fbpx
Created by potrace 1.12, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2015

We're just loading our login box for you, hang on!

Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Mezcal

Introducing some awesome agave spirits!

From the sudden influx of celebrities promoting their own mezcal to international celebrations of the spirit, it looks like the agave-themed fun just doesn’t stop! We’re carrying on the fun…

From the sudden influx of celebrities promoting their own mezcal to international celebrations of the spirit, it looks like the agave-themed fun just doesn’t stop! We’re carrying on the fun from last week’s London Mezcal Week, while across the pond in the big ol’ USA they’re celebrating National Tequila Day on 24 July.

In light of such festivities, we’ve done exactly what any reasonable folk would do and gathered up nine amazing agave spirits, for your perusal. Put that salt and lime away, these are some tip-top tipples right here.

 

Casamigos Añejo

An Añejo Tequila from Casamigos, a brand founded by some familiar faces, chiefly George Clooney. If you were thinking of another George Clooney, let us just clarify that it is indeed 1997 Batman George Clooney. Funnily enough, Casamigos was never actually intended to be released to the public and was enjoyed solely with friends and family for years, hence the meaning of the name, ‘house of friends’. Luckily for us, Clooney & Co. released it to the world for us to enjoy! Everything about this Tequila takes its sweet time; the Highland agave goes through an 80-hour fermentation process, and is then roasted in traditional brick ovens for 72 long hours, a smashing 10 times longer than average. The spirit is finally aged for 14 months in American white oak, adding those lovely creamy notes to the fresh agave flavours.

What does it taste like?

Roasted cacao and runny caramel balanced by more vegetal notes of agave, with sweet spice and toasty oak on the finish.

El Espolòn Reposado

Produced by Destilladora San Nicholas in Los Atlos, this well spiced Tequila is packed full of rock’n’roll (literally – the factory workers played rock music to inspire the Blue Weber agave). Starting life off as blanco, it rests between 3-5 months in new American oak barrels, gaining a more complex character and a unique, slightly charred flavour.
Inspired by the powerful symbol of pride, the rooster, the brand celebrates Mexican culture. Charmingly called Ramón, the rooster features on every label to tell a different unique story of Tequila. The labels pay tribute to José Guadalupe Posada, an artist, printmaker and rebel most famous for the calavera (skulls) that feature alongside the rooster. The combination is a commentary on social injustices in Mexico, to give the people a voice, and influence today’s pop culture.

What does it taste like?

Earthy roasted agave notes, with a touch of treacle, vanilla pod and fragrant oak influence, with a finish of tropical fruit, namely a lingering note of tangy pineapple.

El Rayo Reposado

El Rayo Tequila is something of a first, blending agave harvested from both Highland and Lowland regions in one bottle! The brand was created a world away from Mexico in the heart of Peckham, by childhood friends Tom Bishop and Jack Vereker. El Rayo translates as ‘the lightning’, after a tale in Mexican folklore which recounts a Blue Weber agave plant being struck by lightning, a phenomenon you can see depicted on the bottle label. Villagers discovered the now-cooked agave, and consequently, Tequila as well! Made up of 70% Highland and 30% Lowland agave, the Reposado has been rested for seven months in barrels which previously housed whisky. The ethos behind El Rayo couldn’t be further from the salt and lime rituals that somewhat plague the spirit. Its signature serve is the Tequila & Tonic, or rather more catchily, the T&T, with a wedge of pink grapefruit. Try it; you won’t be disappointed.

What does it taste like?

Orange oil and orange zest, subtle smoke and oak spice leading into gently salted caramel, toasted almond and hallmark roasted agave notes.

Pensador Mezcal

Produced in Southern Oaxaca, Pensador Mezcal is crafted using methods dating all the way back to the 16th century by Don Atenogenes Garcia and his family. The palenque is located on the Calle Pensamientos, which translates to ‘Thoughts Road’, while the name Pensador also translates to ‘thinker’. The mezcal is made from two species of agave, Espadín and Madrecuishe, both widely cultivated throughout Mexico due to their high sugar content. The piñas are baked in a stone pit for six days before they’re crushed by a traditional tahona wheel. From field to bottle, each batch of Pensador takes around three months, so it’s little surprise that another interpretation of the name means ‘slowness of time’. We reckon the same principle should apply when drinking it; one to sip slowly and savour the smoky goodness.

