This New Oaxaca Hotel Is a Mezcal Lover’s Dream

This New Oaxaca Hotel Is a Mezcal Lover’s Dream

There are elements of Oaxacan life that are wonderfully intrinsic: tlayudas (large blue corn flatbreads); calendas (joyous, impromptu street parades); and the region’s signature black pottery. And then there’s mezcal. The pungent, lightly sweet spirit is a pillar of Oaxacan culture. Walk into any family home, and you’ll find a bottle (or three) of it sitting on the dinner table. It’s even served at religious events, like funerals and baptisms. In Oaxaca, drinking mezcal isn’t just about getting drunk. It’s a whole mindset.  

“You get a great plate of mole with shredded chicken and rice; maybe some quesillo, tortillas, tlayudas. And you sip some mezcal,” instructs Fausto Zapata, the co-owner of Casa Silencio, a new boutique, six-room hotel on the outskirts of Oaxaca City. “It’s just heaven.” Zapata and I are sitting at the outdoor dining table at his hotel, nestled in a lush valley that’s prone to frequent rainstorms. For now though, the sun is bursting over the valley floor, and I can see dark silhouettes of distant mountains illuminated under bright, fluffy clouds. We’ve just finished lunch: a simple spread of pan amarillo de tlacolula sandwiches, green salad, and tostadas with creamy guacamole. On the table are a few bottles of his own “rare agave” spirits, which surprise me with aromas of chocolate, spice, and fresh papaya. I’m typically a whiskey drinker, if I drink at all, but this spirit is subtler, and more floral, than its corn-based cousin. It helps, too, that I’m sitting a few feet from the room where they make the stuff. 

Zapata is a fan of the Mexican concept of sobremesa. There’s no direct translation in English, but it refers to the act of lingering at the table long after a meal, talking, sharing stories, laughing, and (yes) sipping mezcal. It’s a perfect ritual for a hotel that doubles as a production site for Zapata’s international mezcal line, El Silencio. Just off the dining room is the palenque (distillery), where a solar-powered tahona, or half-ton stone wheel, crushes the agave hearts into a vinegary pulp; the fibers are then placed in giant wooden barrels to allow the sugars to turn to alcohol. The process, like anything worthwhile, requires patience. And dining next to these slow-fermenting plants, I’m reminded of how good it feels to linger in one spot. After all, I’m in Mexico. What’s the rush?

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