Mezcal: Freeing the spirit

In the future co-operatives might be essential to make the logistics of production more economical. Andy Bishop of Moscow Bar Show fame, is working with producers to help provide such solutions. Myers agrees this is the right way forward if mezcal is to ever build its volumes and expand its footprint. He says producers that group together are “not competing, it’s complementary”.

Del Maguey is one of the few brands to have gained international awareness. Amazingly, its volumes are still in the low tens of thousands (according to the CRM), yet it is the brand, particularly on most bartenders’ lips – verbally and physically. But high volumes are not the objective for what co-owner Ron Cooper calls his “liquid art” project. Gardner agrees: “Del Maguey is the artisanal category leader globally in distribution and sales,” which is “just fine with us”.

Del Maguey now operates in all the US states through Sazerac Company; the EU; Mexico, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, UAE, Israel and selected South American and Caribbean markets. For a brand that until recently relied on FedEx for distribution, this is a mightily impressive list of destinations.

As for the category at large, mezcal is in more than 40 export markets, with the US followed by Chile – which tends to buy lower-end mezcal – Spain, Australia, the UK, Peru, France, Germany, Canada and Sweden.

Many European distributors are signing up mezcal brands. In the UK Speciality Brands has Illegal Mezcal and Beveland, based in Spain, has recently agreed a deal with a large mezcal player, Casa Armando Guillermo Prieto. The agreement will see ‘the biggest distillery in Mexico’ license Zignum, El Señorío and Recuerdo de Oaxaca. 

“Zignum will be our flag on developing this new category,” says Jordi Xifra Keysper, marketing manager at Beveland. “Our strategy is to work hard in the on-trade at the beginning because that’s where the trend arrived and has more visibility. Bartenders will be the number one target and they will be the first consumers.”

The CRM too has identified the US and Europe as targets, but also other cocktail centres. “To promote the category we have identified some world capitals to focus our efforts, such as Los Angeles, New York, Sydney, London, Berlin and Singapore,” Eleana No of the CRM.

Its role has widened in line with the category’s development. “The CRM has taken the initiative to not only be a regulatory council of the quality of mezcal; it now seeks the organisation of the industry, the promotion and the education of the category for the correct identification of its appellation of origin,” says No. “We encourage and train the communities to develop their products and bring them to the international markets.

“For the world mezcal is just a Mexican spirit, but for us it has become the engine of economic development in the communities of this high tradition, in contrast to their marginalisation.”

With the CRM showing strategy and international groups providing distribution for this village industry, the future could be bright for mezcal and those who make it. With eight states offering hundreds, if not thousands of styles, there is certainly plenty for consumers to explore. Providing the integrity and authenticity of handcrafted production remains, it is likely demand will too.

The ancient ritual of mezcal has survived, but now freed from rural obscurity, it is to be seen if global commercialism will be its making or undoing.