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Del Maguey acquired by Pernod Ricard

The much anticipated news that Pernod Ricard had acquired a mezcal company finally hit, with perhaps the biggest surprise of all being who it acquired– Del Maguey. Pernod will take a majority stake in the US’ number one mezcal company. The exact terms of the deal were not disclosed. According to the press release and what we have heard from the company, the current management team and staff remain in place and all operations in Mexico remain intact as well.

Pernod is one of the top five spirit companies in the world, along with Diageo, Brown-Forman, Bacardi and Suntory. Given the moves by both Diageo and Bacardi in the mezcal world– Mezcal Union and Ilegal Mezcal respectively, it was rumored that Pernod was looking to pick up a brand for its portfolio.

Now what this means is the bigger question, especially on the heels of our recent piece on the mezcal conundrum. Obviously this is further validation that mezcal is not a trend beverage and large conglomerates are willing to put some money into the industry. This is good news if it means this kind of cash infusion goes into building better infrastructure, better pay for mezcaleros and their employees, and research into more sustainability projects. My glass is half full take.

But, I think this also points to the very gamed system in the international world of spirits and how given the layers required for export/import/distribution/sales staff, it is exceedingly difficult for small, craft brands (which is what the mezcal industry is) to compete. I fear the larger signal this deal sends is that in order for any mezcal brand to “make it” in the market, they have to be part of the larger spirit machine. The pressures that this could bring on production demands, drive for profits, etc could impact the industry negatively, turning it into just another alcohol to be sold, we mezcal obsessives greatest fear. My glass is half empty take.

As to the question of why, Ron Cooper, who is 74 this year, wants the company he built to be in the strongest position possible for the long haul, that the families and communities he has worked with for more than 20 years have long term security, and that product quality remains the focus. He says as much in an email sent this morning:

Dear Family,
Our team wishes to thank each and every one of you for helping us share and protect this ritual beverage for the last twenty-two years. And we look forward to continuing together, supporting this mission for many years to come.

I have received many inquiries and offers for investment into Del Maguey, but I have always said no thank you. We did not believe that anyone could ever completely understand, appreciate, or fully buy into our mission to preserve this culture, and to protect the ancient process of making Mezcal, and the indigenous artisan palenqueros that craft this elixir, or to embrace and appreciate their incredible liquid art …until now. Indeed, finally, after 22 years, we have found a true partner. A partner that understands exactly what Del Maguey is, a partner that wants Del Maguey to continue to be exactly who we have always been.

That partner is Pernod Ricard. After almost a year of getting to know one another, we have agreed to a partnership that will make Pernod Ricard a majority stakeholder in Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal. We will become part of the New Brand Ventures Division, a small group of entrepreneurial craft spirits companies.

It is important for each of you to know that the team at Del Maguey will remain intact. This includes all of our team in Mexico and the United States. And we will continue to operate Del Maguey as we always have. The liquid art of our palenqueros will not change. The only thing that changes is the increased opportunities for our families, and for our company.

I am personally pleased that we will continue to be the same. Perhaps most important to us, is that each of our palenqueros, each of the 12 families in 12 villages that work with us and that we support, some of whom have been with us from the beginning, none of whom have ever left us, will continue to be assured that they will be able to craft their liquid art in the exact same way that they have for generations. With the support of our new partners there is a sustainable future for their families and their communities.

We all want to acknowledge our friends at Sazerac for helping us to get to this point, by offering us the opportunity to be imported and distributed nationally, and we wish to thank them for several years of hard work helping us to build the Mezcal category. We continue to have great respect and admiration for the Sazerac family.

That said, we are honored to take our place as a key member of Pernod Ricard’s portfolio of premium spirits, and we are eager to work closely with them to continue Del Maguey’s incredible culture. We have seen firsthand their commitment to sustainability and social responsibility globally, and locally in Oaxaca, as they worked to increase the well-being of the community of Santa Ana del Rio and embraced and honored the local customs and traditions. We are confident that we are aligned, and that now, after 22 years, Del Maguey has found a likeminded partner committed to helping us to preserve this culture and ancient process, and support these amazing indigenous people, while helping us to continue to bring their liquid art to the world.

Stigibeu,
Ron Cooper

 

 

 

 

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

Cocktails, beer, mezcal and more – this Lucha is going to rock!

It would be fair to say that despite the fact that we do an awful lot of events, we don’t consider ourselves event planners. This is why we are such believers in collaboration. We always try to work with the best of the best who bring their game to whatever event we have going.

