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Why Cinco de Mayo?

It’s that time of year again. Our feeds all blow up with mentions of tequila’s smoky cousin, special cocktails that stretch the boundaries of credulity, and all sorts of Mexican oriented drunkenness. While bartenders privately lament the lack of manners they enjoy the tips.

We’re not immune to the lure of Cinco de Mayo, hey, it’s a teaching opportunity! Hence our involvement in the San Francisco Academy of Science’s Thursday evening event. I’ll have a presentation on “Why Mezcal, Why Now” along with Raza Zaidi of Wahaka, Elisandro Gonzalez of Tosba, and Dr. Blake Simmons on agave’s use as biofuel. Oh, and there will be cocktails as well!

If you can’t make it, there are sure to be tons of events in your zip code but first we want to give you a primer on what Cinco de Mayo’s background because the true meaning of the holiday is infinitely more insidious and complex than most people make out. And, in many ways it’s the story of our era. Read more

Taste agave spirits blind and you may end up seeing more

By Ferron Salniker

Tomas Estes— international tequila ambassador, Tequila Ocho co-founder, and restaurateur— visited Tacolicious last week armed with five mystery agave spirits and a sales pitch.

Tomas Estes guides the tasting. Photo by Ferron Salniker

Tomas Estes guides the tasting. Photo by Ferron Salniker

“I’m not trying to sell you anything. Wait, actually I am,” he joked. “I’m trying to sell you agave spirits as a whole.” Read more

Why mezcal, why now?

I know, you wake up daily pondering that question and it’s the one that sees you off at night. The good news is that I’m here to help. I’ll be making a presentation to the California Academy of Sciences for their Cinco de mayo celebration this Thursday evening on exactly this topic so get your tickets today and swing on by Thursday evening. Read more

Pop Up in our Pulqueria

Pop Up Pulqueria Tamarindo

Our first Pop Up Pulqueria was so popular that we’re bringing it back but shifting zip codes to Tamarindo in Downtown Oakland. The idea is the same, we’ll have lots of fantastic, made in California pulque on hand and you can meet the master, that is, pulque maestro Salvador Gonzalez will be on hand to guide you through pulque’s rich history and delicious flavors.

To up the ante (and agave!), we’re also bringing in Don Amado‘s Jacob Lustig to show you what mezcal is all about. The kick ass bartenders at Tamarindo will create a a special cocktail, plus a special Pozole from the delicious kitchen, all for $35! All other drinks (additional cocktails, beer) are not included in the price but are available for purchase. Just remember, we sold out of our first Pop Up Pulqueria the week before it happened so don’t delay, get your tickets today!

It’s 4-7PM Sunday, May 15th. Tamarindo Antojeria 468 8th St, Oakland, California 94607. Get your tickets today!

Another reason to eliminate NOM 199 – It destroys Mexican tradition

(This is the last week to register your public comments about NOM 199. You can read all of our coverage here but we have also asked for comment from a few people in the mezcal world. Here are comments from Rachel Glueck and Noel Morales who have created Amor del Diablo mezcal )

It’s clear that NOM-199 is made to keep market control in the hands of those already established. It’s a completely non-sensical proposal that is antithetical to what mezcal truly is, and a slap in the face to the real producers of mezcal. Mezcal is booming because of its authenticity and diversity, because it is directly linked to centuries-old traditions. The consumer craves that connection, and mezcal is one of the only spirits in the world that offers that.

Mezcal is not an industry; mezcal is a tradition. This Occidental idea of “industry” will ruin everything. It’s very important for the communities – the communities don’t buy whiskey for the ceremonies, they buy mezcal. If you destroy this, you destroy many things – including your industry.

This proposal is a repetition of the conquest of Mexico: first the resources, tradition, and rights of the natives are stolen for imperial (read: corporate) gain. Then those same natives are condemned to a life of poverty and dependence for not having the ability to meet foreign-imposed standards.