What does it taste like?

Wood smoke and a dash of citrus peel, with barbecued stone fruit, black pepper and chilli spice, earthy mineral notes with a touch of lychee on the finish.

Mezcal Unión Uno

Mezcal Unión was founded in order to protect traditional mezcal production and benefit the families all around Mexico that are producing the smoky spirit. Indeed, it is a union of sorts, uniting various palenques around Oaxaca while supporting both environmental and social sustainability. Mezcal Unión Uno, a joven expression, is made with Espadín and wild Cirial agave, some of which are at the ripe old age of 20 years old when harvested. After they’re crushed with a traditional tahona wheel pulled by a mule, they go through a double distillation before bottling. This here is a mezcal with a mission, and we’re all for it.

What does it taste like?

Sweet tropical lychee and delicate floral notes, with earthy vanilla, a good helping of smoke and grassy notes, a tang of citrus on the finish.

QuiQuiRiQui Matatlán Mezcal

This smoky tipple is made in Matatlán, known as the ‘World Capital of Mezcal’. That’s a fabulous start right there. Even better, it has a particularly fun name, QuiQuiRiQui! Try saying that five times fast. This unaged joven expression is produced using Lowland Espadín agave, and is double distilled in the village of Santiago de Matatlán in rather small batches of 1,000 litres. If you were wondering about the name, it’s pronounced kee-kee-ree-kee, inspired by the sound of a rooster, one of which you can spot on the label.

What does it taste like?

Smoky to start, with rich cocoa and sweetly vegetal bell pepper, fresh grass, ripe apricot, and sweet baking spice fading into drying smoked black pepper lingering on the finish.

Patrón Silver

From what could well be one of the most famous houses in Mexico, Patrón Silver Tequila is something of a cult classic. It’s made exclusively from 100% Blue Weber agave, over at the Hacienda Patrón distillery. The agave is crushed using a combination of both traditional tahona wheel as well as more modern rollers. Bottled by hand, each glass vessel is signed and individually numbered, complete with Portuguese cork stopper. This is certainly one to try out all those Tequila-based cocktails you’ve been meaning to experiment with.

What does it taste like?

Lovely agave freshness, with buttery caramel, gently spiced with nutmeg and pepper, with lively citrus on the finish.

Mezcal Verde

From Verde Momento comes Mezcal Verde, a true celebration of all things Mexico, with the artisanal mezcal made with Oaxacan Espadín agave. The piñas are baked for five days in an underground oven using ocote, holm oak, and peppertree, giving its smoky profile a very distinctive flavour. Verde Momento means ‘green moment, and the brand is tackling reforestation, with 10 new agaves planted for every one that is harvested. The funky label artwork features work from Mexican artists, with each batch sporting a completely different design. We know you’re not meant to judge a book by its cover, but when they look that good, what’s not to like?! Not to mention, the liquid inside is top-notch, too.

What does it taste like?

A slightly creamy, nutty note, with dried fruit, peach and sweet grass alongside all those expected smoky notes.

Montelobos Joven Mezcal

Montelobos Joven was created by biologist Dr. Iván Saldaña. That’s a good start, having studied plants, but Saldaña knew nothing about how to produce the Mexican spirit. He sought help from fifth generation mezcalero, Don Abel Lopez, and the duo have been smashing it ever since. Organic Espadín agave are harvested and roasted for around one week in a volcanic stone pit. In a pledge for sustainability, Montelobos has committed to never using wild agave in its mezcal. What’s more, in keeping with age-old tradition, Lopez throws chilli peppers into the fire when roasting the agave, because this is said to ward off evil spirits. Montelobos translates to ‘mountain of wolves’, so we reckon that explains the rather fierce looking fella on the handsome square bottle!

What does it taste like?

