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Revel Spirits is helping to lay the groundwork that will support the farmers’ and jimadores’ livelihoods, preserve Morelos’ unique environment, and safeguard the supply of blue weber agave for generations to come.
This last phase is accomplished by allowing bats to pollinate the blue agave, an ancient technique that is nearly lost in the Tequila Industry.
All this will aid the growth of the economy of the Mexican state of Morelos.
Revel Spirits Avila anejo, aged for 24 months in French oak barrels and bottled at 48% ABV, or 96 proof, is a rare gem.
It can be paired equally as well with a rich dessert, or a fine after dinner cigar. Notes of bitter chocolate or cacao, and coffee beans, along with wood and tobacco undertones, makes it a versatile expression.
Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!
MIKE: You are watching Sipping Off the Cuff at TequilaAficionado.com a part of Tequila Aficionado Media. I’m Mike Morales in San Antonio. That gentleman over there with the wild hairdo…
RICK: Rick Levy in San Diego.
MIKE: Rick is helping me out, helping us out, as we go through a variety pack of Scorpion Mezcal, and Rick is just – we fell in love with the Blue Agave previously, if you’ve watched that with kind of a glitch in between.
RICK: I’m new to mezcal, and Mike is introducing me. And so he first gave me the training wheels and put me on the Blue Agave Mezcal and it was really beautiful, we loved it.
MIKE: Yeah, we did, it’s really different. It’s not – as I said to you before, and to our watchers out there, our viewers – if you’re expecting it to taste like a tequila, it’s not. It will open your eyes though, it will rise up to greet you because it was made a little bit more traditionally and as we discovered, in copper pot stills, I believe, which is what the information said to us on the card previously. This one is the Espadin, now we’re going to go a little bit more – this is kind of what we’re used to Rick, the Espadin. In other words, it’s mezcal made from espadin, which is the traditional plant that most mezcals are made from. And depending on where they come from and where they’re harvested, and the hand of the maker, and the region – you know it all comes from Oaxaca and several other parts of that area in Mexico, but, you know just Oaxaca alone with the different microclimates and the makers, and the ABV. These are 40 ABV folks, that’s 80 proof. This is probably, as Rick said, a great introductory level of alcohol for those of you who are just experimenting with mezcals; you’re coming over from the tequila world and you kind of want to know what all the fuss is about. Because…
RICK: I was, you know, the mezcals I’ve had before were very smokey, they were probably very traditional, but I was turned off by the smoke. And so far with the one that we’ve tried, the smoke isn’t as predominant.
RICK: So, you know, it was very – the fruit forward, you know the plant. And the nose was just big and herbal, and you still got that kind of peppery feeling on your palate and it had just this incredibly long finish and you know, just a hint of smoke.
MIKE: The thing that we talked about off-camera though, was the mouth feel. We kind of neglected that because there’s so much to talk about when you break these down with the different plants. I know for me, I had to actually cleanse my palate in between the Blue Agave, and before we attacked the Espadin, because I could still taste it!
RICK: You know, I did that as well, but I am still tasting it.
MIKE: Are you really? Wow.
RICK: I am, you know, even after the mineral water and alcohol (laughing).
MIKE: Yeah, we – I like to use Vodka, use a neutral grain spirit, to rinse out your mouth; Vodka, some water as well, spit it out. You know, and that seems to do the trick for me, at least when I do tequilas, and that’s more of a traditional way of doing it. Sometimes, I know that with Alex we like to use matzo crackers. So for those of you who – and I’m not even sure if this is kosher or not, I think these mezcals are, but – in any case, anything like a dry cracker a non-salted cracker would help to cleanse anything like that. But these are really substantial mezcals and there’s no additives. If I know these folks, and I do, this is – what you see is what you get and if it’s going to coat your palate, it’s just doing it naturally from the oils in the plant itself and how, the method of distillation.
These are from what I can tell, on our cards here, we have Douglas French, who is the founder, he’s the master distiller. It’s copper pot stilled, and I think so far the first two that we’ve had have been copper pot. Artisanal, so it’s steam-cooked, is what the type of distillery is what it says here.
RICK: So, now with mezcals, I’ve heard about them cooking the agaves in like an earthen pit with previously used agave fibers thrown over the top and maybe rocks, or maybe dirt over the top… Now when he says ‘steam cooked’, you know, how..? Is that going to be like what we’re used to, where it’s probably like a masonry oven with tequila? Or autoclaves? It’s probably not an autoclave.
MIKE: I’ve – well, that’s – again, the description’s a little bit misleading because, you know, steam cooked is traditionally an autoclave, I would assume. Now, I’m looking at their website also because we have minimal, point of sale material that was sent to us. It’s a long story how I got my samples but I had to go find the driver (laughing), and distributor from Houston to go get these, but anyway… I don’t even think that they’re telling us how exactly these are being processed. You know, I don’t have anything, any information. It’s telling me how they are being baked or cooked, all I can tell you is the information I have here says Artisanal, if that is the case, then I would say that they’re using a pit. Steam cooked, I’m not sure what that means, you know – to me those are two different things. But I didn’t write this, so you know, I’m going to go with artisanal, but I’m kind of anxious just to taste it.
RICK: And if it has that smokey accent, and they’re not using additives, then that would have to be the way that they’re baking the agave.
