The Cortés family is one of the oldest and most important mezcal families in Oaxaca. The Agave de Cortés brand honors the family's heritage and tradition. Now in their 6th generation, Casa Cortés has produced artisanal mezcal since 1840. Casa Cortés is proud to be one of the few mezcal companies that is 100% Oaxacan-owned.
In 2007, Rolando Cortes, along with his father and siblings, created a company that would bring the taste of their culture to the world.
Rolando Cortes with maestro mezcalero Leoncio Santiago
As the mezcal category grows, so do the number of new brands available in the U.S. market. However, very few brands are actually owned by the people that make the mezcal.
Casa Cortés is proud to be owned by a 6th generation family with Zapotec heritage, whose history in the region dates to 1840.
José Cortés dedicated his life to continuing his family's great mezcal-making traditions.
Mezcal is the purest form of beverage alcohol. From a raw material that takes a minimum of 7 years to mature in the field before harvest, to the non-industrial production processes, there is no spirit that has captivated the attention of our industry quite like Mezcal. At the center of the category, are a handful of thoughtful producers that are ensuring that the future of mezcal is preserved.
Casa Cortés has been working to improve the local economy since its inception. The explosion of mezcal's popularity in recent years has meant more consistent production cycles, especially for export markets. As production increases, so too do the number of jobs needed to ensure the products succeed in a competitive marketplace.
Since 2007, Casa Cortés has grown from a tiny core of 2-3 producers making mezcal, to include a team of 40 employees, handling everything from the actual production of mezcal, to bottling, logistics, administrative management, and branding & marketing.
Among its three brands, Casa Cortés works with 17 different families in 16 different regions for the production of its mezcals.
Agave Espadín was selected long ago as the agave species that would be the backbone of the mezcal industry.
90% of the mezcal that makes it to market is made from the Espadín agave. Thus, it is highly cultivated in various regions.
Several factors contribute to Espadín's attractiveness as a staple in mezcal production:
In the far south of Mexico, the state of Oaxaca is a unique mix of cultures, inhabited by several ancient civilizations, including Zapotec, Mixtec, and Aztec - throughout its 7,000 yr. history. The continuing presence of the indigenous population is a major asset for the preservation of native tradition. Infused with European cultures and languages resulting from colonization, Oaxaca is a true melting pot and bastion of diversity.
The state of Oaxaca has the largest diversity of flora and fauna in Mexico, which is a direct result of the great geological diversity.
Oaxaca has eight distinct regions, ranging from high elevation pine forests, to tropical coastlines with miles of beach, to rugged mountain terrains. Each region has a distinct microclimate.
Santiago Matatlán is surrounded by mountains, with a narrow valley floor to the NE.
Located in the heart of Oaxaca, the Valles Centrales region is home to hundreds of mezcal producers. The mountainous region is one of the most geographically and biologically diverse in Mexico, with the largest variety of endemic agave species on the planet.
The village of Santiago Matatlán is located in the Central Valleys region of Oaxaca, Mexico. With nearly 250 tiny mezcal distilleries dotted throughout the town and the surrounding rural valley floors, it is the self-proclaimed world capital of mezcal.
Don Leoncio's palenque is located along the main road that passes through Santiago Matatlán. Highly respected within the mezcalero community, Leoncio has been making mezcal for over 30 years. He is the cousin of Rolando and Valentín Cortés and has worked closely with the Casa Cortés family for many years.
In addition to making Espadín mezcal for Agave de Cortés, Leoncio also produces mezcal from rare agave varietals and sells them only to visitors of his palenque.
Don Leoncio's palenque is named Dainzu, after the ancient Zapotec village that is now an important archealogical site.
Open air, in wood tanks
Twice distilled in copper pot stills.
Under the new laws governing the classification of mezcal, Agave de Cortés Joven is classified as Mezcal Artesenál. The classification requires the following production elements:
Cooking: Agave piñas must be cooked in underground pits or above ground masonry ovens.
Milling: Wooden mallet, tahona, Chilean/Egyptian mill, cane press, or chipper.
Fermentation: Fermentation can be performed in rock pits, in-ground pits, tree trunks, clay urns, wooden vats, or animal hide. The fermentation may include agave fibers.
Distillation: Distillation must be fueled by direct fire beneath a copper or clay boiler or pot still. The head or cap of the still may be made of clay, wood, copper, or stainless steel.
Espadín agaves take anywhere from 7-10 years to mature prior to being harvested, which occurs around the time that the plant begins to reproduce. At that time, an agave will shoot up a large stalk called a quiote, eventually bearing seeds and bulbs. A mezcalero normally allows the quiote to grow for around 2 months prior to cutting ( capón ). The plant will often be left to generate more sugar for a short window prior to being fully uprooted and sheared. Only the piña is used in production of mezcal, although the pencas , or leaves, have many uses and are often utilized as fuel for stills or for cooking.
After the piñas are harvested, they are transported from the field to the palenque. An earthen pit oven is prepared by building a roaring fire, often days in advance, to heat the stones lining the pit. Once red hot, the piñas are piled inside and quickly covered with a protective layer, followed by a mass of dirt to insulate the oven, creating an intensely hot earthen pressure cooker.
Without roasting, the wild yeast introduced during fermentation will be unable to break down the complex starches. After cooking for several days, the complex sugars in the agave piñas have been converted into simple sugars, ready for milling and fermentation.
Once the agaves are roasted, they must be crushed prior to fermentation. Agave flesh is dense, with much of the sugar inaccessible to the yeasts and bacteria that will affect it during fermentation. To unlock the cooked sugars, mezcaleros often use the crushing weight of a tahona stone, pulled by a mule or donkey.
At the Agave de Cortés palenque in Dainzu, the mezcalero is working alongside a burro to ensure larger pieces of roasted agave are in the path of the giant tahona. He'll use the pitchfork to shovel the already crushed agave into the fermentation tanks (also pictured).
After the agaves are crushed, they are transferred to fermentation tanks, with local source water added, so that the ambient yeast and bacteria can get to work. During fermentation, these yeasts consume the sugars in the agave and, as a byproduct, excrete carbon dioxide and alcohol. After fermentation, the overall fermented agave "beer" is approximately 16-20% abv.
The fermented agave mash is distilled twice in copper stills, set atop a wood-oven. As the spirit evaporates and rises in the still, it is trapped and run through a serpentine pipe submerged in cold water, causing the spirit vapors to condense into liquid form.
After the first distillation, the spirit is approximately 37% abv, and increases to approximately 45%-55% upon the second distillation.
For Oaxacans, mezcal is much more than just an alcoholic beverage. Mezcal represents families and culture. The work is difficult and generations of tradition go into each batch.
The word Dixeebe ( dee-shee-bay ) is a Zapotec word that signifies gratitude... for Mother Earth, for each other, and for each unique moment that we share the gift of mezcal.