by Hillhamn Salome, Founder and Owner of Flor de Luna Distillery and Xila Liqueur
I was supposed to go to UCSC to become a marine biologist. Shit happened, and I could not go and fulfill my lifelong dream. So I stayed in Mexico City, found a career I liked and studied here. I decided in the meantime I would go work at a bar. There were two things I loved about that job: firstly, the head bartender was a woman, and, secondly, they taught me a lot about spirits and liqueurs. In there, I fell in love with the concept of understanding how every alcohol is made. I went home every day after work and researched how mezcal was made, how to make vodka out of potatoes. By this time, it was all just theory. Then, I took a short trip to New York City, and as I was walking down 12th Street and Broadway, I stumbled into a local library and found a book about homemade infusions.
As soon as I arrived home, I started making my own infusions. But I knew that I could not keep using renowned brands as the bases of my homemade infusions, so I had to learn how to distill. I searched and searched all over Mexico for someone who would teach me how to distill everything. I learned the basics on fermentation, distillation and formulation.
The original concept behind Xila had three predominant ingredients: Ancho chile, pineapple and mezcal. But with just those three ingredients, the liqueur needed something more. So I did about 150 trials with different botanical combinations in different quantities, complementing the initial ingredients. I did trials with coriander seeds, different chilies, different fruits, botanicals like mango leaves, spices like cardamon, aniseed, all-spice. It was a disaster – a combination of random and awkward flavors being used to make mezcal, pineapple and chile work.
After a lot of experimentation, I found inspiration in Mexican cuisine. I noticed the pattern of recurring popular ingredients, like hibiscus. Every time you go to eat to someone’s house, you will find freshly made hibiscus water. You will find cinnamon, cloves and peppers used to make mole. You will find in very specific places tejate, which is fermented pineapple. You will find different sauces made from different chiles. You will find houses infested and surrounded by lavender plants.
Noticing all these patterns, I decided to use these ingredients and give it a go. They all worked perfectly! All seven notes in Xila are hand-picked and hand-selected. We count all the ingredients by hand. Our recipe is based off of using x amount of lavender buds, or x amount of peppercorns, rather than weighing them. This helps us always maintain its quality and flavor even if it might not be the most efficient process.
In 2016, I founded Flor de Luna Distillery, the first micro-distillery and first 100% women run distillery in Mexico City. Helping and supporting women in the spirits industry is an important founding principle of Flor de Luna Distillery. After the hardships I experienced first hand during my time behind the bar, I saw that women don’t have the same opportunities as men, and I wanted to create a space where they do have this opportunity.
Being a woman distiller in Mexico is a pretty new concept. For a long time, there have been maestras mezcaleras and maestras tequileras but very few maestras destiladoras that are able to distill pretty much anything. Even for these maestras mezcaleras and tequileras, it is pretty rare to find a woman that both owns a palenque and works full time distilling because this is still a very male-driven industry.
So imagine when I say, “I am a maestra destiladora” in the heart of Mexico City - people are always amazed when I tell them I am dedicated to distilling spirits and liqueurs, produced in the first micro-distillery in Mexico City and the first with an all-female team. They usually find it hard to believe because I am a young woman in Mexico City. But the future for women in the spirits industry is slowly growing. Each time I go out, I see more and more women behind great job positions in bars, brands and in the hospitality industry.