Tag Archives: History & Traditions

When is an Ox Not an Ox?Meet the Musk Ox!

By Susan Birkenshaw

Dating back to the days of the sabre-toothed tiger and wooly mammoth, the musk ox (Ovibos moschatus) can be traced back over 600,000 years. In the northern tundra culture of the Inuit, the musk ox has been revered as a gift from their gods and protected as a strong source of food (from the meat), warmth and protection (from the wool and hides), and weapons (from the horns and bones). As strong and respectful hunters, the Inuit have used every part of their hunt.

Distinctly identifiable by the musky odor of males during mating season, the musk ox bears little resemblance to the bison or the ox as we know them today. In fact, they are more closely related to mountain goats and bighorn sheep, with their cloven hooves and an astonishing nimbleness on the icy terrain that they call home. Much warmer and softer than sheep wool, musk ox wool (qiviut) is also simpler to harvest, done by brushing the loose hairs from the hide or collecting the commonly dropped patches around their habitat. This wooly Qiviut has been measured as eight times warmer than the sheep and much more waterproof, all the while being lighter per weight. It is stronger than sheep wool and surprisingly finer than cashmere, produced by Kashmir and pashmina goats.

In the wild, these majestic animals are smaller than their bison cousins. They have large dish-like hooves with two toes, which can spread across the ice and rocky terrain for better footing. This is an excellent adaptation to their environment, as they live commonly at the very northern edge of the Arctic lands in the Northwest Territories and the northeast coast of Greenland. They most commonly roam in herds of two to three dozen, but as the world overtakes them these numbers are dwindling.

In this Year of the Ox, we should not err in disregarding the musk ox, just because it is not genetically linked to the oxen we see on farms in 2021. Highly valued because of its contribution to successful farming, the musk ox has had many positive characteristics attributed to it. It has survived through its resilience and protectiveness, which leads to an image of being steadfast, reliable, hardworking and honest. In today’s environment, I have decided to choose this particular “ox” as my new best friend.

Small Batch Mezcal Arrives on the Oaxacan Coast

By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

Every month I receive emails asking where to source small batch, traditionally made, high quality mezcal in Huatulco or Puerto Escondido. It’s always surprised me that there could be any corner of Oaxaca in which it could be difficult to find unique, fine-sipping hooch; after all, this state is Mexico’s ground zero for the production of the agave distillate. So when I first saw this month’s theme for the magazine, aside from the district’s meteoric growth over the past 30 years, the most significant and recent progress I was able to recall was the arrival of truly boutique, upper-premium mezcal.

Yes, of late mezcal watering holes have cropped up in both towns, featuring quality product; however, they typically offer the same artisanal brands one can find in major centers throughout the US and to a lesser extent Canada, albeit somewhat less costly.

Enter Mezcalería Gota Gorda, located in the still-quaint beach town of Zipolite, between the two burgeoning Oaxacan tourist resorts of Huatulco and Puerto Escondido. It opened its doors just this past December, and has quickly found a following of locals, snowbirds and more short-term visitors seeking the real deal at accessible prices.

Gota Gorda owner Danielle (Dani) Tatarin has been in the cocktail and spirits business for 20 years. And for close to the past decade she has been honing her expertise in the area of mezcal, traveling dirt roads in search of rural makers whose families have been distilling for hundreds of years if not longer. Batch size of what she brings back to Zipolite, produced in both copper alembics and ancestral clay pots, ranges from 40 to 300 liters, and no more. Some of the agave is harvested from small plots under cultivation, while she also offers mezcal made from species sourced from the wild.

But Dani’s pedigree is even more impressive. The transplanted Canadian has:
-both won and been a finalist in cocktail competitions in Mexico, Canada, France, and the US
-been named bartender of the year by Vancouver Magazine
-presented as an honored guest at New Orleans’ prestigious Tales of the Cocktail
-co-founded one of the top ten rated bars in Mexico (Acre) as well as the Cabo Cocktail Festival
-founded one of the world’s top 100 bars (The Keefer Bar), as well as the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association, which she served as president

But most recently it’s been Dani’s vision that has brought her to the Oaxacan coast. She initially planned to bring small batch high-quality agave distillates to parts of the country outside of Oaxaca and into the US and Canada and founded the brand Gota Gorda with that in mind. Then, while she was living in Baja California, a friend introduced her to Zipolite. When the opportunity arose to open up a mezcalería in a cool, tucked away little hidden spot, in a region surprisingly devoid of what she was interested in personally drinking, a light went on: why not bring fine ultra-premium mezcal to the area, while at the same time use the locale as a launching pad for Gota Gorda? Dani was actually shocked at the lack of good small batch mezcal available on the Oaxacan coast.

Not to mislead, the type of mezcal offered at her Zipolite mezcalería is indeed available at several small bars and mezcalerías in the city of Oaxaca. But until now spirits aficionados visiting or living on the coast have had to drive about seven hours to the state capital to find this kind of agave distillate within the context of a curated experience – but no longer.