This is especially true of the upcoming La Lucha de La Cocina on August 13th at Pier 70 in San Francisco, a collaborative fundraiser for La Cocina, the non profit culinary incubator in San Francisco’s Mission District that helps <primarily immigrant> women start formal food businesses. In addition to the Lucha Libre and Taquiza (taco extravaganza) which we previously wrote about, there will also be three bars hosted by some of San Francisco’s most innovative bars and restaurants – ABV, Old Bus Tavern, and Novela. Read more

Even more delicious Oaxaca chef/mezcal news in Oakland

milpaOf course just after posting the news about Pilar Cabrera being in town, we learned about another visiting chef from Oaxaca unveiling her new cookbook in Oakland.

Chef Susana Trilling, founder of Seasons of My Heart cooking school in San Augustin, Oaxaca will be in Oakland Thursday night at Calavera. Not only will she be presenting dishes from her gorgeous cookbook Milpa, From Seed to Salsa, she’ll also be signing said book and pairing dishes with some Del Maguey Mezcal. $65 dollars gets you a copy of the book and dishes paired with mezcal. Call the restaurant to make a reservation.

Again we get to say, provecho!

Los Borrachos – throwing a mezcal tasting when #lovewins

It takes some cojones to throw a mezcal tasting in San Francisco during the annual SF Pride celebration. Add to that the historic Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage, a Giants home game, and the farewell Grateful Dead concert, and you are looking at truly committed mezcal lovers who made their way through mayhem to taste some really new and exciting mezcals, paired with great eats.

Erick Rodriguez and Adrian Vazquez, Los Borrachos, put together this tasting event at Bartlett Hall to showcase traditional mezcals. In addition to brands already in the market like Wahaka, Tosba, Del Maguey, Don Amado, Alipus,  and Mezcalero there were some new bottles from the Heavy Metl fold – Rey Campero, Mezcaloteca, and Real Minero – which will soon be imported to the United States as well as fresh bottles from Erick’s Almamezcalera label. Totally new to the market and making their debut were Mezcal Los Gentiles and Chaneque.

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How you pace yourself at events like these is the big question. I go for tiny tastes. I also try to focus on mezcals I’ve never had first and see how it goes from there.

Erick Rodriguez of Almamezcalera

Erick Rodriguez of Almamezcalera

My first stop was with Almamezcalera. Erick was pouring three new mezcals all distilled with spices and herbs and made from espadilla, a wild espadin, and distilled in clay and wood. I will not call these “healthy” mezcals, as I think mezcal holds medicinal properties period. I started with the Cilantro and Hoja Santa which was incredibly herbaceous (of course) and vaguely anis like. At 54% it was big, spicy and smooth. Next up was the mezcal distilled with ramos – considered a cleansing herb – and at 61% it was surprisingly non-alcoholic, very green and herbaceous. It felt more medicinal in the same way that Fernet does. Last up was the cinnamon and cacao, also at 61%, which was neither sweet nor perfumey which was what I was expecting and why I tasted it last. All three of these mezcals would work great as both aperitivos and digestivos.

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Next up was Chaneque, a major reason I braved the insanity to come to the tasting. I had tried their madrecuishe once in Oaxaca and was intrigued. Juan Carlos Rodríguez, owner of Chaneque, had the whole lineup, and a couple of special mezcals under the table. I rolled through the 59% Coyote from Matatlan; the Mexicano from Sola de Vega (surprisingly musky and not the usual hot sweetness I’ve come to expect from Mexicanos); a 52% 8yr aged (in glass) Espadin from Zoquitlan which blew my socks off with its thickness and richness, and proof of why an Espadin should never be considered pedestrian; a very dry and mineral 52% Tepestate from Sola de Vega that had a strong bite in its finish; and finally a 47% Tobala from Matatlan that had the perfect sweet finish to it. Chaneque should be in the market in a couple of months with the Espadin, Madrecuishe, and Tobala.

Clase Azul Cenizo Mezcal

Clase Azul Cenizo Mezcal

The 49% Mexicano from Los Gentiles was very subtle and had the lovely sweetness you get with this maguey. I saved their collaborative project from Clase Azul – a 44% Cenizo from Durango – for last. This project is an experiment with only 6,000 liters produced (a drop in the bucket for this tequila brand). Created with the idea of economic development and jobs – it is part reforestation/cultivation of a wild agave, part art project with is ceramic black bottles, and beaded tops, and a price point of $225.

Creme de Poblano soup from Mayahuel

Creme de Poblano soup from Mayahuel

Thankfully among all the mezcal was some pretty delicious food from Lolo, Uno Dos Tacos, Colibri, Mosto, and Mayahuel in Sacramento which wins the prize for most dedication to come all the way to SF in the midst of the traffic nightmare. And their creme of poblano chile soup – delicious. For me the true treat was the delicious drunken cake from Polvorón Panaderia in Hayward – course textured, moist and only slightly sweet. And their Tres Leches is the bomb. If you can’t get to Hayward, don’t worry, you can get the cake at Uno Dos Tacos.

