Sean Kenyon knows how to pour out both drinks and advice. A third-generation bar man with 25 years behind the bar, he is a student of cocktail history, a United States Bartenders Guild-certified Spirits Professional and a BAR Ready graduate of the prestigious Beverage Alcohol Resource Program. You can often find him behind the bar at Euclid Hall and here most weeks, where he'll answer your questions. But right now, he's in Oaxaca. Here's why:
This month, I got an offer too good to refuse. My friend, employer and mentor, Steve Olson of aka Winegeek, a world-renowned spirits and wine educator as well as a mezcal fanatic, was taking seven bartenders to visit Oaxaca (wa-hock-a) and the remote villages where Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal is produced.
And he wanted me to be one of them.
The group, which would also be led by Ron Cooper, the founder of Del Maguey, would consist of Danny Valdez (of New Orleans, and the national ambassador for Ron Zacapa), Jim Meehan (of NYC, world-famous cocktail bar PDT and Banks Five Island Rum), Ryan "Big Country" Maybee (Kansas City, the Reiger Hotel Grill and Manifesto), Eric "Meatball" Giardina (SF, ambassador for Tequila Fortaleza), Michael Flannery (NYC, Mondrian Hotel), David Grapshi (SF, Gemini, importers for Del Maguey) and me.
Agave spirits, especially mezcal, are my spirits of choice -- so my fingers couldn't move fast enough to reply to Steve's invite with a resounding "YES!" On Monday, August 8, I left Denver for what I thought would be a great trip and a chance to drink mezcal with my bar family.
What I actually experienced was so much more.
Day One: On the ground in Oaxaca
I took off from DIA around 1 p.m. After a layover in Houston -- where I joined up with Jim Meehan, Ryan Maybee and Eric Giardina -- we arrived in Oaxaca at 8:30 p.m., and went straight to the offices of Del Maguey. Del Maguey means "from the Maguey," and in Mexico, maguey is the most common word used for the agave plant.
Ron Cooper, Steve Olson, Danny Valdez and Michael Flannery were waiting for us there, (Dave Grapshi would be delayed until the following night.) After our greetings, we were all handed small clay cups, or copitas, and told to keep the cup all week long. No cup, no mezcal, no joke.
Ron also had a treat for us: From a plastic gas container, hand-labeled with a Sharpie (photo above), he poured us each a copita of Arroqueño (maguey varietal) Minas Mezcal made by one of his producers. It was my first mezcal of the trip, one I had never had before, and it was amazing: bright and fruity, with a nice acidity.
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After a couple more rounds of toasts, we all walked next door to Los Danzantes for dinner (plastic jug in tow). And for the next couple of hours, we laughed, talked mezcal and drank much more mezcal. We wrapped it up around midnight (thankfully, we had a driver) so that we could get to the B&B where we were staying in Teotilan Del Valle.
Conveniently, Ron's house/bodega -- where he lives, bottles and packages DM -- was right behind the hotel. We headed to bed early (for a group of bartenders) so that we could get a fresh start in the morning.
Tomorrow: Day two.