Loads of fruity sweetness, with pineapple and mango, lemon zest, a distinctive minerality, rosemary and a good hit of smoke remaining long after the last sip.

No Comments on Introducing some awesome agave spirits!

Cocktail of the Week: The Piña Fumada

Take it from us, The Piña Fumada is the smoky summer tipple you didn’t know you needed. We chat with Thea Cumming, co-founder of London Mezcal Week, which returns for a…

Take it from us, The Piña Fumada is the smoky summer tipple you didn’t know you needed. We chat with Thea Cumming, co-founder of London Mezcal Week, which returns for a third year this week with one of the largest collections of agave spirits in Europe…

London Mezcal Week was set up by – and they won’t mind us saying this – two of the UK’s most dedicated and knowledgeable mezcal enthusiasts, Thea Cumming and Melanie Symonds. Their aim? To support and celebrate agave spirits across the board, working with traditional producers to bring authentic brands and industry experts to the capital.

Spanning an impressive line-up of supper clubs, bar takeovers, seminars, tastings and cocktail masterclasses, this year’s London Mezcal Week will culminate in a two-day Mezcal Tasting Festival this Friday and Saturday, featuring more than 60 agave spirits – including mezcal, Tequila, sotol, bacanora and raicilla – across 35-plus brands.

TT Liquor in London

TT Liquor in London

The mezcal category has transformed since Cumming and Symonds launched the event. Never-before-seen mezcal styles are being introduced the UK all the time – including Cumming’s own brand, Dangerous Don, which sees mezcal infused with coffee and redistilled – and new trends are unfolding, too. “There are certainly more interesting blended agave spirits,” says Cumming, who points to Pensador, a blend of madre-cuishe and espadin agave.

“There has also been a bit of a change in perception which has meant that more people are willing to try mezcal,” she continues. “However, this doesn’t come without its own challenges – we need to make sure that [bar operators] look into the brand ethos and background and ask the right questions rather than go for the cheapest option.”

Our drink of choice to toast London Mezcal Week is none other than The Piña Fumada, which combines mezcal, pineapple, lemon, velvet falernum and grapefruit and rosemary tonic water to form a lip-smacking summer sipper. The cocktail was created by TT Liquor in collaboration with Andrea Brulatti, UK brand ambassador for London Essence, for a masterclass led by none other than Santiago Lastra.

Through a series of paired small plates, the man behind the launch of Noma Mexico and forthcoming restaurant Kol sought to celebrate the relationship between Mexican cooking and mezcal: think Scottish scallops ceviche with pink mole, cured lamb leg tostada with kombucha and guajillo mayo.

The Piña Fumada

The Piña Fumada is all its smoky glory

“Mexican cuisine is all about powerful flavours and amazing ingredients,” Cumming explains. “Mexico is graced with immense biodiversity meaning the food is even more immense in flavour and variety.” As such, the same is true for mezcal production. “Terroir is a major influence in the taste of a mezcal,” Cumming continues. “Techniques vary from state to state and each mezcalero has his own secrets which have been passed down through generations. The relationship between mezcal and food is rooted in the earth – the very heart of what makes Mexico such a magical country.”

There are more than 50 different varieties of agave that can be used to produce mezcal. The flavour is further shaped by the region within which the plant grows, the altitude it grows at, and the conditions of the specific year it starts growing, says Cumming.

“Production techniques will vary, natural yeasts will be different from one area to another and of course the master mezcalero will each have a different hand,” she says. “This means the versatility of mezcal is limitless. Each one tastes so different, which means it needs to be treated in a totally different way

An exhilarating prospect for the capital’s bartenders, who have been busy experimenting with the spirit in all manner of serves, from classics to new creations. Which brings us rather nicely to The Pina Fumada, a twist on the Colada that comes highly recommended by those in the know. The flavours are “a match made in heaven”, says Cummings, “I would highly recommend everyone to give it a go”. Here’s what you’ll need…

Ingredients:

30ml QuiQuiRiQui Matatlan Mezcal
15ml Taylor’s Velvet Falernum
15ml lemon juice
35ml pineapple juice
London Essence Grapefruit and Rosemary tonic water to top

Shake first four ingredients hard and strain into an ice-filled highball. Top with London Essence Grapefruit and Rosemary tonic water, and garnish with a pineapple spear.

