Sadly, the title isn’t click bait, it’s true, I did go to the annual Feria del Mezcal in Oaxaca and drank some delicious beer. Mezcal was well represented by some strong brands but the scene was decidedly mixed. There were the usual bottles of cremas and murky yellow bottles labeled as mezcal, and at night, it definitely turned into the biggest party in town.
Let me back up: This isn’t my first rodeo, I have been to the Feria before. It lasts for 10 full days during the Guelaguetza which is the biggest event of the year. So, there is already quite a cocktail of humanity roaming the city with parties and dancing on their mind.
The good news is that compared to previous editions this year’s Feria was better organized and featured so much more; there were more guided tastings and talks while artisanal products were well featured including delicious honeys, agave nectars, cheeses, tortillas, chocolates, amaranth, and nut spreads. But wait, there was even more because at the exit of the event you could browse beautiful textiles and ceramics at the craft fair. And, like all Mexican ferias, this one had lots of food. There were stands selling garnachas and tacos, fresh aguas, and more.
As for the mezcal; it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.The artistry and design that brands put into their booths was pretty incredible. Los Amantes recreated the feel of their mezcaleria, complete with the large glass ollas and a moto taxi. Another big noticeable trend, everyone had a cocktail to showcase, which is a stunning development in just two years. Clearly all the currents are now connected with bartenders and ideas flowing freely between Oaxaca and the rest of the world. It was also good to see that the mezcal industry is starting to represent itself better with stands that showcased mezcal from different regions that had yet to get distribution – including several stand outs from the Mixteca and Ocotlan areas. There were also great installations on how mezcal is made and lots of information about how much mezcal is being made, where it is produced, and how many people are employed.
If one wanted a quiet, relaxing experience, going during the day (which I did, twice) was the way to go. I could talk to makers and casually enjoy the offerings. The scene at night, with booming bands of cumbia and salsa and hordes of young folks chasing shots, was definitely anything but relaxed. I find Mexico in a Bottle exhausting, and that is only four hours packed into a single day. The Feria is 12 hours a day, for 10 days. That’s a lot of mezcal and several of the most reputable brands charged a tasting fee to try and curtail the easy drinking crowds. A big difference with this fair, compared to ones in the US, is that producers can actually sell their bottles so that is one way to recoup their costs.
But back to the beer. Once you made it through the craft and main mezcal areas, you reached a big long bar showcasing Oaxacan craft beers. They featured a rather an impressive number of brands and types like porters, pale ales, super hoppy concoctions, corn and mezcal flavored, and some great stand out lagers. Clearly the brewers have a good scene and sense of themselves, the whole layout of the beer experience and a giant banner announcing the formation of a craft beer association in Oaxaca speaks volumes about how inclusive that is. We can only hope that mezcal producers can follow suit with this kind of kinship in product promotion.