MIKE: Yeah, I would think so. I would think so. I’m using my Glencairn, which I’m really enjoying. This is a Canadian Whiskey-blending glass, and I find that for Mezcal it’s beautiful, because there’s enough mouth surface and nose area. And it kind of chimneys up! And if you’ve got a Mezcal that is going to sing to you…
RICK: I’m going to use my hand-blown snifter from –
MIKE: There you go, nothing wrong with that. When you’re talking about Mezcals, really there is no glassware. You know, last time I was using a clay copita. There were bubbles, did you notice your bubbles.
MIKE: Oh my gosh – I love bubbles! (smells glass) Wow! Oh, wow!
RICK: (shows bottle bubbles)
MIKE: There ya go, there ya go, there ya go.
MIKE: Oh my gosh. Oh, Rick. This is a much better nose.
MIKE: Wow, wow, wow! Hey, compare for the Blue Agave has more of a tamer nose. This is a much more fruitier forward nose, though.
MIKE: This is like another notch up here.
RICK: This would be more fruity and maybe flowery instead of the big herbal notes we were getting from the Blue Agave variety.
MIKE: Yes. Oh my gosh, wow. Wow. You know what’s amazing to me? Rick, is that we’re getting this much nose out of an 80 proof.
MIKE: I mean, I’m used to smelling this kind of a nose on a much higher proof mezcal.
RICK: Yeah or on like a really high quality tequila from one of the legendary distillers.
MIKE: Right, right. Wow this just comes right up to you and I can tell you from my experience, it’s more of a traditional Espadin nose, but it’s very fruity.
RICK: And with both of these so far I haven’t gotten any of the strong alcohol notes that you’ll sometimes get off of tequilas.
MIKE: Right, case in point last week, when we were doing Tragos Amargos. We were still getting that alcohol at the very bottom. We’re not getting any alcohol in these and these were still sealed until just now, a little while ago. Rare for me, because I normally dive right in.
RICK: Yeah, there was no need to let them oxidize or open up or anything. They’re ready to go.
MIKE: No, no, no. Yeah, that’s the other thing too. For some reason, I guess the mezcals in the way they’re produced if they’re artisanal or traditional, or in whatever stills other than industrial, they’re not as temperamental as tequila is, I’m finding. Other than, when they get to me they’re really hot; they’re warm, you know they’re in a box. But one or two days at room temp, I don’t need to like you said, you don’t need to open it up let it bloom, it sings to you right away. Oh my gosh. That’s beautiful man.
RICK: Oh a technical note, we’ve had a couple of drop outs on my end, so you might want to check that your camera’s still on.
MIKE: Yeah, my camera’s on as far as I can tell. So as far as, yeah, we’re good.As you can see, we’re at the mercy of Time Warner Cable.
MIKE: On both ends, unfortunately.
RICK: Yeah, we’re just biding our time until Google Fiber shows up.
MIKE: Wow, I got to dive in. This is beautiful, and there’s no smoke by the way.
MIKE: Okay. Now I’m getting a little bit more, really minerally. Great finish, especially on the back end. It explodes right in your, in the mid-palate.
RICK: Yeah, the entry’s smooth.
MIKE: Yeah, but on the retronasal –
RICK: Nice finish.
MIKE: But on the retronasal and as you, if you do you know, snap your palate you get everything all herbs, spices, minerals, mostly minerals is what I’m getting, minerals and herbaceousness. And I want to say that I’m getting some smoke, because I can taste it now…
RICK: I’m not finding it.
MIKE: …on my palate. It’s very minimal, and I’m not even sure if I can if what I’m tasting is smoke, you know, unless I know how they’re producing this like I say it’s a little confusing what they have on these cards but artisanal and then steam cooked – if he’s using an autoclave then that would explain the minimal if any smoke at all, but still I’m getting something. I’m getting something that’s reminiscent of smoke.
RICK: Yeah, you know maybe it’s because – It’s so big in its nose and flavor that well, as we were saying at the beginning of the video even after I had rinsed I was still tasting it. So you know, my palate could be blown out from the first one. Way to go (laughing).
MIKE: Might be, well you know, but then again, these are only 80 proof. So you know, they’re not as aggressive as what I’m used to having; you know I’m used to having them at above 40 ABV. You know, 45, we’ve had some of them came in at 45, we had one Montelobos was at 41 point something or other.
But these are 80 proof. but I got to tell ya this is beautiful. This is really something. Now I’ve had what we consider, we would call this a gateway mezcal and probably one of the first gateway mezcals ever. Because as you recall, Del Maguey came in at higher by volumes, and these folks are celebrating their 20th anniversary, Scorpion Mezcal. Happy birthday to them. And I would say that they would probably be the first gateway mezcals. But this is really beautiful. It’s much sweeter on the nose than I’ve had in the past with other espandins, except for one. And that was at a higher ABV, that one is at 45.
RICK: Yeah, you know, and if I were to try to compare what I’m finding here to like a tequila production process, I would say that it would be the kind of thing that would involve slow baking of the agaves. I would expect with this kind of profile, I would expect that it would be a longer fermentation process so that the yeasts have a chance to make more of the varied compounds.
