We buy small batch mezcals from the families that make them. Why small batch? Because that’s how mezcal is traditionally made. Mezcal is the oldest spirit in the Americas. It is also the only spirit that can express terroir. More on that later. For over 400 years, families have distilled mezcals for their own use, for their friends and for others in their village. It is served at every major right of passage in a Mexican life from cradle to grave. Because most villages are not large affairs, the batches needed for a given occasion seldom exceeded a couple hundred liters. 4,000 liter batches for local consumption? Nope. That didn’t start until the commercialization of mezcal only recently. Small batches of expertly made mezcal, from the families that have been doing this for as far as they can remember: that’s what we bring you.
We pay a fair price. It wasn’t too long ago that you could buy a liter of mezcal for $15 pesos. Now that mezcal has been discovered, those days are gone. The agaves needed to produce mezcal take a long time to grow. The fastest growing agave, the popular espadín, requires at least 7 years to mature. That includes the costs of planting and tending the crop, weeding, guarding against theft (still too common, despite the real risk of vigilante justice if the thief is caught), and the risk of loss by pest—for 7 years. Now, add to that the labor of chopping off the pencas (fronds or leaves) in 86º heat, loading 120-240 kilo piñas onto a truck or the back of a burro, transporting it, (cutting it down to halves or quarters if they are large ones,) cooking it, grinding it, loading the ground material into the tinas (fermentation vats), then transferring it to the still for distillation. Twice. Then get that process certified by the Consejo Regulador de Mezcal (CRM), have each batch tested at the CRM lab, sell it to a buyer, who then will have to bottle it, and label it (a process requiring certification by Mexican and US federal, and US state governments). Forget the rest of the process (getting it to the US consumer: packing, palletizing, trucking, warehousing, clearing customs on both sides of the border, paying taxes—US, Mexican, state— then distributing to retail establishments—all of which requires two more doublings in price), that’s just the mezcal sitting in a bottle in México. That labor is not free. We know it, we respect the people who do this labor and we are happy to pay for a quality product. This is why we find it heartbreaking to see a sub-$40 bottle of espadín on a US liquor store shelf. $40-50 will get you a good bottle in México. $60 and up is what you should expect (and, for all these reasons, want) to pay in the US.
We don’t bottle “good” mezcals. We spent over two-and-a-half years just meeting people and tasting mezcals before launching our first line. We made mistakes in judgement. We learned. By tasting over 100 mezcals and letting them sit, and tasting them repeatedly over time, we learned how to separate the superb from the merely good. So we don’t buy good mezcals; we buy superlative mezcals. The people making them know what they have and charge accordingly. We are happy to pay their higher prices.
We give back. Every community from which we buy has different needs. One community wants a school bus, another wants adobe bricks, yet another wants to plant more agave. We listen and we set aside a percentage of our bottom line to support community projects.
We bottle sustainably-sourced mezcals. The people we buy from are buying farmed agave, or are ejidatarios who are replacing their wild-crafted agaves (two planted for every one taken—we were doing this before the CRM began requiring it) as they harvest them. We support local labor and local businesses by keeping the process traditional.
We don’t sell “mezcal.” We sell artesanal or ancestral mezcal. These are three designations that have to do with production method. Ancestral process requires clay distillation pots. Artesanal allows the use of copper stills and machine-powered grinding (most artesanal producers use tahona and horse for the molienda—certainly all of ours do). The designation “mezcal” is industrial. This process can include autoclaves in place of traditional earthen ovens, diffusers in addition to machine-grinding (including chemical sugar extraction processes), and proprietary yeasts in place of natural airborne yeasts. It produces an unpalatable product, eliminates jobs, wastes agaves, and worst of all, emits a large volume of vinazas.
Vinazas are the cuts that don’t end up in the bottle. In large amounts, this means oxygen-depleting byproducts that pollute streams. We wish industrial “mezcal” didn’t exist, and although we don’t say bad things about other producers, they know who they are and you will too, because the bottle you buy will tell you if the product inside is “mezcal,” “mezcal artesanal,” or “mezcal ancestral.” (If you’re wondering, small producers don’t have a vinazas problem, they mix their vinazas with their bagasso—spent agave fiber which, still containing useful nutrient, gets spread back onto local fields as a fertilizing mulch.)
We don’t take this lightly. Odds are you are drawn to mezcal because of its transparency in production, and for its hand-crafted character. Families that have been living at a subsistence level for generations are now enjoying an income that allows them to do things they’ve never done before—own and upgrade property, put their children through school, pay for medical services.
Why would we mechanize this process, thereby eliminating jobs? Mezcal, it is true, brings people together. It also pays the bills. Our business model accounts for a change in the peso-to-dollar exchange rate that will not require us to pinch the producer if the peso increases (as it has been steadily doing since the last US presidential election). So—a piece of the action on the back end for community projects, and a hedge against peso inflation on the front end. Everybody can stay happy.
We don’t take you for granted. You, buyer of our products, are #1 to us. You make it all happen—you close the loop in the transaction. We are merely the middlemen in this deal, the curator to the liquid art gallery. You aren’t just buying a miraculous libation, you are helping support entire communities in rural México. Raise a glass to yourself, your friends, the people who make mezcal—because you are party of the story now. Salud!