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Posts tagged ‘ron cooper’

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.

Ron Cooper





Who in the mezcal world has a show up in NY?

A Ron Cooper piece currently on display in NY.

A Ron Cooper piece currently on display in NY.

That would be Ron Cooper of course. He has a show up at Franklin Parrasch right now. According to Ron they’re a “continuation of 1965 light pieces.” If you’re interested in the subject dig into this book which was published along side the big Pacific Standard Time exhibits in and around LA in 2011 and 2012.

Stay tuned. He’ll have an additional show opening in Taos in May.

COMERCAM leadership reaffirmed

Hipócrates Nolasco CancinoI just chatted with Ron Cooper who is in Oaxaca meeting about COMERCAM’s directors. He says that “After 6 1/2 hour meeting with more than 300 producers, magueyeros and comericalizadores from all states, the present directorship was voted in for another three years.”

Next up, a potentially huge meeting about the NORMA in Mexico City on March 4th. More on that as we know it.

If there were a mezcal heaven, it would be In Situ

It was a dramatic arrival in Oaxaca – two Dramamines and the never-ending seven hour pinche viaje through the mountains, the hustle of the just closing Abastos market and the insanity on the Periferico (the “boulevard” that runs around the southern edge of the centro) – there were no taxis so I dragged my bag through the puesto-laden streets on uneven sidewalk amid a stream of people. I couldn’t have been happier, no really, as the smells and chaos made it clear that I was home in my querida Oaxaca.

I took a few days to settle in – to see friends, unpack, buy groceries – before I went to In Situ for the first time. Owned by Ulises Torrentera and Sandra Ortiz Brenna, it is a mezcal lovers dream. The original mezcaleria was located inside Txalaparta Bar. About three or so weeks ago, it opened in its very own location at Morelos 511 in the Centro.

Some of the snack selection

This is what you see when you walk in – an entire wall filled with mezcal bottles. About 61, give or take. You also see bowls of mandarin oranges, jars filled with pepitas, and of course the beautiful faces of Sandra and Ulises, perhaps the two foremost experts on mezcal.

The flor de maguey escabeche

On this particular night, there was also flor de maguey escabeche and an amazing queso from Etla. As I caught up on the news with Sandra, a group of about 10 people led by Ron Cooper of Del Maguey walked in, reinforcing that In Situ just might be ground zero for all things mezcal.

I calculated that to try all of the mezcals, I would have to drink 2-3 mezcals each day.  The mezcals are from all over Mexico and are un-branded for the most part (which is of course traditional.) The breadth not only of espadins, but also the silvestres is stunning, and I can only imagine the time spent meeting and procuring all of the different bottles.

This particular evening, I tried a verde, coyote, madrecuish and an ensemble that had barril, madrecuish, espadin and a little coyote. I have to say that I am really liking the verdes – the flavor is pungent and fresh and runs a little sweeter than most of the other magueys in the Karwinsky family (cuishes, etc).

More adventures on the horizon…

The conceptual art of mezcal

A recent interview with Ron Cooper in Class Magazine reminded me that long before he got into mezcal he was a dynamic and important part of the Los Angeles art scene that has been exhaustively chronicled by the big Pacific Standard Time exhibits across LA this year.  There’s a bit more about it in this LA Times Magazine piece from 2009 but here are just a few great reminders of the fecundity of that scene and Cooper’s role in it:

A still from the original Ball Drop film

A recreation of the Ball Drop film for the the PST series.  John Sedlar’s second Los Angeles restaurant Playa celebrated the entire PST exhibit by creating a secret menu featuring a special Ball Drop cocktail for their PST menu in February.  I can attest that it was something special.

Just to round things out, a few examples of his work since 1970 and recent Cooper paintings.

None of this is exactly news but given that Jonathan Barbieri from Pierde Almas and Guillermo Olguín from Los Amantes are both painters perhaps there’s a trend here.  Who knows what other creative ventures by mezcal makers are out there.