MIKE: And if he’s shredding, however he’s shredding and fermenting, I’d say he’s probably using a lot of fiber. Because that’s what it tastes like, it tastes like you’re literally drinking the plant itself.
RICK: Yeah but I’m not getting hit with like methanols and like wood alcohol or anything like that, that you get with the more fibrous stuff. And if I were, again, using my experience in tequila I would say that for fermentation, you know I would say that they’re probably taking generous cuts off heads and tails because you’re not getting any of those off kind of chemical notes.
MIKE: Yeah, not having seen any video of Doug French doing the distillation himself, I’m not sure how he does it. You know, I’ve seen how other traditional or artisanal master distillers are doing it, and it’s a – there are no instruments!
MIKE: You know, this is all done by nose and taste, and looks, you know and years of experience. So I’m not sure how he’s doing it, but whatever he’s doing he’s doing it right.
MIKE: You know, the information on the website says it’s a dry bouquet; hints of lime, citrus, cucumber, salt, which I would say maybe brine, and savory herbs. And it is herbaceous, I will say that.
MIKE: And the taste is dry to sweet. Again, lime, citrus, it says leather and dry smoke. So there is some smoke in there. I wouldn’t say leathery, because I, personally I don’t get leather until I start delving into reposados and anejos myself. But they’re calling it that. And almost tannic is what it says here on the flavor notes. But I really like it. You know what? It has a less heavy mouth feel than the Blue Agave version.
MIKE: Did you notice that?
RICK: Yeah, and it leans more towards fruit than herbs.
MIKE: Right. And as you said, very succinctly, with the Blue Agave,
is that it’s like a lowlands tequila you know with a lot of minerals. It’s almost like, in fact, lowlands or I would say even tequila from Amatitan which has lots of minerals in it. But this is way more refreshing, is what I’ll say.
MIKE: And really different, the mouth feel is way different; it doesn’t weigh heavy on your palate, it explodes on your palate. It’s kind of more of what I’m used to having. Excuse me, and beautiful nose. This is again, one of those where you don’t need to do much with it. Just be with it. Wow. I got to say, again Rick, Brand of Promise in the Legacy category.
MIKE: They’ve been around 20 years. I would say, do yourself a favor, you know, you’ve seen the other Mezcals out there that – but this one here, they’ve been around as long. Scorpion Mezcal. Now, they’re called Scorpion because their full bottles do have a scorpion in it. Yeah it’s kitchy.
RICK: HA! Put it right up there.
MIKE: Yeah! See? There it is, because everybody knows that worms are for wimps, right?. (laughing)
RICK: Are you seeing it at all?
MIKE: Yeah! We can see it! It’s there! You know, and I’d rather have a scorpion in it than a worm, myself, but tell I’ll ya what – with or without, these are really, really good. I am so jazzed that we are finally getting them on Sipping Off the Cuff after 20 years. It took us that long, to get these guys on.
RICK: Yeah. I’m thoroughly enjoying this.
MIKE: How do you like it so far?
RICK: I’m loving it! I’m loving it!
MIKE: Oh my god. (laughing) It’s alive! It’s alive! We created a monster.
MIKE: Okay. Well, Rick, that’s our take on Scorpion Espadin. We’ll be back a little bit later with two more varietals. I’m Mike Morales here in San Antonio.
RICK: Rick Levi in San Diego.
MIKE: You’ve been watching Sipping Off the Cuff, on TequilaAficionado.com also part of Tequila Aficionado Media. Please subscribe! And tell us what you like, because if you’ve had longer than Rick and myself, tell us, you know, what your favorites are. Give us some comments, but whatever you do, do what we tell you to do here at Tequila Aficionado, and tomar sabiamente (sip wisely).
Pioneer innovator, Douglas French, founder of Scorpion Mezcal kicks off a new feature on Tequila Aficionado called Men In Mezcal.
Establishing his distillery in Oaxaca in 1995, Scorpion has just celebrated its 20th anniversary as the original leader in introducing entry level mezcals to over 38 states, and globally to 16 countries.
Even before this current mezcal boom, Scorpion was often overlooked as the forerunner of producing varietal and barrel aged mezcals, while at the same time elevating its image into the “cognac of Mexico.”
Here to set the record straight–in his own words–is Douglas French of Scorpion Mezcal.
This is my story of living and working with the Zapotec peoples in Oaxaca to help build a category that has been hidden in the Sierra Madre del Sur for centuries.
It has been forsaken and beaten down by taxes and tequileros over the last century.
Now is its time to bloom as a category in the global arena. I am a part of this movement.
I have exported 14 mezcal brands to 16 countries around the world and my import company Caballeros, Inc., is adding more brands to the portfolio to get even more mezcal into the US market.
I have worked on this project for 20 years.
Weaving The Tapestry
“To make something of quality means that you put your body and soul into it. To create something new is an art form and an extension of oneself.”
I was a yarn and textile designer and weaver in San Francisco before I moved to Oaxaca, Mexico with my small craft mill. I made high quality original designs of natural cotton, wool and silk fabrics for interior decorating, and some clothing.
In Mexico, my mill started to thrive until it went bankrupt as a consequence of the NAFTA Free Trade Agreement between the USA, Canada and Mexico.
Most (about 70%) of Mexico’s factories closed down because of the free trade agreement. I was just one of many to suffer this collateral damage.
