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“This Redefined What I Thought I Knew About Mexican Spirits”

May 22, 2020

Story: Leslie Pariseau

photo: PUNCH

The bottle Claire Sprouse can’t stop thinking about is an agricole-style rum from Oaxaca’s cloud forest.

Before the world went into lockdown, Claire Sprouse, bartender-owner of Hunky Dory in Brooklyn, was planning to visit the Sierra Mazateca in Oaxaca, Mexico, to research the mountainous area’s rum-making tradition. Her interest had been piqued by Paranubes, a small label distilled at 3,600 feet in the Sierra Madre range, and one of the first Oaxacan spirits beyond mezcal to enter the American market. “People think of rum as Caribbean, and it certainly is,” says Sprouse, “but you can make rum wherever sugarcane is grown. It has no borders in a lot of ways.”

Paranubes' arrival in the U.S. has expanded the conversation around Oaxacan spirits, bringing the state’s deep connections between agriculture and distillation into further relief. Like the purest expressions of the agave-based spirit, Oaxacan rum, or aguardiente de caña, has been made in the same tradition for hundreds of years. Sugarcane, often farmed by the family producing the rum, is juiced, fermented and distilled in a style similar to agricole, capturing all the wild, lush terroir of the cloud forests. “Sometimes you can just rely on the natural product and the wild yeasts in the air to make a great spirit,” says Sprouse. Made by José Luís Carrera, Paranubes’ sugarcane is grown organically and hand-harvested, and—once hand-cut and mechanically pressed—undergoes a four-month fermentation in 1,100-liter pine vats, kicked off by a “mesquite tea.” The resulting distillate sees a single run in a 500-liter copper pot still, and is bottled at 54 percent ABV. (It is not proofed with water.)

[inline article="Hunting for Rum in Oaxaca’s Cloud Forest"]

For Sprouse, whose Hunky Dory was built on the notion of sustainability, drinking a spirit whose crop is not only input-free, but also relatively renewable is part of the appeal (criollo sugarcane, which makes up about 85 percent of the Paranubes blend, can be cut two to three times before replanting, and is harvested selectively). As agave crops become ever more difficult to source ethically, Sprouse believes it’s vital to shift our consumption in support of some of Mexico’s lesser-known spirits. “I don’t want to limit myself to being just a mezcal or tequila drinker,” she says. “I want to keep appreciating the cultures and spirits of the people making these products in the most sustainable way possible.”

Lately, Sprouse has been spending time in the Hunky Dory spirit archives, curating flights for customers looking for a takeout adventure. She has come back to Paranubes again and again as not only a sipping rum, but an ideal base spirit. “I only drink two rum drinks, Daiquiris and Mojitos, and I’ve always been really particular about rum,” she says. Though she warns that it can be intense in cocktails, she appreciates its deep mushroom funk and green, grassy notes, which complement lime and mint. “The nose itself has kind of a cheese-lactic quality that doesn’t sound like it would make sense, but it works,” she says. “It reminds me a lot of mezcal in that way.”


Made by: José Luís Carrera, a third-generation farmer and distiller

Region: Oaxaca, Mexico

What it tastes like: “Green and grassy. Paranubes is taking that Caña Brava or Denizen model and turning it up to 20. Green mushroom funk and tropical notes,” says Sprouse.

Why it matters: “If we want to keep appreciating spirits from Mexico, we need to expand what that means,” says Sprouse. “As the popularity of mezcal grows, it creates a strain on supplies. Being able to support this new category that is a little bit more regenerative and a little bit cheaper opens the door to more people appreciating them.”

Where to buy it: $40 at Astor Wines & Spirits

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