Pastry from Polvorón

Pastry from Polvorón

 

 

 

Waiter, is that a ham in my mezcal? Tasting notes from the Del Maguey Iberico

The Del Maguey Ibérico on the ABV bar.

The Del Maguey Ibérico on the ABV bar.

No doubt you’ve already heard about the Del Maguey Ibérico. It’s a collaboration between Del Maguey and star chef José Andrés to make a pechuga out of jamon iberico. It received ample coverage, if ever something screamed marketing stunt, this was it.

That and its price tag of $200 per bottle are the reasons it took Susan and me so long to give it a taste. A normal two ounce pour makes it quite an investment, but recently Susan and I descended on ABV, Ryan Fitzgerald’s tautly run agave bar and bistro kitchen right as they opened at 2PM on a Monday. I admit that I was the first through the door but I was closely followed by a cluster of people. Fortunately San Franciscan drinking culture is alive and well.

ABV is far more than just an agave outlet. The whole place is run with great sensibility with a trio of wines on tap including the amazing Scholium Project red and a bunch of Moonlight brews on tap. Dive into their menu, especially the Pimento Cheese Burger which is a real highlight and the extraordinary kimchee fritter.

And ABV is one of the ideal places to sample something like this because they don’t only offer that big two ounce pour, they also offer the perfectly reasonable (indeed it should be standard) one ounce pour which at $15 for the Ibérico is entirely doable. Our great Peruvian bartender Enrique gave us a pour in a clay copita and away we went.

Suffice to say that it’s a huge surprise.

Del Maguey Iberico Pechuga
49% ABV
Lot SCM 135
NOM O41X
Santa Catarina Minas
Clay still

A copita full of the Del Maguey Ibérico.

A copita full of the Del Maguey Ibérico.

It has a very sweet nose, neither of us got any smoke.

The body is extraordinarily light, some sweetness but completely unexpected, none of that typical agave sweetness nor the oil that I associate with pechugas. The cured meat obviously changes the pechuga equation dramatically. You’d be hard pressed to call this out as 49% alcohol, because the flavor, body, and every other indicator don’t point in that direction. The lean body make it a great pick for sipping alone.

The finish is dusty, leathery and endures long past your last taste.

Yet another argument for experimentation in mezcal.

Focus: Ramirez Liquor

No visit to Los Angeles is complete without a stop at Ramirez Liquor. I usually hit the one at Soto and 7th so I can check out tacos on Cesar Chavez. They have a few other locations around the city, each carrying a terrific selection of all things agave and craft beer, including some craft beers from Mexico. Their mezcal selection is pretty impressive and they even have some bottles of Metl in case you want to grab any before they’re all gone, forever.

Six full shelves are dedicated to mezcal which is impressive in a store that seems to carry every kind of tequila on the market. They also have a half shelf of Sotol, though still no Raicilla (but they thought it would be soon). They carry most of the mezcals currently available in California and had the full line of Del Maguey, including the Iberico and Arroqueño, plus the sublime Conejo from Pierde Almas. But be prepared to drop about $150 – $200 for these beauties.

I picked up a bottle of El Silencio as I have yet to try it, and stumbled upon a 22oz new release from New Belgium Brewery – a cocoa mole porter. You can also order online and they will ship to you.

Bottle of El Silencio

Bottle of El Silencio

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The cocoa mole porter

Heads up – they just opened a tasting bar in Whittier. You’ll be able to sample tons of craft beers, wines and maybe, just maybe mezcal…

 

Celebrating Pierde Almas’ pechuga in Chichicapam

I had the extreme honor of being invited to a party to celebrate the release of Pierde Almas’ new pechuga. It was held at the palenque in Chichicapam where, last year, I had attended another party and well, we’ll just say, consumed way too much mezcal.

This year’s party was more formal, with tables covered in white linens and food prepared by the chef from Oaxaca’s Pitiona restaurant. A pig was being roasted, and a special salsa was being prepared from the fruits used in the pechuga’s distillation. It was also a chance to meet Jonathan Barbieri, the owner of Pierde Almas, and to hang out with the brothers Sanchez, who make the mezcal. There were also several importers, and much to my surprise, Josh Harris, from Bon Vivants in San Francisco. He and I have exchanged emails, but never have met in person.

Miguel Sanchez overseeing the conejo

In addition to this year’s pechuga (a heady combination of spice, sweet and just a smidge of savory) there was also a new mezcal that had been made with the traditional gin herbs in its third distillation. I am not a gin drinker so my best evaluation is that it tasted exactly like gin has always tasted me (cloying), with an undercurrent of a strong espadin.

