Mezcal struggles not to be a victim of its success

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Faced with the boom, master mezcaleros who have dedicated their lives to distillation, are committed to saving wild species by planting them. Also, educating the consumer to value craft production.

Just by seeing them, Sósima Olivera knows how to distinguish one maguey from another and the precise moment when the plant will be ready to make mezcal, the Mexican liquor that is experiencing a boom and at the same time the risks of overexploitation.

“The bottle (of mezcal) is the summary of everything we have done for years,” says Sósima while touring a field in Sola de Vega (Oaxaca state, south), where they grow wild and varieties such as tepeztate, arroqueño, sprat or coyote.

Faced with the boom, master mezcaleros like this 50-year-old woman, who has dedicated her life to distillation, are committed to saving wild species by planting them. Also, educating the consumer to value craft production.


From being drunk only in small Mexican communities, mezcal is now increasingly present in the world. Its exports skyrocketed from $19.7 million in 2015 to $62.9 million in 2020, according to official figures.

The United States, Canada, Spain, France, and Germany are among the largest consumers of this drink, which is produced in various states of Mexico, but which has its largest representative in Oaxaca.

In addition, countless brands have emerged with names that in some cases amusingly allude to the effects of consumption: “Convite”, “Old Indecent”, “Perde Almas” or “Mil Diablos”.

Some celebrities have also released their own mezcal, such as Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, stars of the television series Breaking Bad who are behind “Dos Hombres.”

However, Sósima, who leads a group of producers, warns about the risks generated by the strong demand.

“If more plant is requested, of course, there is more exploitation of the land (…), of biodiversity, water, firewood,” he told AFP in front of the clay pots where it is distilled, among others, their mezcal “Fane Kantsini” (three hummingbirds in Chontal, their indigenous language).

Without maguey there is no mezcal

Although they have similar manufacturing methods, tequila is produced with blue maguey, or blue agave, in the western state of Jalisco; Mezcal, which, like its relative, has a denomination of origin, uses different types of agave and its artisanal production takes longer.

Some of these plants take 13 to 15 years to mature, such as the maguey arroqueño, or up to 17 in the case of the maguey tepeztate.

For this reason, producers such as Graciela Ángeles, creator of “Real Minero”, warn about the need to preserve these varieties in the face of current “overexploitation”.

“What is going to happen to biological diversity? There are very few efforts to conserve these species, with this spread,” questions the 43-year-old woman, while the sweet smell of cooked maguey fills her palenque, as the sites of production. “Without maguey there is no mezcal.”

Graciela grows multiple varieties and preserves the seeds to ensure the sustainability of the process. she even warns that there are plants that he may not see and that his children will have to harvest.

In the family nursery, she shows some magueyes at a very early stage, barely centimeters long, which make it seem incredible that one day they will become mezcal.

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At that point, the complex production of the liquor begins, which depends largely on the sense of smell and talent of the master.

But faced with the arrival of large capital in the industry, many palenques simply do assembly work for the biggest brands, warns Graciela.

“Most of the brands are maquilas, they are products that are bought from different producers, in different communities, which are homogenized and packaged in order to have the volume,” he says.

On average, a 750-ml bottle of artisanal mezcal costs about $40 in Oaxaca, although some exceed $100.

Flavors to fall in love with

In contrast to this business logic, the Sósima y Ángeles mezcal is the result of a painstaking process that spans several generations.

“Small producers will always exist in the towns; conscious producers who know that we have to plant a certain amount of plants, distill a certain amount. There is a balance in life,” reflects Sósima.

To showcase the particular flavors and aromas of their products, both teachers organize tastings and educate consumers.

“What’s behind mezcal is something I learned after falling in love with the flavor and the effect,” says Australian tourist Christopher Govers at a crowded mezcal fair in Oaxaca.

“The history and culture then helps and connects with the flavor and effect,” he adds. Behind him, amid the hubbub of the party, two men stagger past.

DURANGO, SECOND lARGEST PRODUCER OF MEZCAL

The president of the Mezcal Cluster commented that various actions have been undertaken for the benefit of the 27 entrepreneurs, who generate more than 2,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Through the Mezcal Cluster, it is intended to position Durango as one of the entities with the highest production of this drink, declared Eduardo Solís Nogueira, the new president of the organization, who commented that they are currently in second place in the country with a production almost 90 thousand liters per year.