Keen to get involved in the festivities this week? You’re in luck – Cumming has very kindly created a 10% discount code for all MoM readers. All you need to do is enter ‘MOMLOVESMEZCAL’ when purchasing a ticket. Click here for a taste of the action (and a run-down of the weeks’ events)…

No Comments on Cocktail of the Week: The Piña Fumada

Five minutes with agave guru Björn Kjellberg 

It’s London Mezcal Week, so today we have an agave double bill. First an interview with Björn Kjellberg, a Swede who fell in love with agave and now runs distillery…

It’s London Mezcal Week, so today we have an agave double bill. First an interview with Björn Kjellberg, a Swede who fell in love with agave and now runs distillery tours of Mexico. Then this afternoon, we’ll be mixing up some mezcal for our Cocktail of the Week.

You can’t miss Björn Kjellberg. He’s a tall pale Swede with a shaved head and Mexican-style tattoos all over his body. We met him back in May at the EBS conference held at a villa up in the hills above Sitges in Catalonia. This is the annual gathering of teachers from all the European Bartenders Schools around the world. It’s a bit like Highlander, only with cocktails. As you might expect, when nearly 100 bartenders mostly under 30 meet in a town famous for its nightlife, there were some late nights involved. But the EBS crew were as into learning as partying, and despite some bleary eyes, everyone listened intently as big names from the drinks industry like John Quinn from Tullamore Dew and Ludo Ducrocq, formerly with William Grant & Sons, now with Glenmorangie, gave presentations. Even among such drinks luminaries, Kjellberg’s talk on agave was a highlight of our visit. He’s so immersed in mezcal  and Mexican culture that his typically excellent Swedish English sometimes came out with a Spanish inflexion. So who better to explain all things agave during London Mezcal Week.  

Kjellberg in Mexico, note traditional fire pit for cooking agave in the background

Master of Malt: How did you get involved with EBS?

Björn Kjellberg: I started working as a bartender at the nightclub back in January 2002. And it just kept rolling. I started a bartending school with a friend in 2006 and ran that for about seven years. Today I spent most of time looking after the Tequila brand Altos in Sweden and soon also the mezcal brand Del Maguey. I began working with EBS in 2013. I got invited to host a full day education on Tequila, mezcal and agave as well as some cocktail inspiration for the Teacher Academy and Advanced Bartending programs they ran in Stockholm then. One thing led to another and some years later I got the opportunity to be part of the EBS Board of Education to push the school further and to take lead as, not only the largest bartender school in the world, but also the premier one.

MoM: Can you remember your first bottle of mezcal?

BK: I am pretty certain it was Recuerdo de Oaxaca or maybe, El Señorio back in 2006. The old original bottlings before Casa Armando took over the production. Not saying they ruined it or anything, but it was a whole other beast back then. I later became good friends with Vincente Reyes who founded the brands and he was the one who guided me in Oaxaca the first time and lay the foundation of the deeper understanding and appreciation of this culture.

MoM: When did you first go to Mexico?

BK: In 2010, I spent about a week in Jalisco visiting six or seven producers and then a few days in Oaxaca for another three or four visits.

Agave plants which are destined for mezcal

MoM: What is it that makes mezcal so special for you?

BK: It is still alive! Not saying all other spirits are dead or too industrialised, but mezcal really is more alive. The only other spirit that comes close, as I see it, is Haitian clairin. Say Scottish whisky, as an example, it is important for the people in the communities and it is important for the identity of Scotland and so on. But it is not about life, it is not about death. It has to some extent lost its deeper roots and connection to it origin, to its ancestors and its indigenous role. Then, of course, we have the agave. No other crop in the world of spirits is so unique and extraordinary as the agave. People have been using it for food and for textiles, drinks, fuel and even shelter for more than 9000 years. It is embedded in ancient folklore, myth, religion and culture. With agave we are preserving ancient cultures and traditions. Each bottle of family-produced mezcal actually matters to someone. There is a real person and a family behind, and for them a little means a lot. I would love to recommend everyone with the slightest interest in spirits, culture or Mexico to watch the beautiful documentary Agave is Life by Meredith Dreiss and David Brown of Archero Productions. It gives gives you a deeper understanding why agave is important.

