Beyond Mezcal: Spirits from Mexico

Whiskey, Gin, and More

When you think of Mexico and booze, you think of tequila, beer and mezcal. But a few weeks ago I attended a tasting at Astor Center and learned about some outstanding mezcal but also about a mezcal based gin and whiskey distilled from ancestral (heirloom) corn.

The company conducting the tastings was Pierdre Almas from Oaxaca. The company, the people running it, and their business model are most unusual.

 

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The people

I was invited to the tasting by Yira Vallejo, who I’ve known for many years. Yira’s title, Director of Social Projects, hints at the uniqueness of Pierdre Almas, but it doesn’t really capture her capabilities and expertise. I first met her when she was sales director at Genesis Beverage Brands.

Yira and jonathan

Genesis is the wholesale division of MHW, Ltd. and serves as the “incubator” and test marketer for fledgling brands in the NY and NJ markets. While Genesis gets a mixed reaction as to effectiveness, I never met anyone who didn’t think Yira was top of the game and the shining light of the operation.

In 2014, she went home to Oaxaca, met Jonathan Barbieri, the founder of Pierdre Almas, and joined the company. Jonathan is an American who moved to Oaxaca some thirty years ago, set aside his career as an artist and founded the company and the Palenque in which the company operates. (A Palenque is the physical space where the mezcal is produced with the machinery, animals, people, and equipment.)

Jonathan is passionate about mezcal. In an interview with LatinLover blog, he had this to say:

Mezcal isn’t only something you drink: it’s a spiritual drink. It is a spirit and it

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Booze Appellations: Does where it comes from matter?

carte_des_crus+Some appellations matter a great deal and provide the reassurance that what you’re drinking is what you wanted. While appellations generally refer to wine, let’s look at it more broadly, including spirits. A Scotch from the US, for example, wouldn’t cut it, nor would Bourbon from Scotland. Different ingredients, recipes and distillation processes. Different origins.

What about cognac vs. brandy? Simple — all cognac is brandy. But, not all brandy is cognac. Brandy can only be labeled as cognac if it is produced in the designated growing areas in the Charentes region of France. To me, the cognac appellation means that the product has heritage, provenance and a unique production process behind it.

Okay, how about Tequila? All Tequilas are Mezcals, but not all Mezcals are Tequilas. Tequila must be made from at least 51% Blue Agave and come from the tequila region of Mexico. Anything less, or outside of the tequila region is known as a Mezcal.

Which brings me to Champagne vs. sparkling wine.

Robert Klara from Adweek interviewed me last month about an ad from the Champagne Bureau USA. You can find the article here.

The champagne people, in an effort to recapture lost ground to such sparkling wine products as Prosecco, Cava, Moscato, Sekt and of course, California Sparkling Wine, have run an ad letting consumers know that only Champagne comes from France. Leaving aside the silliness of the ad’s execution, I believe they simply don’t get the consumer’s interest in bubbly wine regardless of the appellation.

They have reason to be concerned. Sparkling wine as a category outsells Champagne by more than 10 to 1, and has grown much faster over the last …

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Bartender Forecasts

New York magazine’s Fall Preview issue has predictions about what some NYC bartenders/mixologists think are the most promising drink trends for the fall.

It’s been some time since “behind the bar experts” have taken me to task for a blog posting (and I kind of miss being yelled at), so, here are their predictions.

Let me know what you think (he said with trepidation).

The first prediction mentioned is that mezcal will “break through.” Frankly, I’ve been predicting that myself for a number of years. While I’m not an aficionado of tequila or mezcal, the latter has a small batch product quality not to mention allure and mystique – and the worm BS is not what I’m talking about.

Unfortunately, for Mezcal to break through it will take some clout and marketing support that most producers don’t have. Nevertheless, I continue to think it will grow.

My take: I agree with the forecast.

The second prediction is that cognac will become a cocktail ingredient. The magazine argues that the ceremonial “from the bottle” drinking patterns of rappers and hedge fund types will give way to its use in mixed drinks.…

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