While El Silencio has a place in my heart for pulling me into the spirit category, the Alipús San Andrés was the first mezcal that I fell completely in love with. I've had many mezcals since, but none that have been out-and-out better.
I suppose I should count my blessings: it's rare that anyone arrives at the holy grail so soon into their journey. Part of me expected my foray into mezcal to be something like my path through whiskey: something I drank until I learned to tolerate, like a bad marriage in liquid form.
Thankfully, nothing could have been further from the truth. I started with the El Silencio, which was aggressive and funky, but fun. About a month later, I had the Alipús San Andrés in a bar, and at that point there was no going back.
A little about the Alipús line first: it's an umbrella for a number of little distilleries scattered throughout Oaxaca. From what I can gather on the website, the mission was to promote a lot of smaller, quality distilleries and make them legit for export. Parent company Craft Distillers takes a smaller cut than normal to give us drinkers a good deal (thereby increasing market saturation) while simultaneously ensuring the distillers are rewarded for their time and energy. Win-win-win. If even a third of Craft Distillers' story is true, this is a good outfit to spend your money with.
Initially, the Alipús family of mezcals seems to suffer from an identity crisis. There's the San Andrés, the Santa Ana Del Rio, the San Juan Del Rio, the San Luis Del Rio, and a few others. Look: I get it—there's a lot of Saints in Mexico and a lot of them are apparently located near rivers. Maybe for that reason, my friend Adam and I find it easier to differentiate bottles by the color of the label. In this case, the San Andrés is "the Pink Alipús." Done and done.
Having had all of the Alipús range at this point, I'll say this: they're as different from one another as snakes are from llamas. My favorites are the pink and the green, but let's think pink for today. It's a masterpiece of blending earthiness and fruit together in a way that I guarantee you've never tasted in a tequila. From moment one, there's a richness and intrigue to the way that this smells. When I took my time with this, I had a pleasant waterfall of memories that included backyard BBQs, picking various fruits from my grandmother's backyard, and handling rocks in my college geology class. Call me crazy, but it's the truth.
The spirit gets brownie points for the positive associations, but why I love the San Andrés is because all of this bursts across the palate. There's so much delicious, juicy citrus here that goes on and on. However, it's given a tremendous amount of depth through the unmistakable (and strangely complimentary) flavors of slate, smoke, and earth. Everything is so multifaceted and cohesive from start to finish, and yet it's hard to pin down exactly what's going on. The quantum physics of booze, perhaps.
To me and Adam, there's a supremely enjoyable note of orange creamsicle. That said, my friend Eric took a sip and remarked, "This tastes like a McRib." And he's not wrong! The pink Alipús is indeed equal parts sweet, smoky, mineral, and meaty. Eric just configured those elements in a slightly different way than did Adam and I. For that reason, I'd venture this: the more refined your palate is, the more you're going to get out of the San Andrés. Foodies and sophisticated drinkers tend to be smitten from their first pour.
All said and done, Pink Alipús is the mezcal hill I'm willing to plant my flag on. Mezcal is so much more than smoky, rot-gut tequila with a worm at the bottom of the bottle. Like scotch, the best of what lies in the spirit category (to me) is defined by craftsmanship and a celebration of diverse flavors. Having even an ounce of the San Andrés is a 101 course in mezcal if you're willing to be thoughtful about it. Hell, even if you're willing to throw a shot of it back like a cowboy, I think you'll be a fan. There's just no way to go wrong here on any criticism of taste, purpose, depth, price, or inherent quality if you're even halfway interested in mezcal.
Hurl your money at it.