During the interview with the new president of the Mezcal Cluster, he said that every year they register a growth in the production of mezcal, since last year 60,000 liters were obtained and this time they added 30,000 more liters.

The president of the Mezcal Cluster commented that various actions have been undertaken for the benefit of the 27 entrepreneurs who together generate more than 2,000 direct and indirect jobs.

He indicated that they recently signed an agreement with the Polytechnic Institute, with the purpose of generating the maguey seedling that provides them with greater production of mezcal, they will now have a nursery so as not to depend on the wild plant.

Another of the actions that he commented on for EL Sol de Durango, was to present an initiative in the coming days to prevent the export of maguey to other states such as Jalisco, and it cannot be used by local producers.

Solís Nogueira commented that mezcal producers will continue to grow, they will be supported to achieve certifications both with the Ministry of Finance and with health institutions, that is, adhere to all the NOMs that are necessary, today 18 all 27 are already certified.

We want our product to be of high quality and to provide consumers who are going to drink a healthy product, so much so that some businessmen are already exporting their products to the United States, Japan, and Austria, however, the goal is to continue growing in the local, national and international market.

The sale of mezcal from Durango not only has to be promoted in restaurants, expressed the new president of the Mezcal Cluster, Eduardo Solís Nogueira, who declared that they will go further; They will be placing it in hotels, stores and cabins, so they will be in dialogue with the municipal president Jorge Salum del Palacio.

He commented that taking mezcal to restaurants is a very good option to be able to promote it among local consumers, however, we have to promote it more strongly, so that national and foreign visitors know the product and it can be marketed in a larger market.

He said that about 14 local companies are already exporting mezcal abroad and it has been very well received in countries such as Japan, the United States, and Austria, managing to position itself as the second largest producer of this drink at the national level, well below Oaxaca.

He expressed the importance of the municipal government being able to support this business sector, as it is a very important source of jobs, as 2,000 are currently achieved directly and indirectly.

In Durango, there are about 40 brands of mezcal and it is one of the nine states with a denomination of origin and participates centrally in the national annual production of more than 3 million liters -of which only 2 thousand are exported-; Given this scenario, the goal is to open borders and the mezcaleros were present in Frankfurt, Germany, from where it is envisaged to open the European market, so it is urgent to support the certifications to trigger this primary economic activity.

Dr. Adriana Carvajal Romero and the research professor at the Technological Institute of Durango (ITD) Víctor Campa Mendoza, took this original drink -called the nectar of the gods- to the 2019 International Book Fair in Frankfurt, Germany, where they presented the books “El Agave Mezcal de Durango” and “Dramatized Readings; the Nectar of the Gods”, in order to open the knowledge of this original drink to the European continent.

The mezcal-producing units in Durango are classified in traditional or artisanal technology, known as “vinatas” and the raw material is the species of agaves from Duranguenses, Angustiofila, and Maximiliana, particularly in the municipalities of Nombre de Dios, Mezquital, Suchil and Durango with wild populations, explains Campa Mendoza, who points out that our entity is one of the nine producers of mezcal with nomination of origin due to the large number of vinatas produced by this traditional drink, which has resulted in the generation of an excellent quality mezcal for its consumption. tasting and sale at the local and national levels.

Carvajal Romero and Campa Mendoza, attended the International Book Fair in Frankfurt, Germany, last October, where in addition to the presentation of the books on Durango mezcal, a stand was set up in the gourmet section of said event and in where the international attendees tasted the Duranguense mezcal that was offered and that was referred to by attendees as “another Mexican cognac”.

The mezcal drink, they added, is practically unknown in Europe, and with this demonstration its potential was proven given the great acceptance it had in terms of its flavor and quality.

Eight mezcal brands from Durango participated in this fair: Masada, Doña Natalia, Bendita Tentación, Malpais, Mares, Chipilón, Julik, La Majadera and Madre Tierra, and reported that the one from Durango was one of the most visited stands and that the most attracted the attention for its color and presentation.

Subsequently, this delegation from Durango had a presentation on October 24 in Rome, Italy, at the Mexican embassy of that nation and the books on mezcal by the author Víctor Campa Mendoza were also presented. There, the Mexican ambassador, Carlos E. García de Alba, in his presentation, made an explanation about the history of Durango as well as the properties of Duranguense mezcal, showing himself to be knowledgeable about our roots.

The Mexican ambassador to the Vatican, Alberto Barranco Chavarría, also participated.

Mexico Daily Post