Rolando Cortés, son of Don José Cortés, is a 5th generation member of the Cortés family and serves as CEO of the Casa Cortés company. After growing up in his family's palenque in Santiago Matatlán, Rolando's mezcal journey eventually took him to San Francisco for a period in his twenties, where he gained exposure to the spirits market in the United States. In the early 2000's, Rolando led his family's efforts at breaking into a small, but growing market with the Agave de Cortés brand. In 2010, with the mezcal category still in a nascent stage, Rolando's vision led his family to begin bottling their mezcal for international distribution under the El Jolgorio and Nuestra Soledad brands followed by the re-introduction of the Agave de Cortés brand. Rolando's goal in all of his work was to honor his family's Zapotec heritage and preserve the deep cultural ties that his family has to mezcal.
Once the agaves are harvested, they are taken back to the palenque (pr. pah-lane-kay) or distillery. Most traditional palenques consist of generally the same elements:
After many years of uninterrupted growth in the field, the wild agave plant reaches maturation. At this stage, the agave is preparing to flower and begins to condense sugars and nutrients in its center, making it ripe for harvest. After observing and nurturing the agave for many years (up to 25 years in the case of the wild agave Tepeztate), palenqueros select only the best wild agave. With a machete or ax, the long, stiff leaves are sheared, leaving a piña, or the heart of the agave, which gets its name from its resemblance to a pineapple.
The mezcalero depends on the land for his livelihood, and routinely talks to the land, thankful for its provisions.
Once roasted, the soft, brown agaves are chopped into smaller pieces and placed in a small, round pit to be ground into fibrous candy-like strands, releasing the caramelized sugars and juices that were condensed during the roast.
Traditionally, the palenque employs a mule or horse pulling a round tahona stone to speed the process.
Nuestra Soledad's Master Distillers each use traditional methods passed down from father to son over many generations. Thus, traditional mezcal is made the exact same way it was centuries ago.
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 52-55% upon the second distillation.
Using centuries old methods, and many years of experience, the mezcalero is able to determine the proof of the second distillation simply by blowing through a bamboo-like tube into a cup of mezcal to create bubbles. The larger the bubbles, the higher the proof.