The first taste

Mezcal in the Street in Oaxaca

It was 2003 on a stretch of road between the city of Oaxaca and Teotitlan del Valle. We’d hired a driver for the day to visit some weavers based in this Zapotec pueblo. It sounds luxurious, hiring a driver, but back then my Spanish was poor and the realities of second-class buses and colectivos (shared taxis) to get there seemed daunting. So three of us pooled resources and hired a driver, Tito, to act as guide for the adventure.

This was my first trip to Oaxaca, and I was drawn there by the promise of moles and colonial buildings and brilliant colors. This was how I often chose travel destinations. The fact that it was also timed with Dia de los Muertos, that I was traveling with my mother who had invited herself along (she too lured by those same promises) just made it that much more of an adventure.

But back to that road, the late afternoon, the golden light playing off the surrounding mountains and fields of green and yellow, windows open and fresh air flying around us. I yelled to Tito – Tito, who’s got the best mezcal in Oaxaca?

He whipped his head back to me and said – “Mezcal, you want the best mezcal?” And looking at my mom, at the other woman in the car, we all yelled “YES” and he slammed on the brakes, stopping in the middle of the road and gestured toward the mountains saying – back there, back there. And so he made a u-turn, heading back toward Teotitlan, and then turned right on a dirt road, driving for a half hour (or so it seemed on that rutted out road) until we pulled in front of a tall wall with a beaten up metal door. He got out, banged on the door, we heard an exchange of gruff voices, and then the door opened and he waved for us to follow as he disappeared behind the wall.

It was only two days before when I had my first taste of mezcal. I was a tequila drinker and couldn’t understand why it was so hard to find in Oaxaca. Of course I had heard about mezcal, though usually in derogatory terms from other tequila drinkers – rot gut was usually mentioned in the same sentence. Mom and I decided to try it one day when we were wondering through Benito Juarez market by the Zocolo.  I can’t remember what brand it was, but it was awful – cloying, smoky, yellow in color and harsh. And the final affront – a worm at the bottom of the bottle. It wasn’t an experience to make me want to try more.

But then, that night, after much confusion, conflicting information, and wandering lost through the streets of Oaxaca, we finally caught up with the roving street parade, or comparsa, and arrived at the municipal cemetery or panteon, for the Dia de los Muertos fiesta. The cemetery was ablaze with candles, casting shadowy lights across the flower-laden graves, the walled tombs, the altars. We stood back, slightly shocked at the idea of a full-blown party in a cemetery. But then someone passed us a bottle, filled with a clear liquid, and told us to drink. It was sweet and sharp at the same time, and as it moved down my throat, a sudden fiery sensation shot through my body. I passed it to my mom, and then suddenly hands pulled us into the melee and we danced to the live banda music echoing through the cemetery, until hours later, we made our way back to the centro, feeling oddly alive.

So yes, we got out of the car and followed Tito into the unknown space. A man with long dark hair was shaking Tito’s hand, and then ours. His name was Ron, and surprisingly, he was from the United States. He led us into a small room filled with tanks and stools. He told us of how he got to Oaxaca – a tequila fueled binge that began in Los Angeles, and then continued on the Pan American highway, until Oaxaca, where the paved road ran out, and apparently so did the tequila, so he turned to mezcal and fell in love. He spent years after that traveling the state of Oaxaca, in search of the best mezcal he could find in small pueblos. And eventually he began bottling what he found and created Del Maguey. We sat in that cold room, listening to his stories while he poured us the fruits of his travels, and explained what mezcal was (not a tequila), how it was made (the aching manual process), how the varieties of magueys (27) had their own unique flavors. How they were so delicious and complex – sweet, citrusy, sharp, earthy and green. No bottle like the other. And like the night before, it coursed through every part of my body, tingling, warming, soothing. And so I fell in love.

I savored every drop of those three bottles I brought back, loathe to finish as I had no idea when I could go back for more.

Del Maguey artist Ken Price dead at 77

Ken Price

Ken Price, a key figure in the post-war LA art scene currently celebrated in the PST shows across Southern California died Friday.  His gallery work is amazing but his most seen work is also somewhat anonymous because he did the iconic illustrations for Ron Cooper’s Del Maguey mezcal line.  Read some nice appreciations of his life in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times obituaries.

Update: The Wall Street Journal also has a great obituary that just ran.