In the second installment of this interview series, Casa Cortes International Brand Ambassador, Monica Bautista Cortes sits with Master Mezcalero Gregorio Martínez Jarquín to discuss family, tradition and when it’s the right time to make a mezcal de Pechuga. Read the full interview below.
M: Hello, Tio G. Let’s start with an easy one. What is your full name and how long have you been making mezcal?
G: My name is Gregorio Martínez Jarquín, originally from Santiago Matatlán. I am a fourth generation Master Mezcalero.
M: … and you are making mezcal right now, right?
G: Yes. Right now, I am producing Espadin maguey for Nuestra Soledad Matatlan. We are in the distillation process.
M: Everything you know about mezcal, from whom did you learn it?
G: I inherited it from my father. I started working when I was 14 years old. I enjoyed it. The first thing I learned was how to crush the maguey.
M: Mezcal has evolved quite a bit since you were younger. What is one of the biggest changes you see?
G: Thank God mezcal is selling well. It is being exported to countries like the US, Europe, which is a great advantage. Before, mezcal was only sold to the national market and at one point did not sell well.
M: You are talking about when mezcal developed a bad reputation and because the sales were so poor, many people left to find work? Do you remember that time?
G: It was in the 80’s. I did not experience it myself, but my father told me about it. Things were very bad. I remember the inspectors would not let you work if you did not have your permit. They made you bribe them so you could work. There have always been taxes, but at that time there was a leader who forced the producers to offer bribes.
M: Did that affect your father? Did those people come to his place?
G: Yes, they even seized the distillation equipment once because he refused to pay the bribe.
G: I like everything from planting the maguey to distilling. I have liked the whole process ever since I learned it. I fell in love with the work, and I do it with a lot of love. Of course, I love when we can taste what we made.
M: I heard you came across a strange agave once, can you tell us about that?
G: Yes, once I found an Espadin that had grown 3 other pinas, they had grown together into a single clump. I believe it was a mutation.
M: I've never seen that, but I have seen an Arroqueno with several quiotes come out of one plant.
G: It's basically the same. The magueys grow in a clump and when they are already developed, each maguey grows its quiote. Three quiotes will appear to grow from one pina.
M: Everyone knows making mezcal is difficult work, has it ever been dangerous?
G: Sometimes one can fall, when one isn’t careful with the slopes, you can fall with the wheelbarrow and get hurt. Mostly it is small injuries, like when I was 17, I was cutting maguey and I got a spine in my finger, it is still there. It never bothered me, so I never took it out. I think I poured mezcal on it and it was fine.
M: Right now your children help you make mezcal. Are you teaching them all the tricks or secrets that your dad taught you?
G: Ah yes, when they come to help me I tell them how to do things so they can continue the work. The same with the fields. I take them and I tell them how to plant a maguey, how to remove the thorns and everything. You need to remove the thorns from the magueys if you are going to use an animal or a tractor to plow.
M: Do they grow out again? The thorn doesn’t regenerate or does it?
G: They tend to come out with new leaves (pencas) and new thornes.
M: Which maguey do you like to work with the most?
G: When I was younger it was mainly Espadin and sometimes Tobalá. But now, I mostly work with Espadín and Madrecuishe.
M: I can understand why you would work with Espadin. But Madrecuishe, why a madre?
G: When I was younger you wouldn't hear much about the wild varieties, it was mainly Espadin. But, I like the flavor of Madrecuishe.
M: I think mezcal is unique because it has its own traditions and culture.
G: Yes, I agree. The traditions that have always been present. One that I have kept is a mezcalero makes mezcal de pechuga to celebrate something special, be it baptisms, weddings or quinceañeras.
M: Who taught you how to make Pechuga?
G: My dad gave me the recipe. The first time I did a mezcal de pechuga… it was for… I don't remember, but it was for a town festivity, I think. Then I made another one for my wedding. Then I did another one for my son's baptisms.
M: You made mezcal for your own wedding?!
G: Yes. I remember it was very good as well. It is common to make mezcal de pechuga for your own events, like weddings or even your own funeral.
M: Have you already passed on the recipe to your sons?
G: Not yet because they haven't started focusing on distillation. They are busy with their studies right now. But, they still help me. They come and help me out with the crushing of the maguey or placing the piñas in the oven. During their summer break I will make a pechuga mezcal and I will tell them the secret and what fruits it has. It’s a whole process, making a mezcal de pechuga.
M: Your dad taught you and his dad taught him?
G: Yes, he got it from his dad and my sons will get it from me. The recipe is a family tradition and secret. Mezcal de pechuga in particular is important in Matatlan. It is made with a lot of love. We make it to celebrate, just as I said. For baptisms, weddings, quinceañeras. Something to celebrate or share.
M: At some point in your life, did you think about maybe taking another path and not being a Maestro Mezcalero?
G: No, I never thought about getting into another job other than producing mezcal. Because it is a job that I learned to do at an early age. Maybe my sons will focus on something else or maybe they will follow this tradition, it is their choice. At the end of the day mezcal is a tradition and right now because of exportation, not only are more jobs being generated, but people are planting more maguey in order to continue working. Here in Matatlan, almost everyone is dedicating themselves to planting maguey and the production of mezcal.
M: You work mostly here in the Casa Cortes palenque, which gets a lot of visitors. What do you think about the people that arrive here at the palenque (distillery) and want to see the production process. I mean, they are basically coming to watch you do something you have done every day for several years.
G: It's nice that people come to visit us and learn what mezcal culture is. It is interesting and this way mezcal gains more attention and continues to be exported to other countries. I think that many people are interested in the culture of mezcal and come here to Matatlan to learn about that culture and the town’s traditions. I welcome them.
M: Thanks very much for sitting with me. Is there anything else you’d like to add or share?
G: Well, more than anything, I want to thank the people who come here and buy mezcal, because it generates more jobs and helps us maintain our traditions.