A must-have for any serious mezcal collector. This mezcal, made from cultivated Henequén piñas, is a small-batch limited edition of only 397 liters. Master mezcalero Juan Hernández Méndez made this rare distillation for his own personal collection, until his recent decision to transfer ownership to Erstwhile Mezcal.
Henequén, an agave plant native to the Yucatán Peninsula, once ruled and transformed the region’s economy to such an extent that it came to be known as “green gold”. It is not native to, and thus rarely seen in, Oaxaca and other mezcal-producing regions of Mexico.
Valued for its fiber since pre-Hispanic times, Henequén has been used to make, among other things, twine, hammocks, sacks, baskets and thick ropes for mooring ships.
Henequén fiber, extracted from the leaves of the plant, is sometimes referred to as sisal – the namesake of Sisal, a seaport town that was the principal port of Yucatán, Mexico during the heydays of Henequén fiber exportation.
The first written account documenting the use of Henequén in Yucatán — for making ropes and other naval tools — dates back to as early as 1783 in a report by José María Lanz (Spanish-Mexican mathematician, engineer and cartographer) during his employment by the Spanish Royal Navy.
An illustration of Henequén (Agave fourcroydes) published in 1918. Source: Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, London., vol. 144 [= ser. 4, vol. 14]: Tab. 8746 – .
Henequén takes five to seven years to mature. A tough and resilient plant, it is adapted to survive in arid climates with little water, and reproduces without being cultivated. Its sword-shaped leaves grow out thick, prominent trunks that can reach as tall as four to five feet.
The lot of piñas that made our Henequén was originally bound for Jalisco, apparently intended as some sort of industrial mezcal (or possibly faux tequila?!) experiment. However, the piñas were so tough that they broke the shredder, and had to be sent back.
Somewhere along the way, our partner producer Juan Hernández Méndez intercepted and purchased this lot of henequén piñas. Henequén may be tough, but ultimately no match for Juan’s moxie and tahona (stone mill)!
I will never forget the first time we tasted our Henequén. I was with Juan and his wife Hortensia, feasting on simple-but-so-delicious quesadillas fresh from their comal, and being regaled with copita after copita of mezcal, each of which was made from a different species of wild agave and delightful in its own right.
The Henequén did not appear until toward the end. Through the open door, a rainstorm raged outside over Carretera Internacional (arguably the Main Street of Santiago Matatlán) while I basked in the warmth and pleasure of the Hernándezes’ hospitality.
Juan brought out the Henequén and poured copitas quietly, without much fanfare.
That flavor. It struck me fast and direct, like a quiet thunderbolt. Smooth and savory. Saline and mineral. Slightly spicy, with a surprising finish of tingly numbness on the tongue that reminds me of Sichuan peppercorns. And the smell of rain in the fresh country air.
It was love at first sip.
Check out Erstwhile Mezcal’s blog post on Henequén for more photos. We are thrilled beyond words, and cannot wait to share this super interesting and rare distillation with you.
Founder of Erstwhile Mezcal