Mezcal Distillery el Milagrito
Santiago Matatlan, Mexico
Jorge Ambrosi Gabriela Etchegaray
Gerardo Reyes (Project Architect)
Rafael Gamo Onnis Luque Rodriguez
The context in which our client was producing mezcal had not changed for over three generations. The horse, the mill, and the still pots all shared a single space beneath an old wooden roof. Exportation standards require modern sanitary conditions, so the client requested adequate production spaces in order to meet health codes. We began by studying the distillation process in depth. We considered it important to integrate the recipe into the spatial organization. Each quarter contains a phase in the process. The client’s family has produced mezcal on this site for over a century so a heightened sensitivity for the site had to be considered. We maintained the position of the original circular earth oven and used it as a central point around which the structures were placed. We provided the horse with an independent pen that eliminated the primary issue of sanitation. We allotted space for the mill which is turned by the horse. A storage area for the barrels in which the drink ferments provide control of temperature conditions. An altar is also placed inside for the ritual prayers that accompany fermentation. Finally an area was excavated for the still pots that made the extremities of the equipment more accessible. The excavated dirt that contained the history of past fires was precious to our client, so we integrated it by creating the rammed earth walls lining the central patio.
Even before its conception, mezcal has a distillation process that requires time and patience. Before production can begin, the Maguey cactus must mature over the course of eight years. Once harvested the hearts of the cacti are buried in a subterranean oven and baked for three days. They are then removed and milled for their pulp and juice. The mash is left in barrels to ferment for approximately six days during which prayers are made to the spirits that transform the substance into alcohol. Finally the mash is distilled and bottled for consumption. Santiago Matatlán is considered to be the heart of mezcal’s productive territory. Artisanal recipes exist that are passed down through generations. Within the past decade, a surging popularity for the drink has encouraged the expansion of sales to international markets generating an evolution for traditional methods of crafting the drink.
The client is now exporting his product. Sanitary conditions have been met, but the organization of the structures has also allowed production flow to become more efficient. Although we intervened spatially, we did not affect the elements of his craft, allowing the process to remain artisanal. This spatial intervention also made the process consume fewer resources. In a region where water is scarce, the project incorporated a system to recycle the water used during distillation. The structures are set at the back of the lot, so they are not evident from the street. However, the impact of the internal patio where the oven is set is significant. Once an open grass patch, now the oven is contained by concrete frames and loam walls. The synthesis is a place where a generational ritual can continue to flourish, where visits can be held, and where a physical structure provides an identity for the home of the drink.