Love and Fun at the Mammoth Margarita Festival

[Editor’s Note:  All photos and videos are by Tequila Jockey, David Dinius, Special Correspondent to Tequila Aficionado Media at the Mammoth Margarita Festival.  Thanks also to Michelle Dinius and David Decker.]

For Love and Fun

One of the more beloved and popular tequila and mezcal events these days occurs in the Village of Mammoth in Mammoth Lakes, CA.

The Mammoth Margarita Festival, celebrated its sixth year in 2017.  It is the brainchild of Russ Squire and Michael Ledesma, owners of Gomez Restaurant and Tequileria, reputed to have one of the largest selections of tequila and mezcal in North America with over 500 bottles.

Love and Fun at the Mammoth Margarita Festival http://wp.me/p3u1xi-5g6

Not your average agave spirits tasting event, the two-day Mammoth Margarita Festival commits to raising money for Disabled Sports and the local non-profit American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO).

As Russ puts it, “…It is a feel good thing for love of what we do and fun….”

By all accounts, love and fun are exhibited by everyone, from the customers to the participating brands and their representatives.

What follows are interviews, sights and sounds reported by Special Correspondent and Tequila Jockey, David Dinius from the Mammoth Margarita Festival.

Love and Fun at the Mammoth Margarita Festival http://wp.me/p3u1xi-5g6

 Doug French of Scorpion Mezcal

“My first interview at the Mammoth Margarita Festival 2017 and it was with the one and only Doug French of Scorpion Mezcal.”

Del Maguey Mezcal

“My second interview at the Mammoth Margarita Festival 2017 and it was with Alfredo Gama of distributor, Wine Warehouse for Del Maguey Mezcal.”

Alex Chaigne for Banhez Mezcal

El Silencio Mezcal

Love and Fun at the Mammoth Margarita Festival http://wp.me/p3u1xi-5g6

“My fourth interview at the Mammoth Margarita Festival 2017 and it was with Natalia Garcia Bourke of El Silencio Mezcal.”

Love and Fun at the Mammoth Margarita Festival http://wp.me/p3u1xi-5g6

Cazcanes Tequila

Love and Fun at the Mammoth Margarita Festival http://wp.me/p3u1xi-5g6

“This brand is not in the states yet, but these guys tell me it should be in about 2 months. When it does, get a bottle or two.  You will not regret it!  This is one good juice.”

Love and Fun at the Mammoth Margarita Festival http://wp.me/p3u1xi-5g6

Campo Azul

“Here I talk with Dean Berger from Pacific Edge Wine and Spirits about Campo Azul Tequila.”

Alma De Agave Tequila

“Nene Gonzalez tells me about Alma De Agave Tequila and gives a little history of the Mammoth Margarita Festival.”

Fortaleza Tequila

“The charming Alfredo Gama reappears in the next couple of frames.  Here, he tells me about Fortaleza Tequila.”

Arette Tequila

Patron Barrel Selects

“Here I talk with Mike McGinnis from Patron about a couple of Barrel Selects they had at the festival.”

T1 Tequila Uno

“I let Jim Friedrichs tell us about T1 tequila.”

Siete Leguas

“Talk to Mark Fania about Siete Leguas.”

Maestro Dobel Tequila

“We end up totally catching Andrea Kelley off guard and have her tell us about Maestro Dobel Tequila.”

Tres Agave Tequila

“Mike Kelly talks to us about Tres Agave Tequila and bar mixes.” 

Love and Fun at the Mammoth Margarita Festival http://wp.me/p3u1xi-5g6

Sin Rival

“I talk with Rodolfo Gonzalez about Sin Rival and he mentions a couple of others at the distillery.  And of course he has to get a shout out to Mike Morales!”

Mammoth Margarita Festival Wrap Up

“Here was the wrap-up at 2017’s Mammoth Margarita Festival.  I talk with Michael Ledesma and Russ Squire from Gomez’s about the festival.”

“This was such a fun event to take part of.  Thank you to all involved.  These two put on a wonderful event and I am grateful for them helping me out this weekend.”

Love and Fun at the Mammoth Margarita Festival http://wp.me/p3u1xi-5g6

Women In the Mezcal Industry: Barbara Sweetman

The First Time

I first met Barbara Sweetman, Vice President of Caballeros, Inc., and International Sales Manager of Scorpion Mezcal, and now, Sierra Norte Whiskies in March 2011.