MoM: Are you happy with the new designation system (good explanation here) for mezcal?

BK: Very! As a rare thing they put people in charge who actually listened to the smaller producers and looked at production from a craft and tradition perspective first when stipulating these new rules and regulations. Also, I think they made it really fair even for the bigger producers who have chosen a more industrial way of reaching growth. Is it made from agave? Is everything made within the borders of the designated area? Good! Then we have a mezcal. Then if you choose more ancient or crafted methods of production you may add that to the name. Brilliant! More spirits categories should look at this.

MoM: Do you think mezcal is challenging for consumers? Do you think it will ever be mainstream?

BK: Yes, of course. Just look at the journey we made the last ten years. I never think mezcal will be as rum, vodka or gin, but it for sure will become normalised. This is also why it is so important with education and showing all parts of the mezcal industry and world. To allow growth and new influences without diminishing the traditions. I am pretty sure both modern and traditional mezcals can live side by side and that both will prosper from each other.

Bjorn Kjellberg

Kjellberg in his natural habitat, drinking mezcal

MoM: Do you have a favourite mezcal bar? 

BK: In Mexico I say Mezcalogia in Oaxaca and La Clandestina in Mexico City. Outside I would go for The Barking Dog in Copenhagen. Even though it is not a pure Mezcaleria they always carry a great assortment that is always on the move and also care a lot about each bottle. Then I have to mention La Punta in Rome as well. Great bar by great people.

MoM: Do you have any tips for people wanting to go on a mezcal tour? 

BK: It is always tricky, since a lot of people these days are going to Mexico, I always get the questions for recommendation for cool palenques (small artisanal distilleries) to visit. I can, but you will never find your way there. Not that they are secret or anything, it is just that most of them are located in such remote places and that this is not an industry as Tequila is where a lot of producers have organized tours or a visitor center or such. For a lot of visits, you need someone on the inside. This is one reason why I have been organising and putting together educational trips to both Jalisco and Oaxaca. To give more people the chance to see and get to know what I care about the most in the world. Other recommendations if you happen to be in Oaxaca is to swing by the bar Mezcalogia and talk to the staff there and they can hook you up. The family who owns the bar produces some of the finest mezcal I have ever tried and know pretty much everyone.There are also tours you can take and buy tickets for on the streets, and if you drive to Santiago Matatlán there are plenty of palenques to visit.

MoM: What’s your favourite mezcal cocktail?

BK: Funny, that this is the hardest question here. Since there really are no classic mezcal cocktails, most are signature drinks from a bar or bartender or contemporary riffs on classics. But I would have to say either a mezcal Negroni (equal parts) with a Jamaican style dark rum float (brand of choice for me is Smith & Cross), or something light fresh with tropical fruits like pineapple or mango. In general, I think mezcal is at its very best in cocktails when it acts more as a modifier than as a base. It only takes a little to do a lot.

MoM: And finally, when did you get your first Mexican tattoo?

BK: The first with a pure Mexican motif is a day of the dead sugar skull I had done in 2008. Then I also have part of a drawing by the Mexican painter José Posada and an agave behind my left ear. Then again, pretty much half of what I got are Latin American Catholic motifs, so I guess I got a lot of Mexico-relatable stuff. This comes even before mezcal found me. It was meant to be!

 

No Comments on Five minutes with agave guru Björn Kjellberg 

Terroir in spirits: the myths and the marketing

Nate Brown says that the word ‘terroir’ is becoming increasingly meaningless as producers and marketers deploy it to describe a whole range of inappropriate products. It’s time we stopped using…

Nate Brown says that the word ‘terroir’ is becoming increasingly meaningless as producers and marketers deploy it to describe a whole range of inappropriate products. It’s time we stopped using it.

