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Posts from the ‘Tequila’ Category

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!

 

On meeting David Suro

It seems hard to believe that our paths hadn’t crossed before but I finally had the opportunity to meet David Suro, he of Tequila Restaurant in Philadelphia, the Tequila Interchange Project (TIP) and Siembra Azul Tequila. For a good picture of the man and his passion for agave, be sure to checkout the great interview The Kitchen Sisters did with him a few years back.

Suro is in town doing a series of trainings and tastings for his Siembra Azul Tequila and Siembra Metl Mezcal. A special dinner at Oakland’s Calavera on Monday, a happy hour at Loló Tuesday, and a training and talk at ABV Wednesday. A whirlwind of activity for sure.

So what’s on Suro’s mind these days? Read more

Did gringos steal tequila?

The cover of "How the Gringos Stole Tequila"

The cover of “How the Gringos Stole Tequila”

It’s the crime of the century and Chantal Martineau’s How the Gringos Stole Tequila: The Modern Age of Mexico’s Most Traditional Spiritexplains exactly how they got away with it. The real questions you’re left debating are whether that theft was the fruit of circumstance and whether the damage can be repaired. But, really, this is no true crime book, it’s a walk through the history and present of the agave spirits industry told through a series of encounters with some of the brighter and more interesting personalities that rule it.

To start, it’s incredibly encouraging to see this book do away with any pretense of a dualism between tequila and mezcal. At least in these pages, all agave spirits are part of one big happy family and history. Hell, a bottle of Mezcales de Leyenda even appears on the cover telegraphing just how prominent a role our favored spirit occupies in this narrative. Read more

Sarah Bowen interview

Sarah Bowen

Sarah Bowen

Sarah Bowen is an Associate Professor of Sociology at North Carolina State University who has long studied the impact of the tequila and mezcal industries on Mexico. Most recently she wrote a great portrait of the battles over how to define mezcal in the winter issue of Gastronomica. Those debates consumed the mezcal world in 2011 and 2012, ultimately culminating in the defeat of NOM 186 and the Mexican government’s proposal to copyright the term “agave.”

It’s well worth reading and is something of a preface to her upcoming book, “Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, and the Politics of Production,” due out this September from the University of California Press. We are really looking forward to that and will definitely post our notes on it as soon as it’s available.

Here’s an excerpt from the official description of the book:

This book tells the stories of tequila and mezcal, two of Mexico’s most iconic products, to investigate the politics of protecting local products in a global market. As people yearn to connect with the people and places that produce their food, the concept of terroir—the taste of place—has become increasingly salient.

The growing global demand for tequila and mezcal has led to fame and fortune for a handful of people, while excluding and marginalizing many others. Thess cases analyzed in this book illustrate the limitations of relying on alternative markets to protect food cultures and rural livelihoods.

Sarah has published widely in the academic world about the history and contemporary issues with how tequila and mezcal are managing their Denominacion de Origen. It’s a huge story in Mexico and part of an even bigger one as producers of traditional goods as diverse as cheese and spirits struggle to retain control over their intellectual and cultural property in an increasingly globalized marketplace.

Mezcal is currently embroiled in exactly this discussion about the proposed NOM 070 and Sarah delves into this debate  that apparently pits authentic back country distillers against industrialists. But that romanticized portrait is only part of the story, significant issues are seldom discussed like who’s really getting paid? Is that romantic story even true? Is it sustainable? Is the agave listed on the bottle even in the mezcal? And, perhaps most important she raises the big question of whether the industry has to stay static like a fly in amber or whether it can become a dynamic force.

We talked recently to delve into these questions, how she sees the mezcal industry developing in the face of NOM 070, and what role North American consumers play in the entire debate.

How did you get started studying the world of mezcal?

I have been looking at this topic since 2002. I started out looking at the shift to agave cultivation in southern Jalisco during the agave shortage in the early 2000s. I did my dissertation on the Denominación de Origen for tequila, and I have been studying mezcal for about six years. In all this time that I’ve been looking at the history of regulation of tequila and mezcal, it seems like it’s been going in one direction. Almost all of the changes made to the regulations have been expanding the markets for tequila and mezcal and increasing exports. It’s not at all in the direction of helping small farmers and producers. In the last few years, with the failure of NOM 186 and now the proposed revisions to the norm for mezcal, it feels like we are seeing a major shift in the evaluation of the tequila and mezcal industries..

