Four Mezcals You Should Try at Cantina OK!
Words by Jeremy Blackmore
Photography by Trent van der Jagt
Cantina OK! is a Micro Mezcal Mecca. Its shelves are stocked with hand sourced, hand imported, hand-made agave spirits and its Margaritas are served with hand shaved ice and hand pressed limes. No seats, no worries its all Cantina OK! Here, owner Jeremy talks us through four of their spirits from the backbar.
At Cantina OK! We collect and share Micro Mezcal.
Mezcal is a spirit distilled from a Mexican succulent. Mezcal is the world's last ancient spirit, in places still distilled in the back of rural houses or by the side of village rivers. A wild spirit, made from wild plants with wild fermentation and wild techniques. Mezcal is a glimpse into a past world before the cultural colonisation of big business, and the homogeneity that brings.
Micro Mezcal is a spirit defined by diversity. By a defiance of standard. It laughs at the rest of the spirit world's attempt to ensure consistency. Every mezcal is different this year compared to last, mezcal is different on Wednesday compared to Tuesday. Mezcal and other agave spirits aren’t always yummy but they always have something to say.
Micro Mezcal is complex, so very complex. If you approach it slowly it will reveal its layers to you. These are spirits that don’t get put into a bottle, don’t leave the village they were made and certainly have never been sold in bars in Australia.
At Cantina we focus on engaging with the spirits that we sell on the level of enthusiast. Hopefully that means that people can enjoy trying and exploring these crazy spirits without feeling the need to have read a book or listen to an agave podcast. We always try to use the mezcal and the way we talk about it to be a mind connector or memory collector, something to connect our guests to Mexico but also their own senses.
I would love to get back there this year. I would love to return to each of our favourites, but honestly my favourite moments are when we find the next one, a little further out and a little wilder.
Papalome - Pub Chesterfield
Village - Santa Maria Ixcatlan
17’51’ N 97’11’ W
The last stop for the Coca Cola truck.
It was Fathers day when we arrived in the pouring rain. With the villagers we made mouth cocktails with a swig of cheap rum and a swig of warm coke and watched their kids dance spiritual lessons with rock music and devil masks. Armando’s spirit is incredible, wild harvested, hand crushed, wild ferment in a cow skin, distilled in clay. He uses no electricity or machines, his running water is piped in hollowed out logs. When it gets dark he lights a candle.
For me this tastes of roast pineapple, warm leather jacket and campfire smoke.
Jabali - Green n Cream
Village - Santa Catarina Minas
World Famous! Clay Pots and Police Parties.
Felix has mezcal. Lots of mezcal! He has it in a turquoise room off to the side of his distillery and you will be trying a large glass of each before you leave. We were the second visitors of the day, the first being the entire jeep full of Policia Nacional that wobbled off once we arrived. Jabalí is a very rare mezcal, only made by a real master mezcalero. This is a treat.
For me it tastes of White Chocolate, Kombucha and Granny Smith
Papaplomel - Tropical Trifle
Village - Santiago Coatepec
18’10’ N 97’23’ W
By day, a beautiful town adorned with Dragon Fruit flower. By night, Jurassic Park for Donkeys
This was the last village on the road into the mountains between Puebla and Oaxaca. We arrived in a torrential down pour and crossed the “main road” now river by horse and long jump. The Meza family was so welcoming to three out of depth Aussie boys, they fed us and put us up in the guest room conveniently located adjacent to the donkey which served as lullaby and alarm clock. Their spirits were made mostly with the local agave Papalomel, harvested on the back of said donkey from the mountains around the town.
This one is full of Musk Stick and banana flavours with a salty lavender aftertaste.
Jorge Octavio Joya
Amarillo 2yr - Tropical Forest
Village - El Refugio Suichitlan
An hour and a half from PV but a world away from Señor Frog. Tropical Fruit, Cane and Raicilla.
I’ve never seen a set up like this before - copper, papaya and fig wood all stuck together to make the still. This is hyper local, ancient technology. The father and son combo made the spirit were the same guys that harvested the agave and carved the stills. We headed back up the hill to the bat infested warehouse where we tried vintages up to 30 years old… not for sale… This 8yr old was still one of the most delicious unique spirits I have ever tried.
For me it tastes a bit like eucalypt, dried apricots and fresh mango.