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Posts from the ‘Events’ 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.

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

Oaxaca notes: An encuentro of (many) Maestros del Mezcal

It was a fabulous three weeks in Oaxaca that now feels simultaneously like I was there for forever and that it was all a dream. I’ll just sum it up in five words– so much damn good mezcal.

Max did a great little write up about how the mezcaleria scene is changing, with differentiation coming in style and design and of course breadth of offerings. To my great dismay, I was not able to get to Cuish to see live and in person their newly revamped space. By all accounts, it is beautiful and is at the top of my list when I return. I have such high regard for what Felix Hernandez Monterrosa and Hilda Martinez Popoca have done for mezcal in Oaxaca. When they opened their doors in 2011, Read more

Where Fancy Food and Mexico collide

The Mexico pavilion at the Fancy Food Show 2017

Monday Susan and I spent much of the day wandering the cavern known as Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco attending the annual Winter Fancy Food Show. There are hundreds of vendors hawking every food item imaginable, after a few hours you can’t help but be overwhelmed by all the pitches. It’s easy to drift into thoughts about late capitalism and commodity culture because so many of the foods are so similar and just one of them will probably break through, if any. Read more

Pouring their hearts into a glass

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Monday, November 7th, saw eight bartenders throwing down for the grand prize title of our 2nd Annual Mexico in a Glass Cocktail Contest. For this contest we ask a lot of the bartenders —

  1. Create a unique mezcal cocktail recipe you think embodies Mexico.
  2. Batch your product to serve 70 people
  3. Submit to the judgement of the audience the audience
  4. Be creative with your set up.

And man oh man did they deliver. Read more

Sign of the times: The ever growing list of mezcals at Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle

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So many copitas to fill.

What a difference a year makes. Last year we had a full house of mezcals at Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle. There was a great mix of small and medium batch production, seven of the eight states in the denominación were represented, and some new brands launched.

Fast forward to today: We are literally bursting at that seams. The sheer quantity of brands being imported into the United States today is difficult to track. We have plenty of new brands at our tasting which we try to make representative. We’ll have the newly relaunched Los Javis line, Mezcal Malpais from Guerrero, Marca Negra‘s full line, Meteoro, Gracias a Dios, El Cortijo, Siete Misterios and – for the first time at our event – the full line from the Cortes family including Agave de Cortes, Nuestra Soledad, and El Jolgorio. Read more

The official launch of Mezcal Week

mezcOf course, we wholeheartedly believe that every week is mezcal week, but decided with all the usual hubris, why not do an official celebratory week. So, November 6-13, we bring you Mezcal Week – a celebration of all things maguey, be it cocktails, flights, specials, food pairings, talks, films or literary readings – whatever it is you want to do – you decide, you register the idea, and you go. We’ll give you artwork, we’ll help promote, and if you need some ideas, we’ll even give you those. We just want to blow this thing up and highlight just how much mezcal has penetrated the landscape. Read more

Our kind of town

Quiote's Dan Salls prepares his variation on Al Pastor Tacos for Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle Chicago 2016

Quiote’s Dan Salls prepares his variation on Al Pastor Tacos for Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle Chicago 2016

Chicago is, to paraphrase Sammy Cahn’s lyric, really our kind of town. And we can’t wait to do it again next year! This town loves its mezcal, evidenced not only by the number of agave centric places that have opened (or will open) in 2016 alone, but also by the enthusiasm of everyone we met. The events leading up to the big tasting day – a special tasting at Las Flores, a Vago event at Estereo, a Dark Matter coffee cupping that included a special mezcal Read more