Terroir is like quantum mechanics. Nobody can fully understand or explain it, though we are all aware of its existence. And much like the refusal of a quantum particle to be independently measured, as soon as I hear the word terroir in spirits, I know it isn’t at play. It vanishes at the sound of its name, like the opposite of Beetlejuice.

But for the purposes of this article, I’ll offer my own interpretation. Terroir is the flavour imparted by the idiosyncrasies of the location of its production. It’s a word owned by the wine world. It speaks not only of microclimates, polycultures, soils and sunlight, but also of tradition, culture, history and identity. Terroir is introspective. Terroir is retrospective. 

All very lofty. Perhaps I should explain what terroir is not. Terroir is not foraged local botanicals thrown in with sourced imports. Terroir is not a meaningless buzz-word employed by uncreative creatives. Terroir is not synonymous with small batch. Or ethos. Or foraged. Or local. Or mountainside. Or handmade.

Grace O’ Reilly from Waterford in Ireland

“The terroir, [is not] the process and the people ensure passion, innovation and tradition are poured into every bottle of Caorunn Gin”, according to a certain master distiller. There. I fixed it. 

Just for the record, claiming terroir in gin is pretty much always nonsense. Chances of you growing your own source material, fermenting it with wild yeast, then undoing all that hard work by distilling to 96%+ ABV, before sourcing juniper form Macedonia and orange peel from Seville pretty much makes a mockery of your idea of terroir. Because let’s face it, you’ve bought in your spirit, and your handful of locally-foraged botanicals aren’t going to cut it.

Similarly, rum has little claim to the word. I shan’t argue that some distilleries display characteristic styles, but where does the molasses come from? Some may be local. Most of it is shipped in bulk from Guyana. A rum company that imports spirit from a plethora of islands, making no reference to the molasses source, and part ages the product in Europe in French oak, should not be using the term terroir, grand or otherwise. 

As for whisky? Not likely. The overwhelming majority of Scotch produced uses barley from outside Scotland. There are those, like the chaps at Bruichladdich who source individual fields grown by local farmers, and as these ferment there’s a case for terroir. But if the distillation wasn’t destructive enough, the distillate is then aged in mostly American casks, or ex-sherry butts, all of which are most likely made from quercus alba, which isn’t even grown on this continent. Don’t tell me there’s terroir after all of that. 

That’s why vodka can probably use the term. There’s so little of anything else, that if the source starch is from a unique place, then its shadow grows long and reaches the bottle. Vestal does this well with some niche expressions made from individual potato varieties. Belvedere does it too. The other 99.9999% of vodka does not. As for Tequila & mezcal? Well, OK, maybe they have a claim, the blancos at least. 

Terroir can exist in spirits, barely, like fading colours of a painting left in decades of the afternoon sun, but until the likes of Waterford start delivering it in whiskey, it just doesn’t yet.

Not that any of that matters. It doesn’t take a genius (or a well-funded PR campaign) to see that a change in the source material will indeed change the resulting product. Stills aren’t that efficient (thank goodness or we’d all be drinking vanilla flavoured vodka). But, terroir exists in wine because there we have fermentation, followed perhaps by some subtle ageing, (and the low ABV of the ferment minimises cask influence) followed by bottling. Sure, there may be some filtration and other manipulations, but in a good wine there should be no greater influence than the grapes and the fermentation, without distillation to eviscerate terroir’s legacy. 

Nate Brown

Nate Brown in action behind the bar

So yes, talk about local provenance, sure. Incorporate your heritage and your surroundings by all means, but don’t use terroir. Try ‘sense of place’. Or ‘parochial’. Wouldn’t parochial spirits be a nicer term to band around? Because we really have to draw the line at a terroir-inspired (glass, blue highlighted) bottle design. Give me a break. 