I was visiting the infamous Nightclub & Bar show in Las Vegas to report on the special edition of the Spirits of Mexico that was participating.

Doug French, Founder of Scorpion Mezcal, was on stage depicting the intricacies of distilling his unique mezcals.  I wandered over to the vendor tables that lined both sides of the narrow section reserved for the Spirits of Mexico.

Up to that point, mezcal was still somewhat of a mystery to most of us.  My only real experience was sampling them from Ron Cooper, founder of Del Maguey Single Village Mezcals.

A single woman standing behind a table shyly asked if I had ever tried Scorpion Mezcal.  When I confessed that I hadn’t, she suggested that I try their joven espadin expression.

Women In the Mezcal Industry: Barbara Sweetman http://wp.me/p3u1xi-5dL

Expecting to feel the burn and the smoky aroma of a much stronger mezcal, I was amazed at how approachable Scorpion was.  Barbara then proceeded to guide me through an entire flight of all their expressions.

That was my first sip of Scorpion Mezcal, and chances are, Barbara Sweetman handed you your first taste of Scorpion, as well.

A Mezcal Lifer

Women In the Mezcal Industry: Barbara Sweetman http://wp.me/p3u1xi-5dL

As Doug French explains in his own words…

“With Barbara’s efforts sales grew and I needed to produce more.

“This was a pattern with Barbara for the last 15 years.  Her relentless enthusiasm and determination is what took Scorpion–and the whole mezcal industry–forward into becoming a category in the USA.

“I dare say that over the last 15 years, she has single handedly given more human beings in the world their first taste of mezcal than any other person or company in the industry.

“She is also the first person to take multiple brands into all the levels of the Three Tier System so that mezcal could settle into the system as a new functional category.”

The Second Time

For only the second time (and the first time for mezcal), Tequila Aficionado presents Barbara Sweetman’s videotaped responses to our standard handful of questions for our Women In the Mezcal Industry anthology.

***

TA:  How would you describe your experiences as a woman in a primarily male dominated industry?  (What are the challenges you face when dealing with the male dominated Mezcal Industry?)

TA:  How have you been able to change things within the Mezcal Industry?

TA:  What do you see as the future of women working within the Mezcal Industry?

TA:  What facets of the Mezcal Industry would you like to see change?

TA:  Do you approve of how Mezcal brands are currently marketing themselves?

TA:  Is there anything you’d like to say to women who may be contemplating entering and working in the Mezcal Industry in one form or another?

Open Bar | Barbara Sweetman of Scorpion Mezcal

Open Bar | Barbara Sweetman of Scorpion Mezcal http://wp.me/p3u1xi-5aHIn this Open Bar interview, Mike Morales speaks to Barbara Sweetman of Scorpion Mezcal.

From the Scorpion Mezcal Website:

Scorpion Mezcal®, one of the most awarded Mezcals on the market today and a leading brand in the Mezcal category, continues to impress customers the world over with its quality, consistency and great taste. Recognized world wide as ground breaking mezcal and brand, Scorpion Mezcal® continues to broaden its distribution and sales to an eager public.

Distillery:  Scorpion Mezcal SA de CV

NOM-019X

Scorpion Mezcal® is made from 100% agave, double distilled.  Our Reposado and Anejos are aged in French Oak.  All production is done under the strict supervision of, Consejo Regulador del Mezcal, the official mezcal licensing authority in Mexico.

Scorpion Mezcal Renders Wondrous Whiskies in Oaxaca

#ad #advertisement
Pioneer Distiller Seeks Preservation of Mexico’s Heirloom Corn

Because of my upbringing, I believe that socially responsible policies should always be a normal part of any business.”

— Douglas French, Master Distiller

OAXACA, MEXICO, March 28, 2017 /EINPresswire.com/ — For Immediate release!

Douglas French, pioneer Master Distiller of legacy brand Scorpion Mezcal™, innovates Sierra Norte Native Corn Whiskies™ produced using Mexican heirloom corn.

Due to mezcal’s burgeoning global popularity, “…there is currently a shortage of agave and lots of the small palenques are not distilling,” explains Douglas French, creator of legacy brand, Scorpion Mezcal™.

“I am in the same boat,” he continues, “but instead of looking for an outside job, I have developed recipes to make whiskey.”