The mezcal industry in Oaxaca has been a subsistence level business activity. Most of the producers make very small quantities and are quite poor. However, I felt that there was potential to carve out a small business.
So, I changed my career to make mezcal. I hired Don Lupe, a Zapotec and 3rd generational maestro mezcalero to start work.
Establishing a Palenque
We set up a rudimentary palenque.
We dug a hole in the ground for the pit oven to cook the maguey. Lupe bought a log and had it cut into a rectangular block and had it dug out for mashing with wooden mallets.
I bought a bunch of sabino boards and Lupe sent them to the carpenter to make the fermentation vats. I found an old 100 liter still and had a local coppersmith patch it up. I also built a home made bottling machine.
The Small Batch Process
With this equipment Don Lupe started to make mezcal, teaching me and some of my weavers how to do it.
We were cooking the agave with oak logs in the pit. We cooked about 3 tons at a time per batch. I say about, because there were no scales, it was just a 3-ton truckload.
We pounded the agave with wooden mallets to make the mash that was then fermented and distilled. A batch ended up yielding about 175 liters of mezcal.
In the beginning we cooked 1 oven load a month. Then, we got up to 2 oven cookings a month for a maximum production of about 350 liters of mezcal a month.
I figured that 100 cases a month would be a perfect business and I could set up a hammock to relax in and watch the liquid gold drip out of my pot still.
It was looking like a great plan.
Off to Market
I set off to market to sell my mezcal.
Unfortunately no one wanted to buy. The local buyers already had suppliers and didn’t need any more. So the Oaxacan market was saturated with mezcal.
I decided to go back to the USA to sell it. However no one knew what mezcal was and no one wanted to buy it. No importer was interested in investing in it.
So with an old buddy in California, we started our own import and distribution company, Caballeros. This way we at least had the product in the USA ready to deliver without any delays.
Still no one wanted to buy mezcal.
Worms Are for Wimps!
I didn’t have the millions of dollars necessary to run a promotional program, so I needed something to get sales started. I came up with the Scorpion name and a real scorpion in the bottle.
That was exciting, and it got sales going, even though very slowly.
I soon realized that 350 liters a month wasn’t enough for me and my partner and my employees to earn a living. We were doomed to live in poverty unless we sold the product very expensively and abused the consumer.
My vision had been to give the best quality mezcal that I could make at a reasonable price to the consumer. So the solution was to make larger volumes.
So much for hanging out in the nice, comfortable hammock.
I started phase 2 of the distillery by adding a second 350 liter copper still and then a third500 liter copper still. I got a motorized shredder and a bunch of fermenting tanks.
For a while, I produced more than I was selling, so I put the excess into oak barrels to start aging. I started offering reposado and anejo mezcals to compliment the basic silver, as per my customer’s requests.
Phase 2 started to separate my palenque from the standard poverty/subsistence level indigenous artisan mezcaleros in the villages spread throughout Oaxaca.
There are 2 reasons for this: 1) the volume we were making was generating a larger cash flow and 2) we were enhancing the product with barrel aging, which the indigenous producers could not afford to do.
An old textile friend, Barbara Sweetman, decided to join in the effort and started selling mezcal full time in the USA. She is based in New York City. With her efforts, sales grew and I needed to produce more.
I started phase 3 with several bigger stainless steel stills: one 800 liter and one 1400 liter and eventually a 1,800 liter copper finishing still.
I built a brick oven to steam cook 5,000 to 6,000 kilos at a time. The steam cooking reduced the smoky flavor of the mezcal, and it let the agave flavors unveil themselves.
I was producing a lot and again more than I could sell. I bought a container load of fine French oak barrels from a Bordeaux red wine producer. This really ratcheted up the aging program.
Scorpion Mezcal received a Gold 94 points rating on the basic Silver, a Gold 92 on the Reposado, a 95 for the Anejo 1 Year. Platinum 96 on the 5 year Anejo and Platinum 97 on the 7 year Anejo. Plus, Best Mezcal from Food & Wine Magazine.
In all the other competitions, Scorpion Mezcals were awarded Golds, double Golds and a couple of Silvers. The market reacted very well to this change and sales increased quite quickly.
Soon I had to set up phase 4 of production with more stills, fermenting tanks and bigger ovens to process more agave to be able to supply the growing demand.
Scorpion Never Bores
I have always produced more than I sell so that I was sure that I could deliver my customers’ orders on time. The excess mezcal is put into barrels for the Reposado and Anejo mezcals.
Like anything, the repetitive process of making silver mezcal becomes tedious and boring. Also, drinking silver mezcal is ok for entry-level drinkers, but again gets boring.
The Reposado and Anejo are always welcomed delicious variations to the basic silver mezcal.
Variety: The Spice of Life
The aging process is always an exciting and mysterious process.
Since every barrel is different, the number of uses is different, the type of wood is different, the char is different, etc., so as a result, the flavor is always different.
I also discovered early on that different varietals of agave create different flavored mezcals.
So during the process of buying the agave from the indigenous agave farmers and cooperatives in different regions of Oaxaca, a fellow would pop up with a batch of a wild agave. I would usually buy it.
I then made it into mezcal–delicious stuff!