There was a band playing as we ate. I sat at the table with Miguel Sanchez and Domingo Orollo who is overseeing the gin mezcal project. He is a chemist by trade: This is a growing trend – more chemists becoming involved with mezcal production.

I was driving that day, a deliberate choice to ensure there would be no repeat from last year’s drunken revelry. It is a running joke between Alfonso and I – that after last year’s insanity, and my mother’s presence, that she has forbidden me from ever drinking with him again.

 

Prepping the hare

As the sky began to darken, we moved from one part of the palenque to another where the stills are located, in order to watch Alonso start the process of distilling this year’s conejo (a pechuga, except with a wild hare instead of a turkey.) We watched as Alfonso measured out the spices (a turbinado style sugar, anise), fruits (apple, banana, pineapple), rice and then finally the hare placed in a cheesecloth bag with yerba santa. The fermented maguey was loaded into the still, along with the other ingredients (the conejo bag would hang above the mix) and then sealed. It would distill all night long.

Alfonso Sanchez measuring ingredients

The music began again, more people arrived, including La Señora Sanchez and the other female relatives – sisters, wives, nieces – and we danced. Finally we left so as not to be on the road too late at night. We gave Domingo a ride back to the city, talked more about chemistry in mezcal, and the plans awaiting us that night (Austin TV at Café Central or La China Sonidera at Txalaparta.) Perhaps the best part of having Domingo in the car with us was having him navigate the new highway (the one that will eventually go all the way to Puerto Escondido) that circumvents Ocotlan and cuts the return time almost in half. It puts you on a road that has reflector lights, a smooth surface and is blissfully free of topes.

SF Cocktail Week – Jumpstarting with mezcal

I definitely see the possibilities of a regular mezcal Monday.  Last night it was at Rio Grande on Market Street—a kickoff of sorts for SF Cocktail Week and hosted by Ryan Fitzgerald, former Beretta star bartender/mixologist, driving force for the Tequila Interchange Project (TIP), and now western sales rep for Del Maguey.

The $20 entry fee (all proceeds going to TIP) got you an evening of mezcals, mezcal cocktails, beer ,and tamales. Pierde Almas, Alipus, and Del Maguey were being poured. I am still trying to embrace cocktail culture – I’ve always liked my drinks neat, or as minimally embellished as possible but, in the spirit of cocktail week, I asked for a mezcal variation on an Old Fashioned.

Crushing ice from block by hand 

It was still early, the crowd small, the bartender carefully scraped ice from an ice block on the bar, then lovingly measured, poured, and stirred my drink as I replayed Mr. Mixologist over and over in my head.

Del Maguey’s Vida is the bartenders’ choice for mezcal cocktails. It’s versatile and works with just about anything as we’ve previously written. I think in the coming year or so, Puritita Verda (Pierde Almas’ lower price point mezcal) will give Vida a run for the money.

The variation on the Old Fashioned was good – I prefer cocktails that have a more savory flavor. To go the opposite extreme, I asked the bartender to mix a mezcal variation of a lemon drop. I was hoping it could come close to that sublime lemongrass infused mezcal I had in Oaxaca last spring. Sadly the cocktail was far too sweet for my palette and the mezcal was completely overpowered by the citrus.

I tracked down Ryan to get an update from him on NOM-186, which is still making its way through the channels in Mexico. TIP has been at the forefront making recommendations and counter proposals to help ensure that some of the more draconian parts of it (the branding of the word agave for one) are modified and that small producers aren’t completely SOL. We’ll have a more in-depth piece about this next week.

A sweet surprise to the night – a chance to try Tosba, a mezcal produced in the Sierra Norte in Oaxaca (a mountainous and heavily wooded area east of Oaxaca city) and not yet available in the US (though they are working on it). Mezcals from the Sierra Norte are not commonly found outside of the area. They are rumored to be made with the purest and sweetest water in Oaxaca. Tosba is a family operation, and Elisandro Gonzalez-Molina is the US face for the brand. He was pouring an espadin and a pechuga – both were delicious. The espadin was smooth, balanced, and earthy with an underlying finish of sweetness that hung on my lips. The pechuga was divine – with a complex layering of savory, subtle roasted maguey, and fruit.  I definitely put it in the top 3 of pechugas I’ve had. It was a great way to end the night.

As a heads up, I will be pouring mezcals at the Third I Filmmakers/VIP party this Saturday night at the Castro. On the table will be Pierde Almas, Del Maguey, Alipus, Metl, and the Tosba Espadin.  Of course we’ll also have a private reserve surprise. Tickets are still available!