Scorpion Mezcal Renders Wondrous Whiskies in Oaxaca http://wp.me/p3u1xi-50zIt is this kind of ingenuity that has positioned Scorpion Mezcal™ as the perennial leader in introducing and elevating award winning, high quality mezcals to over 38 states and 16 countries.

Sierra Norte Native Corn Whiskies™ was launched in the United States in 2016 to mark Scorpion Mezcal’s 20 successful years as a purely artisanal business that promotes social values and economic stability in Oaxaca.

“All of my business ventures have been driven by social responsibility as a keystone,” declares French.

The Sierra Norte mountain range of Oaxaca is acclaimed as one of the richest zones of biodiversity in Mexico.
Oaxaca is also the cradle of corn to the world with over 2,090 varieties in existence. But, in an era of genetically modified organisms (GMO), many of the native corn species are in danger of extinction.

To keep native cultures and traditions alive, all three expressions of Sierra Norte Native Corn Whiskies™ are made the old fashioned way in a blend of 85% corn and 15% malted barley.

Each batch is carefully distilled from the finest yellow, white and black heritage corn grown from seeds that were passed down from generation to generation.

Finally, every individual lot is aged for approximately 9 months in French oak barrels.

The result is three uniquely flavorful whiskies unlike any style before or since.

“Whiskey is a rich category,” asserts Doug, “and, these days, it is going way beyond just mere introductory basics.”

Most importantly, responsible enjoyment of Sierra Norte Native Corn Whiskies™ promotes these five points:

The preservation of endangered native heirloom corn in Oaxaca.

The purchase of this corn from small, family owned farms at fair prices.

Provides long term employment and above-average wages at the Scorpion Mezcal™ distillery where Sierra Norte Native Corn Whiskies™ are made.

Supports employment for the most vulnerable members of the community—women and single mothers.

Lastly, by reviving the domestic economy of both the farmers and workers, Sierra Norte Native Corn Whiskies™ and Scorpion Mezcal™ supplies them with much sought after security making migration away from their families unnecessary.

“I do my best to treat and pay my workers well,” says French. “In return, they are very loyal and have decided to make their careers at the distillery.”

“I have a pretty awesome crew!” he beams.

“Because of my upbringing,” concludes Douglas French, “I believe that socially responsible policies should always be a normal part of any business.”

###

Click here to find Sierra Norte Native Corn Whiskies™ near you: http://bit.ly/2nZNViv
Learn the Sierra Norte Native Corn Whiskies™ story here: http://bit.ly/2nGc90A
Pioneer mezcalero, Douglas French, shares his story here: http://bit.ly/2o41Mom
Visit both Sierra Norte Native Corn Whiskies™ and Scorpion Mezcal™: http://www.sierranortewhiskey.com/
Imported by Caballeros, Inc., Oakton, VA.

Mike Morales
Tequila PR & Marketing
505-981-1422
email us here

Men In Mezcal: Douglas French

Men In Mezcal: Douglas French http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4LfPioneer 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.

My Story

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 forMen In Mezcal: Douglas French http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4Lf 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.

What Next?

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.

Men In Mezcal: Douglas French http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4Lf

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.

Turning Point

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.

I couldn’t bring myself to do that.

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.

Phase 2

Men In Mezcal: Douglas French http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4LfI started phase 2 of the distillery by adding a second 350 liter copper still and then a third 500 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.

Phase 3

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 samples were sent out to the Beverage Tasting Institute (BTI) and numerous competitions.

Accolades

Scorpion Mezcal received a Gold 94 points rating on the basic Silver, a Gold 92Men In Mezcal: Douglas French http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4Lf 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.

Dispelling Myths

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.

Men In Mezcal: Douglas French http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4Lf

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.

Scorpion’s Sustainability

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.

Men In Mezcal: Douglas French http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4Lf

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.

Men In Mezcal: Douglas French http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4Lf

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.

Scorpion Espadin Mezcal Review

Visit Scorpion Mezcal Online

scorpion box

 

Scorpion Mezcal is an award-winning family of 100% Agave distilled spirits, made in Oaxaca, one of the official and traditional homes of mezcal making in Mexico.

Scorpion Joven Blue Agave Mezcal Review

Visit Scorpion Mezcal Online.

Scorpion Mezcal is an award-winning family of 100% Agave distilled spirits, made in Oaxaca, one of the official and traditional homes of mezcal making in Mexico.