Give the National Ambassador of Abasolo Whisky and Nixta Licor de Elote, Cesar Sandoval three adjectives, and he will make you an incredible drink. From cooking with his mom and two sisters to becoming a part of the hospitality industry at fifteen, Sandoval has always loved leaving people grateful, happy, and excited for an unforgettable experience. Sandoval, a first-generation Mexican, is no stranger to the power of serving one’s community. As a national ambassador, he continues to bring people a joyous product that thrives from its Mexican heritage and pays homage to its culture in flavor, aesthetic, and production.
What drew you to the hospitality industry?
I was born in El Paso, Texas. I am a first-generation Mexican American and currently live in San Diego. Hospitality started with my family. My mom, two sisters and I would be in the kitchen cooking different things together and listening to music. My first job was at a restaurant as a host. I was fifteen years old, I started there and never looked back; I fell in love, it was addicting. From there, I worked my way up in almost every position in the industry, with the most recent position being bar director for a restaurant group. Hospitality is my passion! I love making cocktails, I love seeing the guests’ instant gratitude. It is beautiful!
How did you get involved with Abasolo?
Our Director of Advocacy and dear friend Camille Austin, reached out to me and asked if I was interested in creating a new project that would be revolutionary. We continued to stay in contact and while both of us kept doing our research it became evident that this new brand and myself were a perfect match. When I finally got the opportunity to try Abasolo for the first time, I decided to taste it blindly without looking at any bottle or label design, I sipped it and it instantly put a smile on my face, something I had never tasted in spirit form. The rich corn flavor and complexity was complete nostalgia, it took me back to those days in the kitchen with my mother making atole, tamales and fresh tortillas. It was fantastic!
What should we know about Abasolo Whisky?
It’s truly a unique whisky unlike any other. It embodies the true flavor and expression of corn that has never been done before. It uses an ancestral cooking technique Nixtamalization which is how you convert maiz into masa. Without it we would not have beautiful dishes like tortillas, tamales, tlayudas and many more. It adds amazing flavors and aromas that you simply cannot get without it, and no other spirit has ever harnessed this process. We work with local family farmers that have been growing cacahuazintle for over 200 years. This is an ancestral corn that has been protected for thousands of years. We do a long fermentation process, double distil and age outdoors in the beautiful hills of Jilotepec de Abasolo.
Would you say Nixta and Abasolo go together? What is the difference between Nixta and Abasolo?
Abasolo is a new world whisky unlike any other, we use ancestral non-GMO cacahuazintle corn that is native to Mexico. We work directly with farmers, use a Mesoamerican cooking process called nixtamalization, we roast the corn after the nixtamalization, and a part of our corn is malted at our distillery. We then do a long 5-day fermentation, we double distilled in small copper pot stills and finally aged outdoors, really encompassing the full circle of our spirits starting and ending in the fields.
Nixta was born out of our desire to keep innovating around Abasolo. When making Abasolo and whisky in general there is a grace period while waiting for your whisky to age where some distillers would make vodka, our master distiller Ivan Saldana wanted to do something different and completely revolutionary. We started experimenting with our corn mash, with the same cacahuazintle corn but at a younger stage in its life. Instead of using fully mature maiz we used the tender corn which we know as elote, the same corn used for esquites. It is naturally tender and sweet, and we roast half of it and the other half leave as is. We then macerate it with our unaged Abasolo for around 4 months, and then add our unfermented maiz mash that we use to make Abasolo, and the result is fantastic. Finally, we add a natural sugar in its purest form that is essential in Mexico called Piloncillo. The results are one of a kind, making it perfect for any and every cocktail occasion. They are a perfect pair, they go very well together, my favorite is a Jilo Old Fashioned, 2 oz. Abasolo Ancestral Corn Whisky, .5 oz. Nixta Licor de Elote, and a couple dashes of bitters.
How is Abasolo created?
It all starts with our farmers; they are the soul and spirit of our whisky and we could not be here without them. Juan Carlos Carmona and his family plant our cacahuazintle corn in late February and harvest towards the end of October. Once harvested, every single cob is inspected and hand cut gathering all our kernels that we eventually use for our spirit. Once the corn is perfectly dried it arrives at Destileria y Bodega Abasolo. We then take the corn and nixtamalize it, after we carefully roast the corn giving it another element of aroma and flavor. We also malt part of that corn making this whisky 100% corn. After that we mill the corn into a fine flour and add hot water and add yeast. This process takes around 5 days and once we have a fully fermented mash, we have a content of 10% – 12% ABV “corn beer” We then distill in our copper pot stills and it comes out at 40%ABV, and it is delicious! In order to get more out of our barrels, we need higher proof, so we do a slower second distillation resulting in a “white dog” of about 62.5% ABV. We then add that into our previously used American oak barrels and some new barrels and aged outdoors in the beautiful hills of Jilotepec.
How is this process different from other whiskey making?
We have taken the process of whisky making and have sort of flipped it on its head. Our main focus is on our raw ingredient – we care deeply about our corn, trying not to alternate the raw material, but to expose its unique, delicate flavor. We use nixtamalization, which has never been done before in any spirit or category, a long fermentation that is not normally done in whisky. and we open air age. Most whisky is usually aged in temperature-controlled warehouses or basements to control angels’ share. We age outdoors in the high hills of Jilotepec to give Abasolo a sense of place or what we think of terroir, really following our path of it being “Alma de la Tierra” Soul of the Earth
Do you think that because it is a small distillery, it brings the consistency of the flavor, or do you think that it might have a slight difference?
We have a road map of where we want to go, and it is very consistent but the beauty in doing a craft spirit with a small production is the beauty that every batch can vary slightly. That is why people love agave spirits because depending on the batch there are slight aromas and flavors that are distinct to that specific lot. The other day, I was tasting a batch and I got a little more chamomile and roasted corn than the previous batch.
What are your recommendations for drinking Abasolo? How would you drink it for the full experience?
I personally love Abasolo neat or what I like to call “Abasolo Solo”, but it is such a beautiful, complex, yet wonderfully balanced whisky that can be served with a large cube and is so versatile in cocktails. It can do all the whisky cocktails, like Old Fashioneds and Boulevardiers, but because of it’s delicate flavor and the fact that it’s not over-oaked, it works well in cocktails where you’d normally use rum, agave, cachaca, and more. Lots of bartenders are thinking outside of the box and creating wonderful cocktails that may not necessarily use whisky originally, mixing it with tiki and agave cocktails.
Is this a product that you can also pair with cigars?
Yes, we have had several cigar lovers tell us how well it pairs with cigars, it complements the cigar, the honey, leather, and earthy tones pair wonderfully with tobacco.
As a brand ambassador, what is the role you like the most?
I love education. I get nerdy. Knowledge is power. It sounds cliché, but it is true. I love sharing knowledge, sharing stories, and learning from all the experiences. The more I teach and educate the more I learn from all the wonderful people I get to meet. My goal, as a human being and as a National Ambassador representing Abasolo and Nixta, is to empower and inspire other people that may be interested in this industry to say, “I can do this!” or “I want to work for a Mexican company!” Out of all the things that this role requires, my favorite is hosting and doing pop ups. It is my Mexican hospitality. At the end of the day, I am a bartender. I love doing pops, you get to meet a lot of people across brands and networks. Doing distillery tours or when I take someone to Mexico is so rewarding. I love showing people the vast beauty that my beautiful country has to offer.
What are your other hobbies?
I’m a musician. They kind of coincide music, food, cocktails, drinks. For me, that is what excites me. That is what I live for!
How do we follow your journey?