Tequila’s dignity: A’toda Madre Mezcaleria goes online

Tequila’s dignity: A’toda Madre Mezcaleria goes online

A’TODA MADRE MEZCALERIA only meant to make an announcement of its online bottle shop, www.atodamadretequila.com, on Dec. 5. That means that scores of brands of tequila and mezcal can now be bought online and delivered to your doorstep (including Derrumbes Mezcal, Don Julio, Los Vecinos, 1800 Tequila Blanco, Rey Campero, Clase Azul Reposado, Codigo, and Patron). However, A’toda Madre owner Windi Tapawan, the first certified Master of Agave Spirits in Asia, also gave us a deeper understanding of tequila and mezcal, and we are now wont to give a little more respect to the spirit.

We know tequila as a culprit behind many a headache and a cause for erratic behavior, but in Ms. Tapawan’s hands, the spirit gets a little more dignity, without losing any of its reputation as a drink for good times. For example, Ms. Tapawan led us through six agave spirits, each displaying complexities in its notes: one had notes of chocolate, another had smoky notes from its roasting process pre-distillation, while our favorite, Codigo 1530 Rosa Blanco, smelled like 4711 cologne, and had a little bit of a snap at its sip and had notes of black pepper and roses.

She dispelled some tequila myths: for example, more mainstream brands may be labeled with the word “mixto,” meaning it’s only made with 51% agave spirits, and the rest are other ingredients. It’s this mix that gives the signature tequila headache.

She also gave us a primer on the difference between tequila and mezcal: tequila is only made from the Blue Weber Agave plant, and can only be called “tequila” when it’s made in one of five Mexican states certified to make tequila: Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, and Jalisco. Mezcal’s world is a little more hazy: as long as its made from an agave plant, it could be called mezcal — about 20 varietals are used to make it; and some are even from wild strains — so there are many permutations to make it.

Asked if one can grow agave plants here, Ms. Tapawan said yes, although the ones grown here are smaller and are usually for ornamental purposes.

Finally, she pointed out that it was Filipinos who went to Mexico during the Galleon trade who taught Mexicans how to distill alcohol: she pointed out a label on the bottle that said that the mezcal had been made using a Filipino-Arabic still, the technology borrowed from our own methods of distilling lambanog (coconut liquor) from our own plants.

On a more melancholy note, we found out that when an agave spirit is called a spirit, it really gives up the ghost. An agave plant takes a minimum of seven years to grow before it is ready for harvesting. Unlike grain or grape, once an agave plant is harvested, it dies. “When you have a bottle of good mezcal, respect it,” said Ms. Tapawan. “A plant literally died to give that.” As we went through the vessels of mezcal and tequila — some were served in earthenware cups, while some were served on tiny glasses that got their origins from votive holders in church — she said to enjoy each sip, because, “You may never have it again.” Tequila and mezcal, a mind-eraser we thought originally, became that night a unique record of a plant’s life, a memento mori and reflecting mortality and temporality.

While A’toda Madre opened in 2014 as one of the country’s first tequila-centric bars (Ms. Tapawan herself disputed that they were the first, citing a predecessor in Cebu, and Tequila Joe’s, though she argues that the mainstream bar had more mass-market brands), Ms. Tapawan, its former marketing consultant, took over the bar after the demise of one of its founders in 2017. The bar was transformed into the country’s first mezcaleria, offering a wider array of what the agave plant could offer. She learned the business from the ground up, and earned her certification as a Master of Agave Spirits earlier this year in Mexico from the Agave Spirits Institute.

Asked why she had a passion for these specific spirits, she points to their character and when and how they’re served. “It’s a happy drink. It’s not like Scotch where it’s very heavy. You drink them in Scotland, where it’s cold and you sit there in a corner in front of a fireplace.”

As for tequila and mezcal, she said, “With one single drop, you get all these flavors. You get transported.”

Their website, www.atodamadretequila.com, is now online, although one can get a more immersive experience with an Agave masterclasses and tastings at A’toda Madre at the Sunette Tower, Durban St., Makati. — Joseph L. Garcia