Since I wasn’t selling it, it just sat around. If it were a big batch, I would put some into barrels to age and become even more delicious.
Finally in 2012, I started introducing the Tobala varietal for sale, long considered the King of Agaves.
I sent samples of the Tobala to BTI and they were judged and awarded Platinum 96 rating for the Silver and a Platinum 97 rating for the Extra Anejo Tobala.
Little by little, I am designing different presentations to offer more varietals for sale.
A long time ago, I realized that there wasn’t enough wild agave available to bring a product to market and still be able to deliver it consistently. So in 1997, I started to plant Tobala along with the Espadin agave that I was already growing.
The existing folklore in Oaxaca says that Tobala can only grow in the wild; it cannot be cultivated. I collected seed in the mountains and I planted some experimental plots.
Tobala grows very well when cultivated; the folklore is not true.
I also hired an agricultural engineer to study Oaxaca’s agricultural university records on the subject.
He discovered that in the 1930s and 40s, Tobala was a standard production crop. This was an era before the government introduced programs to establish Espandin as a monocultural crop in Oaxaca.
To grow a plant you need seeds to start. So I have hiked through the mountains of Oaxaca many times looking for, and sometimes finding, ripe seeding wild agave varietals and collected bulky bags of seeds to carry back to my nurseries.
I have created a seed bank of agave varietals, and maintain nurseries to grow the baby plants. It is slow work to create a basis for commercial crop cultivation of varietal agaves.
It takes 1 to 2 years in the nursery to germinate the seeds and to get the plant large enough to be transplanted as a crop. Then, it takes 6 to 15 years in the Oaxacan central valley, where I live, to grow the crop.
Of course, all of this takes money, money and more money, which is very scarce for us small artisanal mezcaleros.
We have no source of financing except or own hard-earned profits. The only way to grow is to tighten the belt and reinvest as much of the profits as you can into growth and crops.
I now have about 50 acres growing, with 5 varietals. Every year I harvest and every year I plant; that is the way with maguey.
Last year I planted 5000 Barril agave plants (also called madrecuixe, verde, largo of the Karwinski family). They take about 15 years to mature. At my age, I have no idea if I will live long enough to see the harvest.
I also realize that my efforts are just a drop in the bucket in comparison with what is needed for the growing mezcal market. However, it is a starting place to get this segment of the market going.
I am now presenting these small exclusive varietals under my trademark ESCORPION.
The Mother of Invention
There is currently a shortage of agave and lots of the small palenques are not distilling because there is no maguey. I am in the same boat.
So instead of looking for an outside job, I have developed recipes to make Rum and Whiskey. They will be launching in the USA by the end of 2016 under the SCORPION brand trademark.
The whiskies are especially exciting, because they are made with heirloom corn. I am using white, yellow and black corn. Oaxaca is the origin of corn in the world and has over 2,090 varieties of corn.
Mezcal is Trending
As I write this, there are about 100 Zapotec indigenous people in Oaxacan villages who eat every day because of the business transactions that I conduct with them, their fathers, brothers, wives or children.
Things are getting a little better now that mezcal is becoming more recognized and appreciated.
I hope to continue working and building the Scorpion brand, the mezcal category, and more jobs in Oaxaca.
Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!
Most King Ranch Chicken recipes are pretty bland and not at all what you might expect from a Tex Mex standard. The beautiful thing about King Ranch Chicken is that everybody has a different recipe (and ours is the best).
Since we prefer our food on the spicy side, we make our King Ranch Chicken a little bit differently…
If you enjoy something spicy that you can cook up in a slow cooker for a cold winter day then this recipe is for you!
(While I enjoy sipping Santo Diablo Mezcal, I have found that I really love cooking with it.)
When adding the other ingredients, we used diced tomatoes with Hatch Chiles instead of Ro-tel. Next we added cumin and red pepper. These few changes turned a bland cheesy chicken casserole into something entirely different.
Place the first two ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on high until the chicken pulls apart easily with a fork. Pull the chicken apart with a fork so you have a nice smoky pot of shredded chicken. The add:
2 Cans Cream of Mushroom Soup
1 Can Cream of Chicken Soup
1 Can Diced Tomatoes and Hatch Chilis
1 Bag Frozen Fajita Mixed Vegetables
2 Cups Mexican Blend Shredded Cheese
2 Teaspoons Cumin
1 Teaspoon Red Pepper
Mix well and let it cook on high until bubbly. Serve over steamed rice with a glass of Santo Diablo Mezcal.
Russell Davis, Shaker & Spoon’s Chief Cocktail Officer and a celebrity in the spirits and bartending industry, will be creating one of the drinks from the October box and donating his royalty to the TIP organization. Shaker & Spoon will be matching his donation.
Shaker & Spoon Cocktail Club is a monthly cocktail subscription box that is bringing the craft cocktail experience to your home with beautifully curated recipes and techniques for mixing the perfect drink, every time; enhancing the experience of drinking at home, on the go, or anywhere else. Think Blue Apron for cocktails.