Don’t let us forget that the acts of conquest of the 16th and 17th centuries we now vehemently criticize, continue to this day, albeit more insidiously. NOM-199 is, quite simply, the theft of native knowledge and tradition for the benefit of big business. Should it pass, the Mexican people lose, the consumer loses. Only a handful of business owners will gain.

Does anyone need reminding of what happens when a rural village in Mexico is no longer able to support itself?Desperate people go to desperate places: either the USA in search of work, or the drug cartel.

If you want to understand what mezcal represents for real Mexicans you need to travel to Mexico for one of the native ceremonies that define local life. Here’s a video about Noel’s mother’s hometown of Mochitlan.


Pencase before their removal.

Pencas before their removal.

Penca literally means leaf or “fleshy leaf of an agave or cactus.” In the Mexican world the meaning is obvious and literal. The leaves of the agave that have to be sheared off before you get to the piña.

Freshly shorn, a piña emerges from its pencas.

Freshly shorn, a piña emerges from its pencas.

Like all things in the Mexican universe a penca is never just a penca. It doesn’t just get cut off the piña, lie inert and decompose. No, once shorn it becomes integrated into a wide web of functions including decomposing in a pile. Read more

A vote against NOM 199 by the Mezcal PhD

(This is the last week to register your public comments about NOM 199. You can read all of our coverage here but we have also asked for comment from a few people in the mezcal world. Here’s the first in a series from John McEvoy who blogs as Mezcal PhD.)

I am not sure if you have heard what certain power brokers are trying to pull off in Mexico, but it is an affront to the deep tradition of mezcal and all it stands for historically.

There is a blasphemous proposal, called NOM 199, where they are effectively trying to eliminate the use of the term “agave” for spirits that are produced outside the mezcal and tequila DOs.  Today, these traditional producers outside of the denomination of origin regions, can call their product “Destilado de Agave”, and can tell us what type of agave was used and label it accordingly.  This is not perfect for the producers because they cannot call it mezcal, but at least they can tell us what is in the bottle.

NOM 199 eliminates their ability to use the term “agave” and they have to call this spirit “Komil”.  What is komil?  Well, no one really knows.  It makes no sense and consumers will have no idea what is in the bottle.

You can read more about it here on my blog post from last month.


In addition, the Tequila Interchange Project (TIP), recently posted another summary and petition as we are in the home stretch of the comment period to defeat this proposal.  Comments are due by April 29!!  You can find the new TIP position here.

If you care about mezcal and its honored tradition, please sign and make your voice heard!!

John McEvoy aka the Mezcal PhD.

NOM 199 – the bottom line

Friends, countrymen, mezcal lovers – This is it. This is the last week for public comment on NOM 199 so make sure to sound off before it’s too late. If you haven’t already please sign the Tequila Interchange Project’s (TIP) petition against NOM 199 here. You can also read all our coverage of NOM 199 here.

We here at Mezcalistas think NOM 199 is terrible. It will hurt the small people in the mezcal world while also undermining Mexico’s cultural heritage. And for what? As best we can tell this hands more power to larger corporate interests.

But what is the bottom line impact on the mezcal industry? That’s a question that has been swirling around my head and I’ve been bandying about trying to get some hard statistical information, that as it turns out, is not available. This is what makes this proposed NOM so frustrating – the fact that no serious study has been done to determine what the economic impact will be. For example,

  • How many people in the whole country of Mexico are actually involved in mezcal, raicilla, bacanora, sotol, tequila and pulque – farmers, workers, producers?
  • What percentage of household income do the above mentioned spirits contribute?
  • What is the average income of an agave spirits producer?
  • What is the total number of producers who have applied to be certified?

Obviously compiling this information is laborious, but given what’s at stake, this is critical information.

The reality is that if NOM 199 is adopted, it probably won’t actually change the culture of how mezcal and the other spirits have been sold for centuries. The tiny producers will still produce and will continue to sell into their local market for special occasions. Exactly because they produce so little they won’t be able to entice an investor to buy their product and pay for certification. Without access to capital and with all the restrictions involved in certification small producers  will be locked out of the legal market.