 Why now? Who’s behind it?

 My article in Gastronomica is about the campaign against NOM 186 and the proposal to copyright the word “agave.” American bartenders, retailers, and consumers played a big role. In my interviews, people that had been organizing against the campaign told me that no one was really paying attention until realized that boycotts by American consumers were possible. That played an important role. The case of NOM 186 offers a lot of hope,  because there’s this movement coming out of the US and Mexico, of people who care about artisanal mezcal and are aligning themselves with small producers. This offers small producers an opportunity that, unfortunately, they wouldn’t have on their own. As Americans that care, we also have to be careful because our interests don’t necessarily align with those of the small mezcal producers. We really need to think about our role.

 How would you encourage American consumers to think about this and act?

Try to be educated about how mezcal is produced. It’s hard to do when you’re here in the US. Try to know something about how producers and farmers are being paid. This can be difficult, because not all companies want to be transparent about this. But we should support companies that are paying the workers and producers well, not just because their mezcal or their tequila tastes good. The most important thing is to start talking about the workers and producers.

Can you offer any specific guidance to consumers? Are there any brands they should follow, any specific stories?

There are some interesting brands like Mezcal Sanzekan, which is owned by a cooperative of mezcal producers, or Real Minero, which is Mexican-owned. But then there are other models too, like companies that are part Mexican, part American, or Americans that are working with small producers in respectful and fair ways. 

Part of the issue is that getting into the American market is hard to do, so Mexican producers frequently have to work with someone else to get access to the market. My main point of hope is that so much has changed in past 10 years. Just the fact that consumers are talking about all these things makes me really hopeful. When I started this research, no one was talking about terroir, there was hardly any artisanal mezcal available in the US, and no one was talking about environmental practices and sustainability. Now that’s what we talk about. I think that talking about workers and producers is the final step. There isn’t a hard and fast rule; it is hard to figure it out. But I am heartened by the fact that people are talking about mezcal in a more thoughtful way than they were even 5-10 years ago.

What do you think of the proposed Norma?

I was shocked by the proposal, because it is just a radical break from the previous norma for mezcal and the tequila norm. But the problem is that we have no idea what’s actually going to happen. If something even close to the proposal passed, it would be a major shift. As part of my book, I analyzed the regulations and the Denominaciones de Origen for tequila and mezcal. Since 1949, they have evolved in one direction: towards making mezcal and tequila less specific, less tied to particular places, with a focus on expanding markets. The original mezcal norma was almost an exact copy of the norm that regulated tequila, so the proposal is a big change. I’m intrigued to see what will happen.

Are there any other models people should think about other than European wine?

 My dissertation research compared the Denominación de Origen for tequila with a case in France: Comté cheese, which is protected by an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), which is France’s version of a Denominación de Origen. Comté cheese is exemplary even in France. That case showed me what a focus on tradition and terroir can do. The AOC included rules that preserved the specific characteristics of the region, but that also had positive effects on farmers. As an example, they had a rule that all of the milk used to make Comté cheese had to come from within a 25 km radius of where the cheese was being made. This helped preserve the link to terroir and the taste of the cheese, but it also helped small farmers and cheesemakers, by discouraging industrial groups form coming in, because the made it harder for them to industrialize and achieve economies of scale.

So there are examples that show the potential for what these kinds of labels can do. But it’s important not to idealize it too much. There are lots of examples of AOCs in France that are industrializing, where big companies are buying out out the small ones. So it’s not a perfect solution. You have to look in Mexico for things that will work there. To my knowledge, tequila is the first Denominación de Origen outside of Europe. Mexico is very different from Europe, so the exact same model isn’t going to work there. What is odd about Denominaciones de Origen in Mexico is that the legal definition is basically an exact copy of the French definition, but even though the idea of terroir is right there in the definition, in practice, the rules have never gone in the direction of preserving tradition or terroir. Some of the producers and retailers that I’ve talked to have proposed having smaller Denominaciones de Origens, which would be linked to a particular village or region, where there’s a sense of tradition in how mezcal has developed in that place.

