New Mezcal Made from Wild Agave So Rare It Hasn't Been Classified Yet

"There are a few producers in the region who have turned this agave into mezcal," says Amarás co-founder.

Over the last decade, mezcal transformed itself from regional Mexican spirit into runaway global sensation, featured prominently on back bars from Chicago to Singapore. But even as modern drinkers acquaint themselves with the spirit in record number, the agave from which it is distilled preserves a certain air of mystery. With its latest release, Mezcal Amarás hopes to package that puzzlement as selling point. This fall the popular Oaxacan producer unveils Chuparrosa, an artisanal mezcal crafted out of a wild agave so rare and beguiling it has yet to be identified by botanists.

Scientists have named no less than 170 subspecies of agave, and around two dozen of them regularly make their way into the traditional stillhouses of rural Mexico (known as palenques). The most common, by far, is a cultivated variety known as espadín. Seasoned aficionados of the category will have no problem rattling off a handful of less ubiquitous alternatives—tobala, madrecuixe, arroqueño, and cupreata are usual suspects. But they'll have no way to name this one, because it's never before been seen outside the Chontal region of southeastern Mexico.

Amarás Chuparrosa bottles
Courtesy of Amarás Logia

"There are a few producers in the region who have turned this agave into mezcal," explains Luis Niño de Rivera, Amarás co-founder. "But we are the only producer working with it on a commercial basis."

The complex sipping spirit yields a fresh floral aroma—roses and hydrangeas—before revealing stone fruit and black pepper spice in a sustained finish. It's a vivacious liquid bottled at 43% ABV. But collecting it came with a series of challenges. The mountainous area in which it was produced is remote and rugged; few mezcaleros remain in operation here. And a lack of infrastructure complicates their path to market.

"We could only buy a few liters, near the end of 2018," recalls de Rivera. "But after I tried it for the first time, I knew it would be an incredible experience for an agave lover. So, we started purchasing a few liters each year until we had enough for the launch."

Ultimately that equaled a supremely limited allotment: just 333 total bottles of Chuparrosa will arrive on shelves this season. You can expect agave lovers to trip over each other to procure this prize—even at a retail price of $350 per unit.

"Generally speaking, the smaller the batch, the better the mezcal is going to be," confirms Ivan Vasquez, owner of Madre, a Los Angeles bar and restaurant boasting the world's largest collection of the agave spirit. "It's very rare to get anything from this part of [Mexico], so I'm really excited to try it."

Believed to be a mix between the subspecies Angustifolia and Americana, the leaves of the unidentified agave are curled like rose petals. According to Vasquez, this shape could have inspired its placeholder name ("chuparrosa" is Spanish for hummingbird). "Mezcaleros can choose their own title for an agave," he adds. "Even if it doesn't yet have a scientific name."

To that end, Amarás is working with expert taxonomists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, classifying agaves as they are encountered in the wild. The mezcal brand is actively exploring Oaxaca, looking for novel variants from which they can collect seeds to grow and plant. Last year, they began reproducing the Chuparrosa via micropropagation. "We already have several sprouts to grow," says de Rivera. "Our goal is to [formally] define the species by 2023, or 2024 at the latest."

In the meantime, this new expression—and subsequent ones from this heretofore untapped part of Mexico—will be a boon both to consumer and producer, alike. "Hopefully it's giving opportunities to new regions to share in the monumental success of the category," says Vasquez. "Spread the love, spread their traditions." And pass the mezcal.

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