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What happens when you drink mezcal? The answer, it appears, depends on what you’re drinking — and who you’re drinking with.
Long known as one of the national drinks of Mexico, mezcal is having a moment in this part of the Americas too, with both cocktail bars and casual cocktail carts alike stocking up on the agave-based spirit. Among the leaders of this new mezcal movement is El Silencio, a Oaxaca-based brand that’s reshaping the way the traditional spirit is enjoyed — and experienced.
While the brand is best-known for its bold Espadín expression (in a matching bold black bottle, natch), El Silencio has branched out in recent years to curate entire experiences for its customers and fans, opening an intimate, six-room luxury hotel last summer on the site of their distillery outside of Oaxaca, and then welcoming guests to the property in November for a dazzling all-night party to ring in the new space (and perhaps, to celebrate the easing of Covid restrictions in Mexico too).
For founders Vicente Cisneros and Fausto Zapata, both the hotel and event (dubbed “Umbra,” after a word used to describe shadows in the dark) are part of their original vision to make El Silencio a brand that celebrates and amplifies culture, both in its local Mexican community and around the world.
This fall, Umbra returns for a second installation, with a 12-hour immersive art and music event once again taking place on the storied grounds of Casa Silencio. Tentatively set for November, the event will feature artists, dancers and musicians spread out across the 16-acre property, as guests move around and explore at their leisure. Interactive performances (think magicians and immersive theatrics) will punctuate the night, while a roster of classical instrumentalists and world-renowned DJs promise to keep the party going well into the morning hours.
Of course this being El Silencio, expect the mezcal to be free-flowing and plentiful; the brand is also bringing in top chefs from across Mexico to curate a series of small dishes and culinary sets to keep guests well-fed.
The entire event is set against the backdrop of the so-called “Valley of Silence,” a sweeping and picturesque perch of rolling hills and agave fields, which will also serve as a natural canvas for a larger-than-life light show and late night fireworks.
While the first iteration of Umbra was limited to friends and family, El Silencio is opening up this year’s event to ticketed guests, with exact pricing and availability to be announced soon. After two years of quarantine and social distancing, the brand says it’s excited to create experiences in real life again, and welcome guests back with a drink or two.
“Spirits are meant to bring people together,” Zapata tells Rolling Stone. “It is why they were created [and] why they exist.”
While Zapata admits that “Umbra is difficult to put into words,” he says the goal is to take the soul and spirit of the brand’s mezcal and translate it to a physical form. “Umbra is a culmination of music, arts and performances all wrapped around a surreal setting, which materializes all the elements of magic and madness that define El Silencio,” he explains. “We’ve created an experience unlike anything else seen before, transporting guests directly into the world of El Silencio.”
While Umbra is set to be a defining cornerstone for El Silencio (Zapata confirms that he’s hoping to make it an annual event), the brand isn’t resting on its laurels when it comes to what made it famous in the first place: making high-end, high-quality mezcal.
To wit: El Silencio is launching a new premium expression, appropriately titled “Rare,” in conjunction with the event. As Zapata explains, Rare is truly that: a mezcal made from a proprietary blend of wild agaves which isn’t traditionally cultivated, but rather foraged or found. Developed at the brand’s distillery at Casa Silencio, the agaves that make up the expression are cooked in a concave stone oven, milled by El Silencio’s innovative solar-powered stone “tahona” wheel, and then fermented in oak vats and double-distilled in copper stills on site. The liquid is then rested for one year in glass before bottling to mellow.
While mezcal is often defined by its smokiness, El Silencio says Rare will offer up a more “elegant” palate, with what the brand describes as “a sweet range of wild agave flavors that morph into an explosion of fruit, spice and floral notes on the finish.” The limited-edition release will come in a beautiful black glass bottle and only be available in select markets.
For Zapata, the new expression showcases the same passion and meticulous attention to detail that goes into curating Umbra, highlighting the ultimate goal of El Silencio to connect product with people in a whole new way.
“El Silencio is an experience, one that begins with the quality of our hand-crafted product,” Zapata says. “Since our inception, we have been cultivating a culture, a lifestyle and a story far beyond our mezcal that will never stop being written. We want people to become part of this story and be eager to share it with others. Our intent is for El Silencio to be appreciated holistically as an artisanal spirit and for the experiences we create to inspire a sense of curiosity for consumers, always wondering what’s next on the horizon.”
And while Zapata admits that the lack of social interaction during the pandemic “left a void for us all,” he says he’s been thrilled at the number of people asking about Umbra, which shows that people are ready to be together again. “It is so refreshing to see people remember just how interconnected we really are,” he shares. “To watch people embrace this now more than ever before, fuels everything we do. It is the best feeling in the world as it is ultimately our reason to be.”