When I decided to explore Oaxaca, Mexico I knew that if there was ever a time to do a mezcal tasting or tour experience it would be here. Although Oaxaca produces the vast majority of all mezcal it was surprisingly difficult to find any tours or authentic experiences. Being an avid fan of the spirit, I scoured the internet until I came across Puerto Mezcal Tours and secured myself a spot on this mezcal experience in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca.
Like many naïve teenagers, I once took an ill-advised left turn into a bottle of tequila which ended with me spending the next seven years recoiling at the mention of it. Fast forward to being 23 and living in London, England I was taken on a date to a tequila bar – not ideal. Reluctant to try anything, I forced myself into Cafe Pacifico in Covent Garden without realizing that I had just entered one arm of Tomas Estes’s tequila empire and my perspective on Mexican liquor was about to change forever. I explained to the bartender that I could not physically drink tequila and after probing me with a few questions about what I liked and didn’t like I was presented with a small snifter of mezcal.
At this stage, I had never heard of mezcal and all I knew about tequila was that Jose Cuervo was my archnemesis. I remember the bartender using the words “just trust me” as I raised the glass and steadied my stomach. The smell was so unexpected, landing somewhere closer to whiskey than tequila. It was smoky and spicy and couldn’t be farther from what I was dreading so much. The taste was also a surprise. Intended to be sipped, it was smoky, warm and earthy. I was floored, this might be my new favourite drink!
Back in the early 2010s mezcal was still very much under the radar. I would ask bartenders everywhere I went if they had mezcal and many of them hadn’t even heard of it while others reminisced about it as though it were a myth or legend. Now that mezcal is becoming better known and mezcal cocktails are popping up on trendy menus across North America and Europe, I wanted to find an experience that would teach me about it but also let me enjoy it. This is how I found Antoine and Puerto Mezcal Tours.
When you think of a mezcal tasting in a somewhat remote Mexican town you probably wouldn’t think of Antoine. He is young, vibrant, sociable, and French. He’s one of those electric people who boost your energy just by being around them and you can tell he’s full of great ideas and grand plans. Antoine came to Puerto Escondido for a couple weeks, met a Mexican girl and moved his life to be with her. He has been in Puerto Escondido for two and a half years now and he and Arely started this business with their shared love of mezcal after realizing that nothing like this was being offered.
The tour itself is incredible value for money. At only 800 pesos [$40USD/$50CAD] per person it was the best value tour of any kind I found in the area. Things in Mexico can be a bit casual at times and if you’re like me that can be disconcerting, but Antoine was so refreshing to deal with. He allowed me to book well in advance, he reconfirmed a few days before the tour, he was transparent about the cost, he advised on what we needed to bring, he provided an exact pick-up time the night before and he was prompt.
The experience began with an included pick-up transfer in a nice air-conditioned vehicle. Antoine met me in the hotel lobby, introduced himself and welcomed me to the tour. We then headed off to pick up a couple more guests before making our way to the mezcal distillery which is just a quick 15-minute drive from the town.
Along with Antoine and Arely, the tour is facilitated by Tomas and Perla a young husband and wife who work at the distillery. Tomas’s parents own the distillery and Tomas is actually a 6th generation mezcal producer. He was also the driver for the day while Perla served the tasting and explained the production process alongside Antoine.
Once we met the team and had a moment to exchange niceties with the other guests, we gathered around a table for the presentation portion of the experience. The presentation is a quick and easy 30-minutes jampacked with fascinating history and interesting fun facts. Antoine’s passion for mezcal is apparent as he gushes about the spirit, often referring to it as “the Elixir of the Gods”.
Now equipped with some knowledge of what mezcal is and where it comes from, we headed over to the production area to learn how it’s made. Perla explains each step of the production process in Spanish and then Antoine translates to English. The process is fascinating, and the tools and methods used are very traditional. We also had an opportunity to taste some of the product at different stages to see how it changes by each step. This portion of the experience lasted about 15-minutes and then it was on to the moment we had all been waiting for.
Each guest was given a small clipboard with the 10 mezcals we were about to taste listed along with some different flavour categories and a spot to rank our preferences as we went. Clipboard in hand, we worked our way through the 10 carefully curated and very different mezcals. A common misconception, and one I had myself, was that all mezcal is smoky but this could not be further from the truth. One of the mezcals was sweet, almost like a Moscato dessert wine, another was really herbal bordering on medicinal, some were fruity and some were earthy. As a group we tasted both traditional and wild mezcals, becoming better and better friends with each round. It was fun to see how different people reacted to the different flavours and to discuss and banter over who was right and who was wrong. My favourite part of the tasting was when we got to the infamous, mythical worm. We tasted the same mezcal, one distilled without the worm and one distilled with the worm. Watching everyone laugh and chatter wide-eyed as Perla poured our drinks from a bottle with bloated worms floating inside was an awesome moment.
At the end of tasting, feeling loose and giggly we had an opportunity to purchase some of the mezcals we had tasted, available in small, medium and large bottles – cash and card accepted. Then we took a couple of group photos and hopped back into the gloriously air-conditioned vehicle for a ride back to town.
This 2-hour tour is such a fun experience and I would call it a must-do for anyone visiting the area. Our group was made up of Americans, Canadians and Australians of various ages and interests. We had someone who didn’t drink much, others who were pseudo connoisseurs. The friendly group nature of the tour makes it easy to socialize and make new friends and would be comfortable for solo travellers and friends or couples. In fact, I made a few friends on this tour to go to dinner with and a beach day later in the week.
You’ll want to make sure you dress comfortably and casually, bring water and don’t forget the bug spray. Tours operate daily up to three times a day but I recommend taking the 3:30pm slot as you’ve missed the peak heat of the day and it’s a great time to start sipping at the sauce. Antoine and Arely are very accommodating but being that this tour is the only one of its kind in the area it can get busy and book up. To avoid disappointment I would reach out to Puerto Mezcal Tours at least a couple of days in advance. You can also check out their Instagram here which is loaded with pictures and videos of the experience for you to peruse.
Why not make a day of it? Check out my post on Where to Eat in Puerto Escondido for my top pick for dinner in town. An amazing Oaxacan restaurant that will deliver one of the best meals of your life along with some outstanding cocktails. Until next time, be bold!
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