How to Be a Successful Distillery Tour Guide

Interacting With the Mexican Distillery Owner: How to Be a Successful Tour Guide

First in a Series by Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

It doesn’t matter if the small Mexican spirits producer is distilling tequila, sotol, mezcal, raicilla, bacanora or any other traditionally high alcohol content inebriant, agave or otherwise. Regardless, there is a symbiotic relationship between distillery owner on the one hand, and on the other you as the entrepreneur bringing clients/customers into the establishment.  While exploring those liaisons, we can attempt to instruct both current and prospective guides, teachers or any other class of facilitator, on how better to maintain mutually healthy and thus more rewarding relationships. Over the past decade I have developed somewhat of a blueprint, having established a reasonable modicum of success in the area of Oaxacan mezcal. This then is the first in a series of monthly articles intended to help others throughout Mexico.

The impetus for this effort arose out of three considerations:

  1. I recently read a suggestion that my opining the limited value of mezcal tasting notes somehow equates to a lack of respect for the makers of traditional mezcal in the state of Oaxaca. Of course, the critic does not know me nor the high regard I hold for my palenquero friends, completely misunderstood the point of the article, and read into it assumptions which were clearly not there.  I have positive relationships with tens of distillers in and around the central valleys of Oaxaca, which has borne positive results for my (now) part-time vocation, and for my agave distiller associates.  And so that led me to ponder the way(s) I might be able to assist others who are aspiring Mexican spirits instructors, as well as their distiller friends.
  2. Several months ago, an industry colleague suggested that I should attempt to assist native born Oaxacans with an interest in doing what my American associate and I do. I replied that we do have a Oaxacan in our fold to whom we refer business several times a week, and that embarking on a project on a larger scale would be daunting, though indeed a worthy effort. So, this series is a start in that direction, not to undermine or diminish the value of formal government training of tour guides and chauffeurs throughout Mexico. In fact several years ago I took a multi-day course offered by the federal government, about how to teach and evaluate within the context of mezcal.
  3. Giving back to my adopted homeland has been something extremely important to me since permanently relocating to Oaxaca from Canada in 2004; this endeavor is just a modest effort in furtherance of that goal.

Over the next several months I will explore the following topics, and then some:

alvin starkman, mezcal
  • the inherent conflict of interest between you and your clients on one hand, and on the other the distiller with whom you have an ongoing relationship;
  • receiving gifts and the commission/incentive conundrum;
  • the use of the internet; teacher/guide as business person v. professional;
  • the decision regarding where to visit with the client;
  • breaking down barriers where difference in socio-economic backgrounds are at play between you and the distiller;
  • the concept of ethical tourism.

The current plan is to publish an article in centering upon the foregoing main objective, towards the end of each month. So keep reading, and pass this on to those who might be interested in the theme.

Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (   His latest book, co-authored with photographer Spike Mafford, is entitled Mezcal in the Global Spirits Market: Unrivalled Complexity, Innumerable Nuances (Third Expanded Edition with Portraits).


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