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Del Maguey launches sustainability training seminar

Misty Kalkofen, Del Maguey‘s Madrina (godmother) is a big ball of energy when it comes to her passion project – mezcal and sustainability. If you haven’t already checked out the sustainability blog at the Del Maguey website, you should. It is highly significant that the brand that pretty much launched the mezcal category as we know it today has a dedicated space on their website discussing issues impacting the mezcal industry– this is a real issue that the category as a whole must address.

But with that broad declaration, it is also true that trying to define and categorize sustainability  is a huge and daunting task, so where to begin? In Del Maguey’s case, it is with a new training seminar for industry people the begins to unwrap this very complicated subject. Clearly there is interest because there was a huge turn out of industry folk (bartenders primarily) at both the San Francisco talk at the Alamo Drafthouse, and the Oakland talk at the Starline. Bartenders are the gateway to the world of mezcal for most people, and having them as educated as possible on the key issues is critical to spreading the gospel of sustainability. Perhaps most importantly, the buying power they hold, and the choices they make in deciding which mezcals to put on the shelves is key in supporting brands that prioritize sustainability.

There is no doubt that mezcal is the “it” spirit. In addition to the constant stream of articles making this declaration, there are also the real numbers that back that up; a 20-30% category growth year over year since 2012. But this increasing demand is putting incredible pressure on an industry that has much to figure out, primarily how to scale now that it has been thrust into the international spotlight. And how to scale sustainably, to look for that sweet spot in the intersecting circles of ecology, economics, politics and culture, all with the issue of social justice in the background is no easy task, and one that Kalkofen takes seriously. 

Much of the talk about sustainability has focused on the agricultural, or ecological side, and the raw materials, i.e. agave, needed to continue its viability; and, with good reason. Mexico is really the cornucopia for agave,  Kalkofen delved into that with slides enumerating just how much Mexico contains the greatest variety of Family Agavacea, 251 of 330 species are found in Mexico. And of that 251 species, 150 of which are what we know as agave (others include yucca, et all.) In total, 177 of the species are endemic to Mexico, and therefore the protection in maintaining the diversity is integral to the survival of Agavacea.

The experience of the tequila industry, and reliance on hijuelos (the genetic clones of the mother plant) and monoculture growing style has been a great guide post on what not to do, and how to preserve the genetic diversity found in agave. There is now a greater emphasis on  using a mix of seed and hijuelos in growing. There are also commitments to using certified wood in the production process, and there are projects to help deal with the waste water and bagasso that is being created. But to adequately deal with scaling up production, Kalkofen said it is imperative to think 10-15 years out so that fields can be appropriately planned and planted, the labor issues can be resolved, and that infrastructure can be built.

Kalkofen used Vida production as an example. It takes four hornos, 50-60 tinas (fermentation tanks), and nine stills, all operating simultaneously to meet production needs. Contracts are continually renegotiated to account for the fluctuating agave prices, upgrades to facilities, and of course labor costs. All of these factor into what a bottle ultimately costs, and as Kalkofen points out, if you are paying $15 for a bottle of mezcal, someone, if not many, is getting screwed in the process.

Which leads us to the human factor in mezcal production. The mezcal boom has created economic opportunities in the communities where it is made. There is now money for the children of the mezcaleros to continue education beyond high school, and jobs for many who had left the area in pursuit of economic opportunities. This more than anything is the greatest impact of the industry, and now provides communities with the ability to invest in things we often take for granted like libraries, clean water projects, alternative energy (solar panels for one), internet access, and more.

 Of course while talking about these tough issues, we sipped a wide variety of mezcals from the Del Maguey line that cover the world of agave varietals – espadin, madrecuishe, tobala, papalome, tepeztate – and region – Santa Catarina Minas, Puebla, the Mixteca, Teotitlan del Valle. My two favorites of the day were the Madrecuishe and the Tepeztate, mostly because they were new to me. The special reserve Espadin is certainly a flavor bomb and should not be overlooked.

It was great to see such an engaged audience, and hear a lot of tough questions being asked – it is after all the point in pushing for greater transparency in the industry. I continue to remain hopeful that the mezcal industry will not follow in the footsteps of the tequila industry, and that with seminars like these, industry and consumers alike, will pressure brands toward sustainable practices.