Politically what examples are mezcal makers looking at? Do they just look at the tequila model?

I’ve talked to many mezcal producers who say, “Look at tequila; it’s been very successful. They built the market and improved quality.” That is true. The market for tequila tripled between 1995 and 2008. By many measures, it’s been very successful. But it has not been successful in terms of protecting the agave farmers, the environment, or the traditions that make tequila unique.

The interesting thing about mezcal now is that there’s this divide between those who want to follow the tequila model, and people who don’t want that. Mezcal still has many small producers and traditions that have developed in particular regions, and there is still a chance of preserving that. The path for tequila has basically already been chosen.

Politically, who knows? The role of the US matters. The United States has a lot of influence in Mexico. The United States agrees to protect tequila and mezcal as Mexican products, but we don’t recognize the concept Denominación de Origen as a legal concept. As an example of the influence of the US, a few years ago, a lot of people, including the president of Mexico at the time, proposed requiring that all tequila be bottled in Mexico. But they backed down due to opposition from the bottlers in the US and some of the tequila companies, many of which are owned by multinational companies.  That case demonstrated the power of the US. In Mexico, the the revisions to the laws that established the procedure for establishing quality standards (the normas) for all Mexican products in the early 1990s were part of a fundamental neoliberal shift in Mexico, focused on increasing access export markets and foreign capital.  The normas and the Denominación de Origen are not focusing on preserving tradition and terroir. They are about preserving market access.  It will be interesting to see what happens with this proposal to change the normas that regulate mezcal. Whatever happens with this proposal will tell us something about which way the wind is blowing.

What about tequila? Could it change?

I interviewed a lot of tequila producers in 2006, and I think maybe one person used the word terroir. Many farmers, and some of the tequila producers, would talk about the way the agave grown in certain regions had particular characteristics, so there was definitely an understanding of the idea of terroir. But now there is a lot more emphasis on terroir. Some companies are saying that their tequila is single estate tequila, or even from a single farm or ranch. So there has definitely been a huge increase in how much people are talking about terroir.

I think that some companies are doing interesting things, but I also think that some companies rely on a rhetoric of terroir, while continuing to source their agave from different regions. This may happen even more during periods of shortage. For the big companies especially, their strategy involves sourcing agave from all over the DO region, to get the best best price and supply. And of course, some companies have been accused of illegally buying agave from Oaxaca during periods of shortage. So in terms of really preserving a link to terroir and helping farmers and communities, for the biggest tequila companies, their talk about terroir and place is just rhetoric, because if they were really talking about it, it would really make them less flexible and put farmers at an advantage. We need to be talking more about the role of farmers in the tequila industry. But even when we’re talking about single estate tequilas, we’re not talking about how farmers are paid and treated. There are a lot of risks associated with cultivating agave for farmers, because it takes so long to mature. The prices fluctuate, and there is a lot of uncertainty. There needs to be more talk about the role of farmers and agricultural workers, and how they are being compensated.

Out in the field with mezcal and tequila guide Clayton Szczech

Clayton Czczech in action on one of his tours. Is that a Steve Blake jersey?

Clayton Czczech in action on one of his tours. Is that a Steve Blake jersey?

Clayton Szczech has been guiding tours through the world of tequila since 2008 and expanded into mezcal tours in 2012. We’ve been talking a lot lately as he charts a course through many of the agave growing regions of Mexico. If you think Mezcalistas spends a lot of time on mezcal, Clayton is absolutely obsessed and spends almost all his time in the field talking to mezcaleros, growers, and tons of other people connected to the industry. As he told me: “I made the decision that this was going to be my profession,  and it really is. This is all I do.”

When not in the field he’s been attending NORMA meetings and is a general man about the the world of agave distillates. He and Erick Rodriguez are two of the key guides and activists in the world of agave distillates so pay close attention to what they’re saying!

Clayton and I chatted in person and via Facebook over the past three months, this interview is edited together from those conversations. He has tours coming up in Jalisco and Oaxaca this spring. You can always find out about his latest tours at Experience Mezcal  and Experience Tequila  but he has some gems coming up including a Mezcal Boot Camp that will take you up into the Sierra Norte to visit Tosba this April 23-25 and one around Oaxaca immediately afterwards.

