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A New Mexican Whiskey Wants to Redefine Corn Whiskey With a 4,000-Year-Old Process

It's made at the first dedicated whiskey distillery in Mexico.

Mexican whiskey
Courtesy of Abasolo

It pours more golden than the brown you might find hitting the glass when you let loose a couple fingers of your favorite bourbon. The liquid coming from this rectangular bottle is closer to the golden hue of corn. Though, that's not quite an appropriate comparison even though Abasolo is a corn whiskey. The corn it's made with is not the bright yellow sweet corn hawked at roadside stands across the midwestern United States. 

Mexican Whiskey has been touted as a small but developing spirits category for years. It doesn't have the status of Scotland or Kentucky, or even Japan, but the foundations are being laid. Sierra Norte and Pierde Alma are a couple of familiar labels leading the way, making whiskey focused on heirloom Mexican corn. However, Abasolo is looking to change the perception of what Mexican whiskey is and can be. Launched by Casa Lumbre in the midst of the pandemic, Abasolo is the first 100% Mexican corn whiskey. Corn is a common presence in whiskey, but focusing intensely on its flavor is less common. Some whiskey lovers might shrug with indifference at the sight of a corn whiskey, but it's this label that the Jilotepec distiller believes will make its name. 

Though, Cesar Sandoval, National Ambassador for Abasolo Ancestral Corn Whisky, tells Thrillist that the whiskey doesn't exactly belong under the same umbrella as other Mexican whiskeys. "All other whiskeys, they were almost, I don't want to say an afterthought, but they are made in a Palenque [a mezcal distillery]," he says. "It wasn't designed specifically for whiskey. We were. This is is a six-year project we're on, almost seven. Since inception, we are creating whiskey."

abasolo whiskey
The Abasolo distillery. | Courtesy of Abasolo

The other part of what Sandoval says separates Abasolo is that co-Founder and Master Distiller Ivan Saldaña has crafted a whiskey made with non-GMO red Cacahuazintle corn, sourced entirely from three local farms from which the company buys directly. The corn then goes through nixtamalization, a 4,000-year-old process that opens up the corn, bringing its flavors to the fore, especially in the absence of a longer aging process. It's part of what makes the whiskey uniquely Mexican, even though it's a company active in both the US and Mexico.  

"We started with corn. We wanted to encapsulate the alma de la tierra, but we also wanted to capture la alma de mais, the soul of corn," Sandoval says. "So, we did a lot of experiments, a lot of trials with different corns. We didn't say, 'Hey Cacahuazintle is the one.' We just said we want to use a corn that's native to Mexico, that's non-GMO. So, there were several corns that we could use. Once we did a trial and error of all of these, Cacahuazintle ended up being the best one. It's generous not only in flavor, but it's abundant, the kernels are large, and it's sweet." 

It makes for a unique whiskey. It's new, so the variety of age expressions aren't available yet, but they're coming, Sandoval says. They wanted this spirit to be a true expression of the regional corn. Sandoval says this separates it from other Mexican whiskey purveyors because they don't specify the strain, but the color, which could include a variety of strains. 

Additionally, having launched in the midst of a crisis, the distiller chose not to pull back but to step up. In both the United States and Mexico, it's donating 100% of its profits to the hospitality industry through August 1. In the US, donations will be given to Another Round Another Rally, a non-profit raising money to give emergency funds to hospitality workers impacted by the pandemic. In Mexico, they've partnered with Culinaria Mexicana's "Gastronomic Bonds" initiative. 

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.