Mexico in a Botte: D.C. – In pictures

DC Rocks!

We’re flying back to San Francisco right now after such a wonderful week in DC and a truly amazing Mexico in a Bottle. Check out our photo gallery to relive the event. A special thanks to everyone who attended, it is so gratifying to see so many happy faces and hear from so many people who really enjoyed the tasting. A tremendous thank you to the Mexican Cultural Institute for taking a giant leap of faith and allowing us to take over their gorgeous space. Everyone was justifiably wowed by it. The combination of vivid murals, the tiled room, and expansive layout is perfect for our traveling encounter with Mexican culture. If we can manage it (or the Institute will allow us!), we’ll definitely be back. Read more

Washington, D.C. – Events galore

 

A quick update on Mexico in a Bottle – Washington, D.C.

  1. We are sold out! Yes, 100% sold out so if you have a ticket you’re a lucky soul. (And no, we don’t have a wait list and can’t sell any tickets at the door. We’d love to be able to sell more tickets but we’re at the building’s capacity. Hopefully you’ll understand!)
  2. Even if you didn’t get a ticket we have some other events in the area this weekend that may be of interest to you. Just click through for all the details.
    1. Wine and Spirits Tasting at Grand Cata
    2. Spirited Conversations – NOM 70
    3. Bar Ilegal Cumbia break down with Wahaka Mezcal
    4. After Party at Espita 

Mexico in a Bottle DC – kicking off 2017

The Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C.

In the spirit of transparency, here’s some background on how the whole idea of how Mexico in a Bottle – Washington,  D.C. came about:  DC is my hometown, but now, my immediate family lives with me on the West Coast. I miss DC, I miss my friends, and I really needed to come up with a reason to visit. Then there was a random meeting and conversation I had with Pati Jinich, the terrific Mexican chef, culinary anthropologist, and resident chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute in DC. She told me that the Mexican culinary scene in Washington was growing. A seed was planted and I told Max that DC needed to be on our shortlist of event cities for 2017. Read more

The Spirited Conversation that was

Last night’s inaugural Spirited Conversation at Midtown’s Cantina Alley was fun and super interactive. Rion Toal of the Maestros del Mezcal cooperative tasted us through six mezcals from five different producers and led the talk that covered a broad range of topics from distinctive production styles, agaves used, background on the makers, cooperative programs, hot topics of sustainability, economic impact, and the need to know more about where your mezcal comes from. Read more

Spirited Conversations – talking alternative business models and mezcal

We’re really looking forward to our upcoming tasting and talk in Sacramento with Rion Toal of Maestros del Mezcal. Mestros is a cooperative of small producers from several regions in Mexico. This is the kick off of our Spirited Conversations series where we focus on a specific topic while tasting mezcal. The event will be held April 3 at Sacramento’s newest agave spirits and Mexican craft beer focused restaurant and bar Cantina Alley. For tickets, check here. Read more

Not all “mezcal” is created equal(ly)

Sombra’s new palenque

Just when we start really digging into the different ways to unpack the new NOM-70,  Sombra Mezcal founder Richard Betts published this incredible piece. It’s a scoping piece of honesty and transparency from a mezcal brand. More than anything it’s incredibly refreshing – if we all could engage on this level all of the time the world would be a much better place. Read more

Mixing your mezcals

A mix of agaves

You may have noticed the term ensemble on some mezcals, it’s just like the dictionary definition, the second one after “a group of musicians, actors, or dancers who perform together.” The one that reads “a group of items viewed as a whole rather than individually.” As applied to the mezcal world the same holds true, a variety of agaves are harvested, roasted, mashed, fermented, distilled, and bottled together.

Read more

NOM 70 is here – Now we just have to figure out what that means

What category do these bottles fit in?

NOTE: I edited this piece slightly because a sharp eyed commenter noted that diffusors are explicitly allowed, a fact that I flat out missed while reading and translating the NOM. I’m going to be writing more about that in the coming days but for now I’m just updating this post with the relevant information.

— Max Garrone

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Ever so quietly NOM 70 was passed into Mexican law on February 23nd. This after years of debate and discussion – a process that was unusual for its inclusiveness and for how the voices of the people impacted by the law are included in it. Now that we have a law it’s time to figure out what it means. Here’s the full text.

Big picture: Read more