How did you get into the guiding business?

I’ve been doing tequila tours, education, events and research as a business since December 2008. It’s called Experience Tequila. But I’ve been traveling intermittently in Mexico since 1995, lived in the state of Veracruz in 2005-2006, and have lived in Mexico City for the past couple of years. I speak fluent Spanish and navigate the culture well. I couldn’t do any of this without the knowledge and generosity of all the maestros – producers and otherwise, in both tequila and mezcal- who have shared with me over the years.

How did you get into mezcal?

Mezcal was always there, in some way, but I didn’t really start to think about it much until my first trip to Oaxaca in about 2010

Did you have a conversion moment from tequila to mezcal?

No, not really. It doesn’t make for a very good story, but to me all of this stuff is part and parcel of Mexican culture. I’ve been a wannabe Mexican since high school, and my real conversion moment was on that first backpacking trip in summer of 1995, right out of high school.

The tahona in action at 7 Leguas tequila

The tahona in action at 7 Leguas tequila

I’ve had something closer to a moment like you might be thinking of after Oaxaca – getting more into Guerrero in particular.

I started to realize how much there is out there in addition to the vastness of  Jalisco and Oaxaca, and how even this boom we’re experiencing in the US is only showing folks the tip of the iceberg in terms of the diversity in regions, flavors, traditions, etc.

You got into Mexico, tequila and mezcal through a love of the culture. How do you bring that out in your tours?

I like the term “specialist,” because it doesn’t presume expertise but it clearly states that I don’t do anything else. It’s a combination of luxury, privilege, and sacrifice that I can spend this kind of time out in the field, learning. So when I do a tasting or a tour, I try to bring a holistic approach – who made this, what are they like, what is special about the process, etc. Where does that fit in with what we think we know about history, etc.

What’s distinctive about what you do?

I call my trips “group tours for people who don’t do group tours.” While typical tour experiences are built around separation from locals and packaged as authenticity, I actually insert people (safely, of course) into places that they would never get to on their own.

It always feels very natural to me, but when other people see me do it, they remark that it very much seems methodically organized. I definitely know that I have a set of things I want to learn from maestros, and that it works a lot better if I approach it as an anthropologist – taking nothing for granted, asking very basic questions in an inductive way, truly listening to what they say and not trying to cram it into my frames of reference.

Moving tuba from the fermentation vats to the stills at the Lupián vinata in Las Abujas, Jalisco.  Photo courtesy of Joel Contreras.

Moving tuba from the fermentation vats to the stills at the Lupián vinata in Las Abujas, Jalisco.
Photo courtesy of Joel Contreras.

Tours are necessarily an artificial experience. But there’s a real positive to that too. It means that I can curate them and create an experience in four days that is way denser than what would just accidentally happen in the same period of time if one were just travelling without a guide.

I chose the word “Experience” for my business very deliberately. I think someone who doesn’t drink much, is reluctantly along with a partner, or even truly doesn’t like mezcal can have a really great experience on these tours, because I’m setting them up to take in culture, broadly speaking – people, relationships, places, food, religion, music and the deep folk knowledge behind mezcal. To come to an understanding that mezcal is a reflection of all these things, and it is reflected in them, like a prism.

What do you notice most when you’re out in the field?

I’m sort of a word nerd so I pay attention to regional differences in vocabulary.

Can you give me an example?

Well to keep it very simple and because I don’t want to give too much away, what is the place where mezcal is made called?

In Oaxaca you’d call it a “palenque”

Folks have such a Oaxaca-centric take on mezcal, that people say “palenque” often without realizing how exclusively Oaxacan that is.

Right

In Michoacan and Jalisco a place where mezcal is made is a taverna or a vinata. In parts of Chihuahua and Sonora, they say vinatería. In Guerrero, it seems pretty universally to be “fábrica,” (“factory”) which is literally true and also pretty hilarious, to an outsider.

And I’m constantly recording this type of variation for parts of the process, qualities of mezcal, obviously different magueyes, but also their characteristics and how they are harvested.

