A renaissance man.
How else to describe a man who moves with the ease of a chameleon between computers, graphic arts, photography, action figures and that wonderful elixir from Mexico, mezcal… with all of its history, baggage and explosive taste?
Meet Erick Rodriquez.
Known by many as the Indiana Jones of mezcal, you’ll find out pretty quickly that Erick is a man full of opinions and someone you either love or hate. He also knows more about mezcal and its history than anyone this side of Ulises Torrentara, longtime mezcal aficionado who holds court daily at In Situ in Oaxaca.
I first met Erick years ago at the Wahaka Mezcal palenque in San Dionesio. I was there for a tour and background for some work I was doing for a small online cultural outlet at the time. I had four friends with me and as we were standing around waiting after seeing the agave fields, a collectivo showed up. Out of the back seat crawled a guy in shorts and then the driver got out, went to the trunk for a bag and started setting up to make a few drinks.
That was Erick. An award winning mixologist, mezcal aficianado and all around good guy. Essentially driving a taxi!
My group had toured the palenque, spent a long morning learning from Alberto Morales and his team and now it was time to sample what Wahaka had to offer. We listened as they explained the nuances and differences of their mezcals and then after we had tried each one, Erick stepped up.
He suggested we try some local cheese, which everyone was pretty eager to do since it was about 10:00am, we’d not had breakfast and had already downed about 8 shots. While we vacuumed up that tray of cheese, Erick was busy mixing our next round, his Verde Calavera mezcal cocktail.
It was to be the perfect end to a wonderful morning and the cocktail he shared is one I continue to make to this day when I have people over for dinner. Around noon we left. While the time with Alberto and the Wahaka team was fantastic, my time that day with Erick was short and apart from his cocktail, uneventful.
Fast forward a bit and I asked Erick to be the kick off person for a new series of 5 mezcal recommendations I wanted to regularly feature on Dave Miller’s Mexico. He graciously said yes to this still pretty uninformed gringo trying to learn some of the ins and outs of the mezcal world.
We stayed in touch after that, seeing each other at events, corresponding and building a friendship around a common love for mezcal. A few years back I was in Mexico City for some of the church work I also do. I reached out to Erick to see if we could get together. He was going to be out of town but offered to drop off some mezcal at the hotel where I was staying.
You can imagine the surprise of my pastor friends when, before I got there, he had a buddy, looking totally disheveled and reeking of booze swing by with 6 bottles of mezcal from his personal Almamezcalera collection. To this day I am still trying to live that down. And I’m still sipping from those same bottles.
In the last 6 months, I’ve twice had the opportunity to take friends to visit Erick and taste mezcal with him. But that hardly does the experience justice. You see with Erick, you never really just taste mezcal. What you get is a graduate course on the history of mezcal in general and a chance to sample some of the best mezcal ever made.
Look, if you haven’t figured it out yet, in full disclosure mode, Erick and I have become friends and some ways I’m biased. But that aside, bias means nothing when you are sampling mezcal distilled from a radiator high up in the mountains in places no gabacho is ever gonna go.
Where does bias and friendship enter into this? It’s familiarity. I’m no client of Erick’s. I’m never going to buy 10 suitcases of mezcal to bring back to the states. But the friendship I have with Erick does get me access and I suspect, a chance to sample and spend time with Erick that the general public will never get.
But here’s the bottom line… I just love mezcal. I love the experience of tasting the varieties of the drink. Think about it… no two espadins will ever taste alike, and no madre cuish will ever taste like a jabali.
Simply put, mezcal is unlike any drink I’ve ever tasted. And Erick, from the small tasting room on the corner where he grew up in Mexico City, takes you on a tour of mezcal you’ll never get anywhere else.
Over an afternoon he shares not just his worries about the world of mezcal, but his hopes and dreams for the future, ideas for new logos for his brand and his efforts to get school kids bicycles. His shelves are naturally full of bottles upon bottles of mezcal, but also an eclectic collection of books, memorabilia and even a Michael Jackson action figure in full “Billy Jean” mode.
Almost always in shorts and with a story to tell, an afternoon with Erick is a welcome oasis in Mexico City. But like his mezcal, he is an acquired taste. Some folks accuse him of selling gimmick mezcal. Perhaps that’s inevitable when the mezcal you’re selling is a little bit outside the box. Think distilled in cowhides or infused with, among other things, lemon grass. He’s got strong opinions about his passion, life and a thousand other things and he’s not afraid to share them. Just ask some of the folks on Twitter who have blocked him. He’s an expert, he’s outspoken and frankly, that rubs some people the wrong way.
But he’s also a delight to sit and talk with and he has a heart of gold, as evidenced by the way he helps kids in some of the villages where he sources mezcal. He also understands connection. As Erick and I walked his neighborhood looking for some great tacos, everyone knew him and the love and respect they showed him was evident.
At the end of the day, to me, that ability to connect, means everything. It tells me a lot about this modern day renaissance man who grew up in a barrio in Mexico City and went on to become one of the foremost authorities on mezcal.