I personally believe that terroir in spirits is possible, but I cannot reconcile this scale and commercialisation. I can fantasise about a poitin maker in the hills of Galway, growing his own grains and spuds for his tea, putting a bushel aside to ferment with wild yeasts, a rough, basic single distillation to ‘up the burn’ to ‘make something worth drinking, boy’, all done on a homemade still made from scrap parts and an old bucket. This is how his Daddy did it. And his Daddy before him. This is how he’ll teach his nephew to do it. This is terroir, it’ll be found in the place where the word has never been mentioned. See? It’s quantum. 

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

 

3 Comments on Terroir in spirits: the myths and the marketing

Five things you should know about agave

You’ve probably sipped on fermented and distilled agave sap in the form of Tequila and mezcal – perhaps even drizzled the syrup over your porridge as a honey alternative –…

You’ve probably sipped on fermented and distilled agave sap in the form of Tequila and mezcal – perhaps even drizzled the syrup over your porridge as a honey alternative – but how much do you really know about Mexico’s most beloved plant? MoM became acquainted at The Ginstitute’s Agave Sessions masterclass in London, hosted in partnership with Herradura Tequila…

Hands up, how often do you give thought to the raw ingredients that make up your favourite boozes? Our guess is, not too often. Understandably you’re probably more interested in the finished product, and hey – who can blame you?

For spirits holding a Denomination of Origin – which can only be made in a designated region, since their distinct characteristics are the product of their geographical environment – the plants they are produced from have a special significance and history, and this is especially true of Tequila, and, in turn, agave.

We headed to Notting Hill for an in-depth masterclass covering agave history, heritage and craft, nibbling tacos, sipping cocktails, and tasting our way through some of Mexico’s spirited creations. Here are a few things we learned along the way…

agave

You’ve presumably tasted a drink made from agave, but how much do you know about it?

#1: Agave is a type of lily

It may closely resemble a cactus, but the agave plant, also known as maguey, is actually a member of the lily family. It’s a pretty versatile, hardy crop, dating back to pre-Columbian Mexico. Back in 1650, Spanish priest and naturalist Friar Francisco Jiménez said the “plant alone would be sufficient to provide all things necessary for human life”, and could be used to make all manner of items from sandals to razors and even a tincture for bandaging fresh wounds.

#2 The plant has babies called pups

Agave takes around 10 or 15 years to flower, producing a large stem that shoots up several metres into the sky, known as a quiote. The flower is the largest produced by any plant in the world, and requires a fair bit of energy (read: sugar) to grow, so farmers cut the stalk off as it grows to make sure all that deliciousness stays in the piña. How, then, do they reproduce? Each agave produces around 18 genetically identical ‘pups’ around its base through the course of its life, which are connected by an umbilical root.

#3 Agave is the goth of the plant world

Agave is pretty self-sufficient and grows naturally with very little intervention. It’s one of just 10% of plants that performs photosynthesis at night time. While all those other mainstream sell-outs are busy using sunlight to grow, the agave uses the reflection of the sun on the moon. This gives it a pretty distinct advantage – there isn’t much water in the dry volcanic soil; using moonlight means the plant requires less water to grow.

agave

The Ginstitute’s Agave Sessions masterclass included some delightful cocktails

#4 They’re usually harvested at around eight years

Agave plants can take up to 10 years to reach maturity. While a handful of small growers will check each agave and harvest them individually when they’ve reached perfection – a time-consuming and expensive process – most do a ‘sweep harvest’ which is basically means ‘eh, most of them are ripe, let’s take them all’.

#5 There are more than 200 types of agave

The variety that goes in your Tommy’s Margarita is called Blue Weber, and there are strict rules that forbid Tequila producers from using other types of agave. That’s not to say you won’t find them in other agave-based sippers – you might’ve heard of Espadin, a large agave species, as well as Tobala, which, conversely, grows to around the size of a houseplant. The larger varieties can take decades to mature, some 10, 20 or even years. Some are very rich in sugars, which means the sap is very sweet, while others are far lower. Agave can be found growing everywhere, from vast, wild hilltops to cracks in the pavement.