How do people talk about making cuts? What do they call the fermented juice? What do they call the first distillate?

It’s nerdy as hell and one of the things I get most excited about.

So, my idea with tours is that they are meticulously curated in terms of maximizing quality exposure and immersion in a short period of time. But, of course, it’s Mexico and it’s mezcal – so the “wonderful shit happens” factor is also accounted for. There are always pleasant surprises and there’s a certain amount of openness to improvisation.

I can get people into the local nitty gritty, but I know where the hospitals are, I’m insured, I’ve stayed and eaten many times in all the hotels and eateries we use. here’s always a plan B and C.

Clayton Szczech admires what may be an amarillo agave in western Jalisco.

Clayton Szczech admires what may be an amarillo agave in western Jalisco.

My tours are extremely fun and educational, but they’re not particularly relaxing. We start early and we see a lot. Two full days are basically spent in the palenques and the fields

I change things up depending on production schedules. On the tour this April we’re definitely going to see the “tipo palenque” process typical of Matatlán, and the Minas clay-pot process.

We’ll do pulque one of the days – generally going out with the tlachiquero while he extracts aguamiel.

We do a curated tasting each night – one with Mezcaloteca, one at In Situ. They both have a lot to offer and I really like people to get the gamut of perspectives that are out there – from both producers and tasting / expert types

And there’s actually a bit of free time each evening so people can do their own thing in Oaxaca City.

And I HIGHLY recommend folks stay an extra day to tour Monte Albán.

You do an amazing amount of travel so I’m curious how much background research you do before a trip like the one you took through Sonora to taste Bacanora this fall?

Ok. So I did a six day trip, guided by a local guy who’s extremely connected. Sonora is huge and I wanted to see a couple different regions so there was a LOT of driving. I met one to two producers per day, came back with about eight different Bacanoras. It’s a very, very different culture than anything I know -mezcal or otherwise. The north of  Mexico is like a different country to me. The processes are quite similar to traditional and artisanal mezcal in other regions, but for example, all the mezcaleros are cattle ranchers. They wear spurs!

It was the time of year when they’re rounding up calves to be sold and shipped to Texas, so no one was actively producing. But I spent the better part of each day “conviviendo” – just hanging out while they do what they do – ranch work, making cheese and machaca, eating what they eat, and drinking a fair amount of bacanora.

They have maybe the severest maguey shortage in the country – I could be wrong, but it certainly seemed that way to me. This spring we’ll be doing fundraising to get a school bus for the schoolkids in Bacanora. They currently ride to school in police cars!

Is that related to the recent drought in Western states, over harvesting or something else?

Failure to reforest and a historic freeze a few years ago have the hills almost depopulated of maguey. I met with two producers who are raising seedlings on a mass scale, and it’s cool to see someone taking the initiative. One of these guys has gravity-fed irrigation coming from a spring that’s watering his recently planted seedlings. Of course, they have to keep the cattle away from the maguey for the first year or two, or they’ll eat it!

Are they all estate production operations and are they bottling under their own brand or selling the juice to someone else?

There are still very few brands. It’s been legal for so little time. And, my impression was that there’s pretty strong local demand for the juice. I know there are several parties currently actively looking to bottle and commercialize bacanora for the US market.

Where else have you been lately and what are you planning for the future?

I just got back from a short trip to the raicilla region around Cabo Corrientes. That was really great and it’s incredible how such old-school methods thrive so close to a place like Puerto Vallarta.

I’ve been spending a lot of time as always in Jalisco and Oaxaca, and am working on mezcal and tequila tours for Tales of the Cocktail and a really exciting “Mezcal Boot Camp” in the spring. I’m slowly learning about sotol from a producer in Chihuahua. I need to start planning for my summer events season in the US.

I’m trying to keep up my normal schedule of tours and research schedule, catch up on reading of mostly reference and technical books and get years worth of notes in some semblance of order, because I’d like to write more. What I should be doing is looking for an assistant!

Any thoughts on the recent emergence of Raicilla from Jalisco and what that means for the world of tequila?

