By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.
The branding of Kimo Sabe mezcal is brilliant. Perhaps not since the mid 90s when Ron Cooper coined the phrase Single Village Mezcal for his Mezcal del Maguey, has anyone used a name so effectively to attract a particular demographic in the alcohol buying public. Back then it was a take-off on single malt scotches. Now it’s addressing those of us in our sixties who recall the weekly TV show, The Lone Ranger, affectionately known by his sidekick Tonto as Kimo Sabe. Most, however, don’t know that its literal translation is something like “trusted friend.” The name nevertheless calls us, despite the fact that when I first heard it I thought there could not have been a hokier moniker on the planet. I couldn’t have been more wrong, at least from a marketing perspective, especially after I understood what the brand owners, at least in my mind, are trying to achieve.
The peace and love generation has finished raising its children and put them through college, paid off mortgages and retired other debt, all the while having forgotten about the counter-culture. It sold out to become part of the corporate and professional western world. But there has been a significant positive: its members now have sufficient disposable income to spend as much as they want on whatever they want.
Enter mezcal, taking us back to our roots, that is our desire for something real, natural and organic, reminiscent of what back then we coveted but couldn’t afford. Sure, there were Birkenstocks. But unlike a bottle of $200 USD mezcal (not Kimo Sabe), they didn’t empty and then require replenishing.
I’m asked at least twice monthly, why only now is there a mezcal boom, when the spirit has been around for some 450 years, if not longer. My retort has been pretty standard, citing the hippie generation, the values of which were consistent with the production of artisanal mezcal. But back then we couldn’t afford to put our dreams, our words and our passions into action. Now we can, and we do. Not me literally, since I live and breathe mezcal and don’t have to pay what Americans customarily fork out. And it’s even more costly for those who live across the pond in the UK, or worse yet Australia.
And so it appears to me that the makers of Kimo Sabe are targeting my generation, though probably not the higher end purchasers since the price-point of Kimo Sabe is extremely attractive. Why else select a name that conjures that era of B & W shows on an Admiral television built into a console?
The brand recently took first place in a spirits competition, even ahead of quality tequilas. It won “Best of Class International Specialty Spirit” judged by the American Distilling Institute.
But Kimo Sabe may just be a flash in the pan. I haven’t tried it so am not in a position to proffer an opinion. But I’ve been around the mezcal industry long enough to know that winning a competition is at least occasionally the result of no more than building relationships, and at times payola in one form or another, definitively not suggesting that this is the case here. Let’s just hope that would-be mezcal aficionados just don’t end up being tontos, and that Kimo Sabe ends up being a trusted friend of throngs of spirits consumers, both first time imbibers and those with a discerning palate.
Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (http://www.mezcaleducationaltours.com).