It’s difficult to convey in words just how special In Situ is.
Nothing short of a Oaxacan institution, owners of the infamous mezcaleria, Ulises Torrentera and Sandra Ortiz Brenna are two of the most knowledgeable, and humble, people you can talk to about mezcal culture.
Many of us in the world of mezcal have spent significant time sitting across the bar from them as they serve up mind blowingly good sips with all the backstory and detail one could want. There is always a sense of family in the air at In Situ, as if they created a vortex of energy that draws in producers, brand owners, thirsty visitors and the like to connect and share. Perhaps most impressive is the commitment to education that is foundational to Sandra and Ulises’ approach to everything that they do, from special bottlings and curated flights to books and events. It is this same sense of family and education that has given light to two new projects from them that are bright spots during a particularly challenging time.
Fans of In Situ rejoiced when their own mezcal brand, Farolito, finally hit shelves in the USA not too long ago. Now comes their second bottling project available internationally, Versus (read the tasting notes here). In his own words, Ulises Torrentera explains the impetus of this 2020 project:
“On the one hand it was a necessity arising from the pandemic. Locked up, cooped up at home, remembering nostalgically the smells, colors and flavors of the Oaxacan markets: fruits, food, the colors of the market posts…”
Indeed, anyone who has had the pleasure of strolling the markets of Oaxaca knows how sensorily enchanting the experience is. Versus seeks to capture that experience in the bottle. The limited edition bottlings feature mezcal infused with three different flavors: Mango, Chili-Honey, and Chocolate. The production is a joint effort between Ulises and maestro Israel Pérez Santiago, where the espadin base gets the seasonal market ingredients infused like a pechuga in the second distillation to retain bright, crisp flavors of each ingredient. You can read full tasting notes for each one here. [links to tasting notes]
The other and equally important inspiration for the project was out of a sense of creating and protecting the Oaxacan mezcal community:
“…On the other hand, in addition to the pandemic there were orchestrations of disqualifications that plotted against mezcal itself, and to make distillates in the palenque of the master Israel Perez was not only to bottle a part of the Oaxacan markets, but also to find peace, tranquility, and brotherhood in times of death and disquietude.”
Outside forces have never been more pronounced in the world of Oaxacan mezcal, for better or worse, and a project like this between two local masters of their crafts is exactly the kind of collaboration we celebrate. Through and through, these bottles are the essence of Oaxaca.
Madrinas Y Padrinos De Mezcal
With the globalization of mezcal, there is more access to education than ever, and ensuring that educational opportunities start at home with the local population is paramount. This new initiative from In Situ is all about investing in education at the local level for Oaxacan youth working in the hospitality industry.
The program allows sponsors to become a godparent (godmother-madrina, godfather-padrino) for $50 which covers the cost for one pupil’s registration to the four day master class given by Ulisses. The program includes breakfast, a guided tour to Matatlan, plus lessons from a master pulquero and a master distiller. The sponsorship allows the students to enjoy the program at no cost, making it accessible regardless of their financial situation.
This program very literally invests in the young hospitality professionals who will shape the post-pandemic industry. Leading by example, Sandra and Ulises are prioritizing the local community, which is more important than ever. The results and feedback have been stellar so far, check out this video from one of the pupils of a previous session.
Building For The Future
Both the Versus project and the Madrina/Padrino program are intentional ways of looking forward while continuing to lay the foundation of community. Versus, inspired by the colorful and flavorful markets, disseminates much needed business to local vendors while fortifying relationships, and offering unique and nostalgic flavors to those of us missing the markets. The Madrina/Padrino program allows us to connect and remain part of the Oaxacan mezcal scene while prioritizing Oaxacan education front and center. In both cases, it’s a win-win-win.
In a time where businesses all over the globe are scrambling to make ends meet, it’s refreshing to see that In Situ has doubled down as a pillar of the Oaxacan mezcal community with educational programs and collaborations.
One Final Note – The Mezcal Password
As if the above community focused projects were not already enough to keep Ulises and Sandra busy, they also just launched a collaborative project with several mezcalerias in Oaxaca – the Mezcal Passport. Stop in at one of the participating mezcalerias (Cuish, In Situ, Mezcaloteca, El Cortijo, Archivo Maguey, La Casa Grande, Puro Burro, Mezontle and Los Amantes) and pick up your Mezcal Passport which includes a map and pages to get your passport stamped each time you visit a mezcaleria. Once you have filled the passport with stamps from each of the participating mezcalerias, you get a t-shirt. The coordinated program is a great way to help boost business at the mezcalerias, all hit hard by Covid-19.