I think the quality and early success of La Venenosa is fantastic for raicilla. Esteban Morales has been working with those producers for years and it’s great to see how receptive people are to the spirits.

I don’t know how much raicilla will affect tequila, but mezcal as a whole, certified and otherwise, DO – and not, certainly has the industry’s attention. It will be more important than ever to educate consumers on who’s who, and seek out quality and just practices for producers – whether in mezcal, tequila, sotol or some as yet unknown Mexican spirit.

You’ve attended some of the key meetings about the new NORMA proposal. It sounds like it was really energizing. How did it go?

Well, the proposed changes are definitely a step forward, and almost everyone agrees on that, even if they have strong critiques. What’s been inspiring, especially at the last big meeting in Oaxaca City, is seeing so many producers from different regions making the sacrifices to come together and make their voices heard. They’re not intimidated and they’re representing their own interests, which sounds like no big deal to a North American. But in Mexico it’s a sea change. Mexico is waking up in important ways, I think, and mezcal, of course, is a reflection of that cultural change as well.

What are you hearing out in the field about the NORMA proposals?

Very little. People are too busy working! I think everyone is taking a “wait and see” attitude for now.

Are there any new trends in the mezcal world?

I’m probably the wrong guy to ask. I’d like to think more producers are dealing directly with the consumer and getting a bigger piece of the pie, but I don’t know if that’s the case.

Sanzekan

The scene outside of Sanzekan.

Unfortunately it can’t be called a trend yet, but I think Sanzekan Timeni’s “Mezcal Solidarity Bond” program could be looked at as a model for lots of small producers and consumers who want to do the right thing. We all want great, artisanal and traditional mezcal to be sustainable and beneficial to the people who have kept it alive. The Solidarity Bonds are a way for us to invest in mezcal’s future. I hope more producers and regions can come up with ways like that for us consumers to invest in the future of mezcal.

The battle for authenticity is joined by the big boys

 

Roca Patron

Last month Patron launched a new tequila brand in the United States that is notable for what it borrows from mezcal and some of  tequila brands who never gave up on the traditional manufacturing methods. Roca Patron is marketed entirely on the basis of being milled with a tahona. That’s the only thing you see called out in the magazine advertisements, their web site, anywhere they market it. It’s all about the rock. Aside from admirable discipline in marketing, they are literally running a text book case of single message marketing that should be live tweeted from marketing classes the world round, this represents something of a shift in the greater tequila and mezcal business.

The call to authenticity in distilling has always been a part of the Mexican story. That picture of the maestro mezcalero out there in the middle of nowhere hand harvesting piñas, roasting them underground in a pit, milling them with a donkey’s help, wild fermenting them in open vats, and then distilling them over an open fire, is a huge part of the romance of mezcal. It’s also been a huge part of the romance of tequila. Some brands like Fortaleza have always emphasized their use of the tahona while others reference the romance of the hacienda and other nostalgic Mexican stereotypes. And, lest anyone think this is just an American phenomenon, it’s a huge deal for Mexicans as well because it’s a big part of the local culture and how Mexicans like to see themselves. Sort of like the American obsession with freedom.

But this tahona marketing push is something new for the tequila business. The big brands like Patron have always been happy to craft their marketing campaigns so that they trigger associations with agrarian Mexican traditions like the hacienda house, rolling hills covered by blue agaves, the worn hands of the jimadore as he hacks into an agave. But they’ve never built a whole brand around a single component in that process and, to my knowledge, never built a product around it either. Smaller brands never abandoned the traditional processes, the aforementioned Fortaleza has been a stalwart along with a few other producers while the major tequila brands moved to more mechanical extraction processes in order to speed production and guarantee consistency of their product. By emphasizing the tahona it seems like they’re trying to associate themselves with the artisanal movement while extracting a premium price. It’s a fascinating development that’s not without positive developments because if Patron has a tahona driven facility perhaps others will take notice and refocus on tequila’s artisanal roots.

Mezcal in the Aegean aka Noxious mescal on Naxos

Our man on Naxos sent in this photo to demonstrate just how far we have to go in explaining mezcal to the world:

Picasso attempts to describe agave distillates

Per our correspondent this is the menu of the “Mexican” restaurant on Naxos. It obviously has much to account for including a paucity of tequila selections. Should you need to know what to look out for, avoid, or correct the place is called Picasso, which perhaps reflects just how much they know about things Mexican.