The Tequila Interchange Project “is a non-profit organization and consumer advocacy group for agave distilled spirits comprised of bartenders, consultants, educators, researchers, consumers and tequila enthusiasts. Their organization advocates the preservation of sustainable, traditional and quality practices in the industries of agave distilled spirits. In light of concerning trends that are currently becoming mainstays in the production of agave distillates, TIP seeks to place a renewed emphasis on the importance of preserving the great heritage of agave distillation in Mexico”. [taken from Tequila Interchange Project]
More About Shaker & Spoon
Shaker & Spoon was launched to give you the knowledge and confidence to go beyond just pouring a glass of wine or opening a beer, Shaker & Spoon strives to give you the means to create the perfect mixed drink for any occasion. Each month’s 3 original recipes are based around a specific themed-liquor for that month [you provide the alcohol], so that all you need to make 12 delicious cocktails is their kit and one bottle of alcohol.
How Does It Work?
Each month Shaker & Spoon sends out a box with 3 step-by-step original recipes curated by top bartenders from around the world; with enough ingredients to make 12 cocktails [4 drinks from each recipe]. Every box is guaranteed the highest quality ingredients to make the perfect cocktail, you provide the alcohol.
What Does It Cost?
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More About the Tequila Interchange Project
Tequila—and mezcal especially—has long been the domain of mostly small, family run distilleries, but, especially with the popularity of mezcal in recent years, large companies are coming in and starting to take over the production process and using their influence to stop these small farms and distillers from exporting their product as tequila or mezcal through government regulations. TIP is trying to preserve the rights of these small distilleries to continue doing what they’ve been doing for generations and keep mezcal a product of local distilleries rather than taken over by liquor conglomerates.
Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!
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?
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.
[This editorial (with my comments) is inspired by the following video on the dastardly NOM 199 currently in review in Mexico. Please, take a few moments to view this easy-to-follow video, then, feel free to share it among your friends, family, colleagues and cohorts.
Afterwards, go here to sign the petition and unifying statement against NOM 199.]
In 2012, a Mexican legislation called NOM 186 was launched that would regulate any agave spirit. It would have deprived many rights to small traditional and artisanal mezcal producers outside the Denomination of Origin of Tequila and Mezcal.
All other agave spirits would have been erroneously called “AGUA ARDIENTE de AGAVECEA.”
It would have also trademarked the word “AGAVE” to the Tequila Industry.
This would be like trying to trademark the word “grape.”
Imagine small winemakers not being able to say that their wine was made from grapes because they didn’t own the trademark, “grape?”
Both these measures were driven by the Tequila Industry and the Mexican Ministry of Economy, among other institutions.
Through the efforts of those in the academic fields, hospitality (bars and restaurants), interested WORLD citizens with large social media followings, and those concerned about the fair regulation of what we eat and drink, this NOM was soundly defeated.
NOM 199: The Zombie of NOM 186!
Now, there’s a new initiative that’s designed to revive those previously rejected proposals.
It has been signed and endorsed by the Tequila Industry, the Regulatory Board of Mezcal, and other transnational corporations—and you know who they are!
There are no cultural records or documents anywhere in Mexico that refer to an agave distillate by the term komil—
It is based on a Nahuatl word (KOMILI) meaning, “intoxicant [inebriating] drink.”
If one of NOM 199’s very own passages is correct:
“The information printed on the labels of the bottles must be truthful and not induce confusion in the consumer as to the nature and characteristics of the product,” then…
They’re doing it all wrong.
If these distillates are forced to be labeled KOMIL and forbidden to use the word AGAVE, it will be more ambiguous and confusing to the consumer and he/she won’t be as informed as to what the drink is made from.
Komil could literally be eggnog like rompope, a tequila or mixto tequila, or any drink that intoxicates.
Currently, any mezcal outside of the Denomination of Origin cannot be termed Mezcal. Instead it is referred to as “destilado de agave” (agave distillate) or “aguardiente de agave” (agave firewater).
That is already a huge commercial disadvantage.
If this legislation passes and becomes law, these spirits would be forced to label themselves as KOMILES [plural of KOMIL].
This would not only increase unfair competition and confuse the consumer, but would also deprive the basic human rights of those who preserve the tradition of making these distillates by calling them by their actual true name.
This proposed legislation is a cultural and labor dispossession, and an arbitrarily imposed term.
On the evening of January 15, 2016, during the busy San Antonio Cocktail Conference weekend, Tequila Aficionado’s Mike Morales was invited to sit in on mezcal historian and author Ulises Torrentera’s Arte del Mezcal class and discussion.
As a bonus, the event was sponsored by the luscious Wahaka Mezcal brand and moderated and translated by its co-founder, Raza Zaidi.
The course, endorsed by mezcal’s regulating body, the Consejo Regulador del Mezcal (CRM), through its official document CRM/PD-069/15, would cover four main topics–
Pre-Hispanic beverages, raw material (maguey/agave), distillation and mezcal’s invention, as well as its history, myths, legends, culture and beyond.
The event was held at the intimate El Mirador Mexican restaurant and featured a delicious menu to accompany the entire line of Wahaka mezcals and Sr. Torrentera’s discourse.
Ulises, considered a preeminent mezcal historian and icon, is the author of “Mezcalaria, The Cult of Mezcal,” and the owner of In Situ Mezcaleria in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Arte del Mezcal Highlights
Introduction to Wahaka Mezcal
In the following snippet, co-founder, Raza Zaidi, introduces Wahaka’s core line of mezcals and the “one-off” creations by their maestro mezcalero, Alberto Morales.