Mezcalería Gota Gorda currently offers eight different mezcal expressions at between 70 and 180 pesos per healthy pour, or a flight of six for only 300 pesos. Drawing upon her mixology expertise, she has also developed her own recipe for an additional agave distillate, prepared with a series of herbs and bitters. Clients have been raving about it. And there are apparently more unique offerings in the works. For those who are ready to depart Gota Gorda and lament about never again being able to replicate the experience, Dani offers sealed, labeled bottles of your favorites, ready to take home on the plane.

Gota Gorda also gives patrons an opportunity to sample real pulque, the aguamiel (honey water), or fermented sap, from certain agave species. In pre-Hispanic times it was reserved for gods and high priests. Pulque available in retail outlets throughout the country is typically adulterated with sweetener, fruit extract, thickener and even milk or cream to create what’s known as a curado. By contrast, Gota Gorda’s pulque is pure, with several scientifically proven medicinal properties. It’s a product of the natural environment with nothing added. When visiting Dani’s mezcalería you also get a lesson about pulque, and of course about mezcal. Since the locale is small and intimate, you’re able to interact one-on-one with Doña Danielle Tatarin, a treat in and of itself.

Gota Gorda is about a 45 minute drive from Huatulco, and 75 minutes from Puerto Escondido. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday 5:30 pm to midnight; Calle Shambala s/n, Frente a Hotel El Noga, Col. Roca Blanca, Playa Zipolite, Pochutla 70904; cel 001 624 166 8730.

Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (www.mezcaleducationaltours.com).

The Origin of the Names ‘Huatulco’ and ‘Santa Cruz’

By Brooke Gazer

Huatulco is known for its stunningly beautiful bays, but the region is also steeped in history and folklore. In fact, this is the stuff that epic movies are made of. Several places bear the name Santa Cruz, but the beach in Huatulco is the original one! For anyone unfamiliar with Spanish, the name translates to “Holy Cross”, but it does not refer to the Christian Son of God. Legend has it that long before the Spaniards arrived in the New World, a man with a flowing white beard floated on a cross onto this beach. The natives believed he was Quetzalcoatl, the ancient Winged Serpent God, who had promised to return to his people. No one knows what happened to the man, but the cross was erected on the beach in Santa Cruz. Continue reading The Origin of the Names ‘Huatulco’ and ‘Santa Cruz’

The Delivery (La Entrega) of Guerrero

By Jan Chaiken and Marcia Chaiken

Since the Mexican War of Independence ended in 1821, Mexico has had over 100 heads of state. Many are barely remembered. Some are notable for rare reasons. For example, Pedro Paredes holds the world record for the shortest presidency, one hour on February 19, 1913. But others are larger than life and have left a highly visible legacy around Mexico. One unforgettable president is Vicente Guerrero. Even when traveling for purposes having nothing to do with learning about Mexico’s past, tourists are likely to stumble on Guerrero history. Continue reading The Delivery (La Entrega) of Guerrero

Homes Are History

By Leigh Morrow

Homes hold more than dishes and dresses, they hold our history. Within the space of the last three months, I have found myself dismantling three intimately special and distinctly different family homes. Our home of 18 years, my parents’ home of 53 years and my husband’s family home. Completing the dismantling of just one home would have been seen as a serious accomplishment, but three, in three months, well, the word monumental comes to mind. Continue reading Homes Are History

Distillation and Mezcal History in Mexico: Indigenous or Foreign, Agave or Coconut

By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

Perhaps the story of distillation and mezcal in Mexico begins with the arrival of the Spanish during The Conquest in the first quarter of the 1500s. Or with Filipino seamen in the Manila galleon trade who reached the country’s western shores that same century. Or with Olmec or other indigenous cultures some 2,500 years ago. Continue reading Distillation and Mezcal History in Mexico: Indigenous or Foreign, Agave or Coconut

Mexico’s French Century A Whirlwind History of the French in Mexico: Architecture, Fashion, Cuisine

 

Screen Shot 2017-04-28 at 10.41.39 AMNot to mention independence and revolution!

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

Very, very early on the morning of September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the well-read priest of Dolores, Guanajuato, stood on a balcony in the dark and delivered his impassioned El grito de Dolores (the Cry of Dolores) for independence from the gachupines (Spanish-born oppressors). Hidalgo’s declaration of independence was steeped in the thinking of the French political philosophers Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) and Voltaire (nom de plume of François-Marie Arouet, 1694-1778). Continue reading Mexico’s French Century A Whirlwind History of the French in Mexico: Architecture, Fashion, Cuisine

The Zapatista’s Rebellion Inspiring Global Action

By Kary Vannice

Would you believe me if I told you that a small group of indigenous corn farmers from southern Mexico are responsible, at least in part, for movements like Occupy Wall Street in the United States, Spain’s Indignados, and Direct Democracy Now in Greece? Wondering what could possibly connect corn farmers in Mexico with unemployed urban youth in Madrid? Well, to find the answer, you’ll have to turn back the clock 25 years and revisit the Zapatista uprising in the state of Chiapas. Continue reading The Zapatista’s Rebellion Inspiring Global Action