It started with a Texas brisket smuggled into Mexico.
Back in October, Shad Kvetko, one of the owners of Expo Park mezcaleria Las Almas Rotas, asked Oak Cliff barbecue outfit Mohon Barbecue to smoke a very special brisket — one that would be taken to Mexico and used to produce a mezcal de pechuga. Pechuga, a subset of mezcal, is traditionally made by hanging raw meat and other ingredients over the still while the spirit is re-distilled (mezcal is traditionally distilled twice; pechugas go through a third distillation).
"Pechuga means 'breast.' The reason it’s called a pechuga is because they would traditionally hang a chicken or turkey breast over the still — anything with a meat hanging in it is considered a pechuga," Kvetko says. "Pechugas traditionally made by mezcaleros weren't available on the market until recently, because they’re triple distilled and they weren't made too often."
The hanging meat and other ingredients — in this case some squash, corn, chiles and in-season fruit Kvetko bought from a Mexican market — are said to impart subtle but complex flavors in the smoky agave spirit. On Feb. 2, Las Almas Rotas is throwing a party to finally release their brisket pechuga, a collaboration between the mezcaleria and Gracias a Dios, a mezcal and agave gin producer in Oaxaca. Mohon Barbecue, which supplied the smoked brisket, will also be on hand serving brisket tacos.
When Gracias a Dios approached Las Almas Rotas about a collaboration, it didn't take long to decide just what the Dallas bar wanted to contribute to the effort.
"We said, let’s do a brisket pechuga," Kvetko says. "It’s such an iconic Texas meat for barbecue. We thought it'd be kind of a cool project, a kind of symbol of friendship between Texas and Mexico."
But first, they had to get a brisket to Mexico.
"We had Mohon smoke the brisket for us. I had to basically smuggle it into Mexico," Kvetko says. "We vacuum-sealed it, packed it with ice pack and put it in a suitcase."
Mezcalero Oscar Hernández and Xaime Niembro, Gracias a Dios' co-owner, worked with Kvetko to produce the small, 80-liter batch of mezcal. Gracias a Dios makes Las Almas Rotas' most popular well mezcal.
"We chose them because I really like the mezcal for the price point, but also because the mezcalero is part of the company, which meant a lot to us because we want to make sure the people really responsible for production are taken care of," Kvetko says.
After letting the spirit mellow in bottles for a few months, a few bottles will be released in February, but the remainder will continue to rest for another year. You can try the pechuga at Las Almas Rotas, and a small number of bottles will be sold at specialty wine and liquor store Bar and Garden. Each bottle retails for $80, a "super good price point for a pechuga," says Julie Buckner Lane, Bar and Garden's general manager.
"It’s gonna be a super-exclusive thing," Kvetko says. "It’s really exciting. I don't know any place that’s done this before."
But for Kvetko, this isn't just about mezcal or Texas brisket. It's much bigger than that.
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"In these political times, it's like, anything you can do to really show friendship and cooperation between neighbors is so important right now," Kvetko says. "I only have my vote and what I can do with our business. These people mean a lot to me. I've seen how hard they work, I've seen the ancestral knowledge they have. Anything I can do to support them is really important and shows that we’re not all alike here, basically."
So how does the pechuga taste? We had a nip back in October, and it's a fascinating sipper. It was about 60 percent ABV when we tasted it — which is pretty high but mellows over time, Kvetko says — and fiery, but it also had this subtle earthy funk to it that made us keep reaching for the glass. It doesn't smack you in the face with brisket flavor; this spirit isn't meant to be so heavy-handed. It's fruity, earthy, warm, a little sweet. And for the Las Almas Rotas team, it's incredibly symbolic.
"We all made it together," Kvetko says. "That’s kinda why I got into this."
Las Almas Rotas, 3615 Parry Ave. (Expo Park)