Tso'ok Oaxacan Mountain Rum Sugar Cane Liter
For once, chukka boots weren't cutting it for me. I wear them everywhere in Oaxaca and think every man should consider them the first and best footwear for travel. They can handle agave fields and fine dining with equal facility. But this hike in the Sierra Mixe was steep, wet clay and I longed for anything but smooth crepe soles. Carlos, my partner in this project, clocked nine kilometers each way, with a 600 meter elevation delta. The children who accompanied us and our guide did not struggle, instead having a great time pointing out various plants to us (their favorite being a sensitive plant the leaves of which react to touch), or throwing rocks at wasp nests, one of which they successfully and proudly knocked off a branch and presented to us with beaming faces.
We were up at 4:30 am to begin the drive into the mountains, and the hike had taken the energy out of us. When we finished, we were soaked—and not from rain, which had commenced in the last half kilometer. We were in the cloud forest outside Totontepec Villa de Morelos to see the rum vinatera that was the source of Tso’ok rum, and we had declined the opportunity to bring burros. I could not bring myself to ride one—40 liters of rum? Ok—even a burro must earn his room and board. But a six-foot gringo at 175 pounds? That is asking too much of a burro.
The climate changes on the way down from cool and foggy to hot and steamy. Banana, mango, and avocado trees appear, as does sugar cane. I don’t think it would be possible to stop the sugar cane from taking over if someone wanted to. It is ubiquitous and it grows with a vigor you can almost see.
The tepache tastes much like apple cider... tart and delicious. The swarms of bees waste no time on people, preferring instead the drunken bliss of sipping the tepache that is available freely to them. After the juice is squeezed from the cane, the cane fiber is folded into bundles that are then submerged and held under the bubbling tepache with rocks. Distillation is done in copper—a still that appears as if it could give way to fatigue any day now, but which Juan told me is sixty years old. It is held together by faith, as much as by its rivets. Here, sixty years is not a long time.
The Sierra Mixe is a vast and mysterious place, its people secretive and uninterested in modernity. The weather is mercurial—one can be above, beneath, or in the clouds at any given time. There are over 700 species of fern, from the minute to tree ferns that rival conifers for height. Cascades fall from granite rock cliffs and the only sound is the wind and water. From this area we are happy to bring you a special rum, the local inebriant, and an artifact of living culture from an unconquered people existing how they have always, dating back 4000 years by their reckoning.
A Tso'ok is an animal companion that accompanies a Mixe person from birth, through their life--a nahual or totem--that carries part of their soul. Pictured on our logo is Tajëëw, twin sister goddess of the god, Kontoy. She is a shapeshifter protector of the mountains, appearing as deer or serpent. In our logo she is depicted as a deer with serpent tail by artist Cesar Ruiz Conseco.
Please enjoy and drink with respect. Feel free to sip neat, or to mix extravagantly—the Mixe will make more, and we will bring it to you. Flavor variations from batch to batch are the natural result of seasonal differences and a rustic process. ¡Salud!