta. But which ones do you choose from? There are a couple of tour guides that offer a service, but I chose Vallarta Eats to come to the rescue. [Based on Trip Advisor and Eric is a fellow Philadelphian]
We met up and set off to eat! [Do not have breakfast on the day you go –you really eat on this tour!] I believe a good food tour is not only about sampling really good food, it should also be about the culture you are experiencing. [Full disclosure here – I was a professional Chef for over 20 years] Within the time it took us to get tour first destination – I learned that the State of Jalisco is the number two producer of Tequila, Vallarta is the second most important gourmet destination in Mexico and the unofficial name for the Isle de Cuale is Isle de Gatos!
On our first stop we sampled Birra – a stew from either Beef or Pork, cooked in a large clay pot. Besides the taco made from the meat, the broth is an essential element to easing the remnants of the night before. Even without the hangover – get a cup of the broth.Vallarta-Eats (2 of 29)


A bit later on we stopped at shop that only makes carnitas – by the whole hog. We sampled a bit of the carnitas – specifically the cheek. If you are offered this – sample it; so moist, crispy and tender. Delicious! And so we continued, visiting fabulous small eateries – stops at a local market, [the one I shop at], a bakery, a couple of great little restaurants and a tortilla factory. [Once you sample a hot fresh white corn tortilla – there is nothing quite like it] Tastings include shrimp, fish, pork, octopus and a variety of salsas and guacamoles – each were slightly different at each venue. In addition to all the food samples, we tasted a number of Auga Frescas. Memo – our guide did a marvelous job of both entertaining and informing us of local eating customs.

The kettles for the carnitas

The kettles for the carnitas

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Handmade tortilla!

Handmade tortilla!

Fried jalepeno filled with seafood

Fried jalepeno filled with seafood


Several hours later and with bellies and spirits full we set off to our final destination; a traditional Mexican dulceria. But first we had to navigate the small suspension bridges that cross the Cuale River; these can be most entertaining! But as we round the corner, the smell of the dulceria hits you – sugar, caramel and toasting pecans! And what better way to finish an eating expedition than with chocolate –dark, spicy with a hint of almond.

Memo our Guide!

Memo our Guide!

That is correct - a kilo [2.2 lbs] for $.69!

That is correct – a kilo [2.2 lbs] for $.69!

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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Sunday in Sayulita

We took the bus today from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita.  It is about a 45 minute ride that cost 25 pesos.  You head north along MEX 200 highway, leaving the coast briefly and head through hilly jungle to reappear back along the coast and the town of Sayulita.   This Pacific coastal town really does remind me of Southern California and Woodstock of the 60-70’s.  Sun, surf, spas, yoga studios and galleries blend together with traditional Mexican families to create this vibrant community.

If you arrive by bus [they runabout every 20-30 minutes and operate until about 9 pm], the downtown area is a short 5 minute walk.  Boutique shops and eateries abound, along with a local market selling jewelry, blankets and pottery.ImageImageImageImage

Sayulita is known for its surfing, snorkeling and the beautiful beach.  We spent the day enjoying the warm ocean and sound of the waves; however the waves were a bit light this day, so not as many surfers were in the water.   But there were plenty of families and boogie boards in the water.

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We stopped for lunch at a street-side Fish taco stand.  They were great!!  Fresh Mahi-Mahi and locally caught Shrimp.  Fresh and perfectly cooked, these some of the very best we have had.  And at thirty pesos each, they were a real bargain!

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Before returning back to PV, we toured several very nice galleries and did a bit of shopping.  I did have to stop at Coco Express juice.  Literally, a hole is punched into the coconut and a straw is inserted.  Simple, quick and it was so refreshing on a hot afternoon.  Plus, it’s a fun little stand!  We also picked up three pineapples – who could pass on that bargain – several Mandarin Oranges and got back on the bus for the ride back.

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Very nice gallery on Delfin Street, Saulita

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageSayulita was a great day trip, away from the bustle of Puerto Vallarta.