Large producers will fare well – they are established already, have a market, contracts, brands, and will not be impacted. They can attract investors or sell to brands as the whole industry moves to produce in volume. Most likely they’ll follow in the steps of the tequila industry and become contractors to brands. In a few instances, they may be able to take an ownership stake, or form a cooperative that could help break down the various barriers to entry.

The unintended, who knows perhaps they’re actually intentional, consequences of NOM 199 will be eliminating the development of smaller producers which have electrified the global market. That means that all the younger producers coming back to Mexico to build something of their own will be forced out. All that entrepreneurial energy will be wasted.

Finally, NOM 199 impacts you, the consumer. You will have to travel  to buy truly small production agave spirits. It’s a fun idea, but fewer people will do it, and it will support a smaller number of distillers.

While the numbers are out there, we do have at least an inkling of the impact. Here’s one precedent, and remember this is from well before the demand for mezcal was as great as it is today. In “Mezcal in the Global Spirits Market” Alvin Gary Starkman describes the impact of COMERCAM’s creation on distillers in Santiago Matatlán:

“Subsequent to the formation of COMERCAM early in this century, the number of palenqueros in and around the town dropped by about two thirds, in large part because of the regulatory body’s strict rules, extensive paperwork and cost of membership, all required to produce mezcal for export which meets its prerequisites.”

That’s a 66% decline in palenqueros in one of the centers of mezcal production. Imagine all that creativity, economic activity, cultural history, not to mention tasty mezcal gone at the stroke of a pen. We’re facing the same sort of threat from NOM 199 so make sure to tell the powers that be what you think. Please sign the Tequila Interchange Project’s (TIP) petition against NOM 199 here!



Retasting Vago

Judah Kuper displays the Vago line at St. Frank.

Judah Kuper displays the Vago line at St. Frank.

Damn, it’s been almost a month since a really nice Vago tasting at St. Frank in San Francisco. I blame the delay on the twinned Komil and mezcal in media outbursts which consumed almost all of our attention recently. Oh and all those tastings we’re organizing in SF, NY, and Chicago

But enough with delays. A group of us was fortunate to taste through Vago’s line with brand co-founder Judah Kuper Thursday, March 24th. Special thanks to Joel from Worthy Bar for organizing the event. Special thanks as well to Kevin & Lauren Bohlin for hosting at St. Frank. For those who haven’t been, St. Frank is an absolutely beautiful cafe in San Francisco. It’s all blond wood and white tile but steps beyond most espresso bars in that it puts a huge emphasis on reducing the obstacles between barista and customer interaction. The espresso machines are under the counter, and everything else is kept out of the way so that it’s easy to see and interact without a big hunk of metal between you. They are also just about to expand with new cafes named Saint Claire in partnership with Not for Sale. Read more

Craft Agave: Tequila+Mezcal+Clift Hotel April 29

It’s not often, if at all, we venture into Tequila world, but when this opportunity came up to collaborate on an agave event at the Clift Hotel, we jumped. With the NOM 199 proposal hanging over the agave industry’s head, we figured it was time to put craft with craft and celebrate all that is good about small production agave distillates.

On April 29th, from 5-8pm, we give you Craft Agave at the Clift Hotel. Six mezcals, six tequilas, and a whole lot of expressions.

On the mezcal front we’ll have mezcals from Oaxaca (Benesin, Amarás, Quiquiriqui, Don Amado, Ilegal), Guanajuato (Mezcal Marqués),  and Guerrero (Amarás). And on the tequila side we’ve got Fortaleza, Casa Noble, ArteNom, Tequila Ocho, Chinaco, Don Pilar and a few more surprises. The highly curated list is a great way to sample side by side the complex flavors of distilled agave.

Tickets are available here — $40 in advance, $50 at the door. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Tequila Interchange Project that has been so instrumental in educating the market about agave distillates, and leading the fight against NOM 199. Final comments are due April 29th, so please be sure to sign the petition!