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Posts from the ‘Brands’ Category

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.

Cala SF launches mezcal dinner series

Call this perks of the job… I recently was invited to the kickoff for a new dinner series at Cala, Gabriela Camara’s Mexican restaurant outpost in SF, centered on mezcal. We’ve written before about the restaurant and its focus on not only sustainable food, but also sustainable mezcal. This was the dinner that really brought it together in a fantastic way.

The brainchild of Cala bar manager Marsilio Gabuardi, the idea is to pair a mezcal with each course. It’s not new, the difference here is that there is only a mezcal pairing – no cocktails, no wine, no beer, just mezcal. This first dinner highlighted Mezcal Amaras, which is pretty much the house mezcal at Cala. The surprise of the night was being able to taste new Amaras expressions, including a tepeztate and cenizo, along with three different espadins and their cupreata. We were joined by Amaras U.S. brand rep Sofía Acosta Rascón and, to the delight of all of us, Gabriela Camara herself. Read more

Open questions

It’s a new calendar year and things are changing for mezcal. As we all hold our breath this Friday we do know a few things, and all of them have some impact on the mezcal world.

It’s never been so cheap to create a mezcal brand

There are more mezcal brands on the market in the United States than ever before. With the growing interest in the cocktail space and even the retail world, the business case is there and brands are being built to fill niches in the market. We routinely talk to distillers, brand creators, and others who are interested in creating or bringing a mezcal brand into the United States.

In Mexico there are even more brands, so many that it’s been difficult to even imagine what’s going on in the mezcalosphere. That points to one fascinating contradiction in our moment: The production is there, the business interest is there, arguably the consumer interest is also there. But there are some big questions. Read more

As the big boys get into mezcal, they’re at least paying lip service to sustainability

Rays of sunlight in the struggle for sustainability?

We all knew that the big liquor companies were coming to mezcal. Zignum, Beneva, and others have been around for a while but the really big distributors like Diageo jumped into the game last year, signing a distribution deal with Mezcal Union, while Pernod Ricard sounds like it’s launching a mezcal in the next few months. Read more

Tasting Notes: Mezcalero #17

The latest in Craft DistillersMezcalero line which delivers extremely small production batches from a variety of locations around Oaxaca.

 mezcalero17The details:

– Location: San Baltazar Guélavila
– Agave: Cultivated espadín and agave de lumbre
– Maestro Mescalero: Cirilo Hernández
– Quantity: 184 cases / 1104 bottles
– Distillation Date: March 2014
– Bottled: June 2015.
– ABV: 48%
– NOM: O14X

 

 

The background:

These are the sort of one off distillations that used to define mezcal so this series is something of a relic of another era and testament to all the riches that remain. As I’ve said before, the mere existence of Mezcalero is fantastic, the fact that they continue to produce such high quality mezcals so consistently is even better. Read more

Tasting Notes: La Venenosa Raicilla Sierra de Jalisco

Since its premiere at Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle 2014 Raicilla Venenosa has been a constant presence at better mezcalerias. It was the first racilla legally imported into the United States and was only recently joined by a second. The distinctive flavors of this other Jaliscan mezcal are well worth seeking out.

Raicilla Venenosa Sierra de Jalisco Raicilla Venenosa Sierra de Jalisco

The details:

– Location: Mascota, Jalisco.
– Agave: Agave maximiliana.
– Maestro Mezcalero: Don Ruben Peña Fuentes
– Quantity: 800 bottles
– Distillation Date: April 2014
– ABV: 42%

The background:

Esteban Morales really brought raicilla to the United States and we’re all the richer for his work with Arik Torren to make that happen because raicilla is so different from other mezcals – once you try it you’ll instantly understand why it deserves its own category. Read more

Tasting Notes: Los Nahuales Special Edition No. 1

The Los Nahuales Special Edition No. 1 is the first and, hopefully only the first, in a series of special editions from one of the longest standing and most prominent mezcal brands in the United States.

Los Nahuales Special Edition No. 1The details:
– Location: Santiago Matatlán
– Agave: 41.3% wild cuishe Agave karwinskii and 58.7% Sierrudo, a type of Agave americano.
– Maestro Mezcalero: Karina Abad
– Quantity: 1520 bottles. The majority only available through K&L Wines. 720 bottles are distributed by Craft Distillers
– Distillation Date: April/May 2015
– ABV: 48%
– NOM: O14X

 

 

 

The background:

This is the fruit of another of those mezcal world happenstances. While hanging out at Marco Polo with Karina Abad who manages Los Danzantes’ entire production Ansley Coale and K&L Wines’ David Driscoll cooked up the idea of Karina doing a batch all on her own. The rest is in the bottle but you can get a portion of the foreshadowing and narrative in Driscoll’s blogging about that trip. Read more

Tasting Notes: La Niña del Mezcal Bacanora

Long known for her flagship espadín La Niña del Mezcal’s Cecilia Murrieta is releasing intriguing bottles that span the agave spirits universe.

La Niña del Mezcal Bacanora

The details:

– Location: San Pedro de la Cueva, Sonora
– Agave: Agave yaquiana
– Maestro Mescalero: Rafael Encinas
– Bottle: 627 / 1000
– Batch No. : B001
– ABV: 48%

The background:

Bacanora has had it’s own Denominación since 2000 but it’s been traditionally produced in Sonora for quite some time. Unfortunately not many variations are imported, mostly we’ve had to rely on samizdat bottles that we bring in ourselves or find on friends’ bars. To date the most prominent brand imported in the United States is Cielo Rojo. Read more

The latest sign that mezcal is making inroads into the mainstream

For all the accolades and press that mezcal has received, it is still an outlier when it comes to the mainstream bar world. That’s why when the San Francisco Symphony asked us for help in procuring mezcal for their big Opening Night Gala event we jumped at the opportunity. A major part of our mission is promoting mezcal so what better way to put mezcal front and center than at one of the most prominent cultural event in San Francisco? Read more

State of the industry update

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Ven a Comer is this year’s MexIAM motto.

Last year’s Mexican Consulate tasting was a good snapshot of what a lot of mezcal makers’ ambitions. As I wrote at the time, there was an awful lot of mezcal out there trying to get into the North American market. The production volumes were enormous, and there were a tremendous number of brands vying for attention. The strange thing is Read more