Clay Pot Distillation
With a GoPro attached, another palenquero demonstrates the very rare method of mezcal fermentation and distillation in clay pots.
Raza later explained that such a technique was implemented because it was easily mobile and allowed movement to avoid authorities from confiscating copper stills.
The Legend of Mayahuel and the 400 Rabbits
Translated by Raza, Ulises explains what pulque is and the legend of Mayahuel and her 400 Rabbits.
That’s what we asked several Kosher tequila and mezcal brand owners and ambassadors. Some of their reasons may surprise you.
Richard Sorenson, Founder of Dulce Vida Tequila, the only 100 proof organic tequila to date, comes from an organic foods background having developed the first USDA organic energy drink on the market to gain national distribution.
“Kosher certification is not something we focus heavily on,” admits Sorenson. Yet, in Dulce Vida’s case, it legitimizes and solidifies the company’s pledge to the consumer to be “authentic and pure.”
In fact, Sorenson does not believe that “organic and kosher certification are mutually exclusive” and instead, go hand-in-hand.
Lisa Barlow, co-founder with her husband, John, of Vida Tequila.
“I know it’s trendy now to say you’re Kosher but for us it’s something we have been proud of since launching in 2007. To me it shows we care about the quality of our 100% Agave Azul line of tequila.
“I’m proud our product carries the kosher logo.”
Camille Austin, brand ambassador for Montelobos mezcal–
“To be Kosher is to guarantee, in all aspects of production, that all standards of cleanliness which the Jewish religion requires are met.
“This is an interesting subject I’ve touched with Ivan [Saldaña, developer of Montelobos mezcal] quite a bit, as well. In mezcal production, as you know with its diversity, a number of things can be crucial elements to ensuring all requirements are fulfilled.
“For starters, guaranteeing there are no animal products (meats or insects) that contaminate the process. Therefore, a traditional Pechuga mezcal could not be considered Kosher.
“Another important element would be to ensure that all animals involved in production are treated with dignity and respect as is the case with our beloved mule Rambo, who pulls the Tahona to make the Montelobos mash.
“We thoroughly pick through all our raw material, the espadin [agave], one by one, and make sure there are no worms, beetles or other insects.
“Fermentation is key as not all yeast used to make agave spirits has a Kosher origin. In the case of Montelobos, we ferment naturally in open air, without adding yeast, for a controlled period of no more than 7 days.
“There are many organizations globally that are dedicated specifically to audits and certifications such as this. At Casa Montelobos, we are certified and audited every few months through the OU, or Orthodox Union, based in New York City which is one of the most strict and internationally recognized Kosher organizations in the world.
“On the back label of each bottle you will find a big circled “U” identifiable with this organization.
“You could say that to be certified Kosher is to be disciplined, consistent and organized in your production process. It is a demonstration to those, albeit those who enjoy your product as consumers or those who are your mezcalero piers, that you are an open book with how you make your product.
“At Montelobos, although a quite small production, we are very proud of the final product and are committed to maintaining the cleanest and most natural standards to make our mezcal.”
“As you may know, kosher certification is related to certifying that a product complies with a set of rules stated in the Jewish religion.
“That said, Tequila in its essence and based on the laws that regulate tequila production (NOM) would be with some exceptions I will point out, Kosher.
“That said, in order for a product to be Kosher, it requires an audit to ensure it does not fall into the exceptions that would make it non-Kosher.
“These exceptions, in the case of tequila, would be related in adding additives or flavoring agents that may contain a non-kosher ingredient. Other exceptions would be certain yeasts and the aging in barrels that contained non-kosher products beforehand such as Brandy or Wine.
“The Kosher certification also requires that there are no insects inside the bottles so quality controls to ensure this are required.
“On the commercial side, being Kosher is an enabler for all those consumers being Jewish or not that are looking to buy products that do not contain any non kosher ingredients.”
From CesarBarba, Production Planning and Warehouse Coordinator at Milagro’s distillery:
“As Moisés stated, Kosher is a certification to ensure the Jewish community that the production process is compliant with the Jewish religion.
“That being said, this certification is made annually by a certification house that sends a rabbi to make sure that the agave, the distillery, and the barrels (if used), are all Kosher compliant.
“The rabbi sent by the certification house is like an external auditor, so it varies depending on the auditors’ availability, hence why there is no particular rabbi coming to OPTE. Also, there are some “surprise” visits during the year to make sure we are still Kosher compliant.
“We are certified with KMD, whose logo can be seen in the back label, but there several other certification houses and they are all recognized worldwide.
“The main advantage of being Kosher certified is that you can reach a very specific market niche.
“Given the previous statements, we are Kosher because:
– We are Kosher certified.
– Our third-party distiller partner is Kosher certified.
– We use Kosher certified products from non-animal origin during our production process.
– Our barrels did not hold any non-Kosher products.
– We have annual certification visits and one or two audits during each year, depending on the external auditor’s (rabbi) availability.
“Moy basically shared that one of the most important processes to scrutinize is fermentation, where producers may add non-kosher yeast and other additives i.e.: urea.”
DeLoera concludes, “Finally, a neat story is that Danny and Moy are from different Jewish backgrounds. Danny is from the Ashkenazi heritage, and Moy from the Sephardim heritage.
