Todd Hanley claims that he won’t sleep until Tucson is recognized as the Agave Capital of the United States. If you ask me, after learning about his latest agave project, I think he’s earned a short nap.
Hanley’s love affair with the desert plant and its spirituous spinoffs first blossomed in 2008 when he hosted his inaugural Agave Fest as managing partner of Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress Street. This tasting and cocktail competition attracted local agave enthusiasts with a shared affinity for tequila, mezcal, and other spirits. The event grew each year and was ultimately transformed into the Agave Heritage Festival, a 12-day showcase of the plant’s cultural, commercial, and culinary significance.
I’ve sipped spirits alongside Hanley at many Agave Fests over the years and always took note of his migration to the mezcal tables early in the evening. Mezcal, tequila’s smokier sister, has a foundational earthiness that he loves, a flavor that’s rendered by slow-roasting the heart of the agave in wood-fired underground ovens. He’s clearly a mezcal maven. But as delicious as he says it is, his passion is connected to its sense of place as well as its taste.
“The real story is about its regionality, culture, and heritage, and how critical sustainable agriculture is to our region,” he said.
With culture, heritage, and sustainability as guiding principles, Hanley recently teamed up with a collaborative of small-batch mezcal distillers, or mezcaleros, from Northern Mexico to launch the new Amormata mezcal brand in Tucson and, ultimately, across Arizona.
Together with his local partners Felipe Garcia of Visit Tucson, Doug Smith of EXO Roast Company, author Paco Cantu, and others, he’s on a mission to show how beautifully and authentically each of the Amormata’s three expressions reflects the succulent’s true spirit.
“The Amormata brand stands for doing business the right way, like sustainability, supply chain profit-sharing, using 100 percent wild agave, and being stewards of the ecosystem,” Hanley said. “It’s about the things that are most important, like our environment, our culture, and our history.”
Distilled in Durango, Mexico, the Amormata Masparillo is what Hanley calls the most approachable of the three, a great introduction to mezcal with smokey, sweet, and slightly peppery aromatics and flavors and a “soft mouthfeel.” This agave is cooked in an underground oven, mashed by axe, and fermented in pine wood vats.
Also from Durango, the Amormata Verde has a sweet and smokey profile balanced with heavy notes of pine, green pepper, and grass which gives it a “green” and “herbaceous” quality. This agave is also cooked in an underground oven and mashed by axe, but fermentation takes place in oak wood vats.
Finally, over in Tamaulipas, Mexico, they’re producing the Amormata Ensamble from a blend of three agave varietals that are cooked together in an underground oven. But rather than fermenting the entirety of the resultant mash, Hanley tells me that its juices are extracted and then fermented after the fibers are discarded. This reportedly results in the most complex of the three products, with “a little funkiness that’s typically associated with traditional mezcals.”
The three Amormata mezcals are available exclusively at Hotel Congress and on their online bottle shop, www.hotelcongress.com/bottleshop. And yes, by exclusive, I mean it’s the only place in the Grand Canyon State where you can find them at the moment.
That said, once Hanley awakes from his well-deserved nap, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these spirits populating the shelves of bars across town. If story is central to sales, the market is limitless.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.