What’s tequila doing in a mezcal blog?

tequilamatchmakerlogoJokes aside our friends over at Taste Tequila have a great new iPhone app that helps you keep track of your favorite tequilas and everything else in that world. Take a look at Tequila Matchmaker and start lobbying them for a mezcal version. I’m told that an Android version is on its way.

Oaxacan agave being sent to Jalisco

Since our last post about rumors of agave being shipped north we’ve heard from another source confirming that 3-4 trucks per day are moving agave north to Jalisco. Since then it’s become a more widely reported phenomenon with this piece and this one as well. Per our earlier post there have  rumors about this for quite some time so, on her recent trip to Oaxaca, Susan asked a number of people in the industry about this issue. No one was surprised. When asked why this isn’t a shock they routinely answer that ‘of course this has always happened.’ This is yet another reason why many in the mezcal business have no respect for COMERCAM and it raises even more questions about NOM 186. This would be a huge scandal in the wine world and pretty much anywhere else with an existing denomination system. We’ve seen the initial outcry among journalists in Mexico, now let’s see if it sinks into the industry and bureaucracy.

 

A Taste of LA with mezcal

It was a whirlwind Labor Day weekend in Los Angeles at the Taste of LA held in Paramount Studios’ sprawling old New York back lot. It felt very much like a street festival with potholes and cracked sidewalks which ensured that the high heeled crowd had to tread carefully.

I missed the first session, a Field to Fork extravaganza, but hit the Cocktail Confidential program full force. The plan was to talk tequila and mezcal along with Bricia Lopez at the Taste of Mexico’s Hoy Café spot but on occasion the best laid plans are pushed aside when the drinks are flowing and conversation is bubbling along non-stop.

LA is a mezcal town, people get it, there is no question in their eyes when you say the word. The experimentation in restaurant kitchens and bars is a normal expectation.  Father’s Office showcased a to-die-for Bloody Maria made with mezcal and kimchee while Crème Caramel LA debuted its Kalamansi (a Philippine lemon) Mezcal bread pudding Creme Caramel.  But most of all there is excitement about agave distillates. When Bricia cracked open a bottle of the Pierde Almas Tequilina Weber we had to hold back the crowd. It is bold, delightfully smooth, and incredibly delicious.  It’s fascinating to see a mezcal like this made from the agave that’s used in tequila.  Del Maguey also has one on the market, the San Luis Del Rio Azul, as part of its Vino de Mezcal Series so this may be part of a larger trend.   In any case, we are planning our second Pop-up Mezcaleria to delve into the tequila vs. mezcal conversation so we’ll be tasting tequilas and mezcals made from the same agave.   Stay tuned for more information.

There was not nearly enough food on cocktail night to offset the generous pours, so it was amusing that there weren’t nearly enough alcoholic parings for the next day’s Flavors of LA session.  As always,  Jonathan Gold‘s carefully curated restaurant list was fresh and exciting and I can’t wait to return and dig even deeper into LA’s constantly evolving culinary variety show. Fantastic treats like Wurstkuche‘s rabbit sausage, Bulgarini‘s olive oil and salt ice cream, Mo-Chica‘s unagi wrapped by mashed potato goodness, Border Grill‘s taco extraordinaire, and Street‘s sweet potato bhel puri kept the taste buds well stimulated.

Later I listened to the panel discussion of local food trends with Evan Kleiman, Jonathan Gold, Gustavo Arellano, and Sang Yoon.  Who knew chefs and critics of their caliber could make Doritos and Del Taco such interesting conversation topics? I also caught the Mexican food talk that featured the Taste of Mexico chefs covering issues like “authenticity”, the perception that Mexican food needs to be cheap, bringing ingredients across the border (no fresh chiles for one), and regional variations in food influences.

A true highlight of the weekend was meeting Javier Cabral, perhaps the only other person who has equal love for mezcal and punk rock. Oh yeah, and pulque.

And of course there was being able to swim, in an unheated pool, at night, without thought of hypothermia.