“Because Jewish weddings demand all products be Kosher, and Danny and Moy wanted Milagro at their weddings (of course!). Initially Milagro was certified by agencies from each and both Jewish traditions. Now it is a bit of good banter, and the one that stands is KMD, which is from the Sephardim tradition, and KMD is known to hold the strictest audits and standards.”
[An urgent text message about Kosher tequila from an agave beverage manager at a thriving new bar in New York City, and the resulting questions raised from research into this misunderstood market from all points–tequila and mezcal brand owners, consumers, and rabbinical representatives of the Jewish faith–prompted me to finally discuss the positive, often flawed, and vastly under served kosher tequila and mezcal segments of the market.]
Still confused about the Kosher dietary laws and how it could affect your favorite agave spirits? Then, check out Part 1.
Interested to learn more about how these agave spirits brands came to be certified kosher? See Part 2.
If you’re a…
Tequila and Mezcal Consumer–
Both KMD and KA-Kosher supply lists of kosher certified alcoholic beverages. As we mentioned in Part 1, so does the Chicago Rabbinical Council. In each instance, be aware that when it comes to tequilas and mezcals…
All Lists Are Flawed!
Unlike the CRT’s NOM Lists that are updated roughly each month, these kosher lists seemed not to have been touched in years. And of the brands that were listed, more often than not, were now, sadly, extinct.
Upon closer examination of the KA-Kosher list, many of the certified tequilas are brands distributed in Mexico only. The American kosher consumer is left out in cold (unless you’re on vacation in Mexico during the holidays!).
In another instance, tequila Embajador is listed as kosher. When contacted, neither the importer nor the owners of the distillery was aware that the brand was certified. When they contacted KA-Kosher about the discrepancy, a rabbinical coordinator admitted that Embajador’s certification had lapsed, likely years ago, but whose name still appeared on the list.
In KMD’s case, a quick search reveals that many of the popular global brands listed are suspect and known to process tequilas with diffusers.
In light of new industrial processes like diffusers and their use of sulfuric acid in catalyzed hydrolysis of agave, how can these tequilas be kosher–or even organic–for that matter?
We recently reached out to the cRc and confirmed in a phone conversation with a Rabbinical Coordinator that (at press time) it is taking steps to update its list of kosher tequilas, and, hopefully, adding mezcals.
In the meantime…
How Do I Tell If The Tequila Or Mezcal I Purchase
Glad you asked. First, let’s dispel a few “kosher myths.”
Aren’t All Blanco Tequilas Kosher?
At one time, that was the general point of view by kashut authorities, until the use of glycerin became widely known as an approved additive in the tequila normas.
Here is an article on the OU’s (Union of Orthodox Rabbis) stance on “blenders” such as glycerin in the case of alcoholic beverages.
A Word About Barrels
Another rumor going around is that aged tequilas aren’t considered kosher.
Not so when you consider that one of the most popular kosher brewers on the planet, Shmaltz Brewing Company, ages all their lines, including their recent 2015 holiday offering, Chanukah in Kentucky, in used Jim Beam and Heaven Hill barrels.
Dulce Vida’s 5 year Extra Añejo is also kosher, aged in used red wine barrels from Napa Valley. (And, yes, there are kosher wineries in Napa. Google it!)
Richard Sorenson, founder of Dulce Vida writes, “The barrels are Rombauer Merlot and Cabernet barrels. They are gorgeous barrels and all have the Rombauer logo emblazoned in the wood.”
Without going into too much detail, in a phone conversation with the Rabbinical Coordinator for the cRc, he informed that if a particular barrel was first used to house kosher wine, then generally speaking, that barrel could be used in aging spirits. He also mentioned that there was a way to kosher-ize (referred to as koshered) barrels for aging wines and spirits.
Research shows that some cooking utensils can be boiled or blowtorched to be spiritually cleansed.
In a follow up email with this cRc Rabbinical Coordinator, he wrote: “Kosherizing a barrel which was used to store wine is a complicated and detailed process. One method involves thoroughly cleaning the barrel, followed by a series of fresh water rinsings.”
The rabbi cautions, however, that, “Due to the complex nature of this process, it should only be undertaken by a recognized and reputable kosher agency.”
It goes without saying that each instance should be judged by that kosher agency on a case-by-case, or barrel-by-barrel, basis to ensure proper koshered rules were followed.
To learn more about the beliefs behind kosher wines, click here.
Isn’t Pareve Enough?
This one’s tricky.
A food or drink item labeled pareve means that it can be used together with either a dairy product or a meat product and will not lead to the mixing of meat and dairy as per Jewish dietary instructions. If you’ve perused the aforementioned lists above, you’ll see that term used after each brand.
Keep in mind that all agave spirits are fermented products. Depending on the distillery’s fermentation process, they could be using enzymes and yeast accelerators that could come from animal sources that are prohibited by the Jewish dietary laws, and hense, not pareve.
Given the unreliability of the existing kosher lists in circulation, and the lack of transparency on behalf of multinational corporations that mass produce tequila and mezcal, proceed like any other tequila aficionado and–
Check The Label!
Similar to NOM numbers, and organically certified products, search for the seal of a trusted and well-known kosher certifying agency. Familiarize yourself with their seals and logos shown in Part 1.