Bonus fact: Mezcal is the name given to *all* spirits produced from agave. This means all Tequila is mezcal in very much the same way that all Cognac is brandy. There are several other Mexican spirits produced from agave that also fall under the umbrella of mezcal and these have protected regions too, such as Sotol, Bacanora and Raicilla.

Keen to expand your agave knowledge? The Agave Sessions event is held weekly on Saturday afternoons at The Ginstitute on Portobello Road, comprising a two-hour masterclass, four agave cocktails, an agave-based tasting, a selection of tacos, a 700ml bottle of Herradura Plata Tequila and a miniature barrel. Tickets are available to purchase here: www.agavesessions.com

5 Comments on Five things you should know about agave

Minor celebrity boozes

While we appreciate the George Clooneys and David Beckhams of this industry – and we do, honest – it’s only right to champion less famous celebs, shall we say, who are…

While we appreciate the George Clooneys and David Beckhamof this industry – and we do, honest – it’s only right to champion less famous celebs, shall we say, who are hustling hard on their own booze projects. Here, we present the alcohol brands of ten celebrities you’re more likely to find cutting a supermarket ribbon than walking the red carpet…

Celebrities come in all shapes and sizes. Not everyone is meant to be the most visible, the most talked-about, the highest-earning and the most powerful, there simply isn’t enough space. For every exclusive Ryan Reynolds press junket, we need an X Factor finalist to turn on Christmas lights in Stoke on Trent. C’est la vie.

Looking across TV hosts, soap actors, former pop stars and more, we’ve picked ten lesser-known celebrity faces who are dabbling – or have dabbled – in distilling, winemaking and brewing.

Neat Gin

It’s only Ian Beale!

Neat Gin

Who made it? Adam Woodyatt.

Remind us who he is again? You’ll know him better as Ian Beale from BBC soap opera EastEnders.

What’s the goss? The EastEnders legend launched Neat Gin with wife Beverley back in 2017. The London Dry-style sipper was inspired by a 15th-century recipe which listed botanicals but, crucially, no quantities. Eleven ingredients were refined to just eight, and Neat was born. He’s come a long way since Phil Mitchell flushed his head down the loo.

Graham Norton’s Own Pink Gin

Who made it? Graham Norton, unsurprisingly.

Remind us who he is again? An Irish television and radio presenter, comedian, actor, author, commentator, and the face of comedy chat show The Graham Norton Show.

What’s the goss? Norton has a wine label made by New Zealand producer Invivo, with whom he first teamed up with back in 2014. One Sauvignon Blanc, one rosé, one Shiraz and a Prosecco later, the TV host turned his hand to gin through a partnership with Ireland’s West Cork Distillers.

MMMhops

Mmmhops, you see what they did there?

Mmmhops

Who made it? Hanson.

Remind us who they are again? An American pop band best known for their hit single, Mmmbop. Geddit?

What’s the goss? Since brothers Isaac, Taylor, and Zac Hanson launched craft beer brand Hanson Brothers Beer back in 2013, they’ve created four flavourful brews – Mmmhops, Festive Ale, Redland Amber Ale and Tulsa Tea – plus a further two in collaboration with other breweries. The company’s strapline? Music + beer = awesome. Eh, we can’t argue with that.

Sven The Wine Collection

Who made it? Sven-Göran Eriksson.

Remind us who he is again? The Swedish football manager and former player who took England to the World Cup back in 2006.

What’s the goss? Back in 2014, Göran Eriksson unveiled Sven The Wine Collection, made by Italy’s Casa Girelli with indigenous grape varieties. His white bottling is a blend of Grillo and Fiano grapes, while the red in the collection features Nero d’Avola and Frappato. He released the collection across Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland – whether any bottles remain, we don’t know.

Tres Papalote Mezcal

Tres Papalote Mezcal

Tres Papalote Mezcal

Who made it? Cheech Marin.

Remind us who he is again? An American stand-up comedian and actor, best known as part of the comedy act Cheech & Chong.

What’s the goss? Marin is a partner and brand ambassador for Tres Papalote Mezcal, a three-strong range made from Wild Cupreata agave grown on the mountaintops of Guerrero, Mexico. If you’re wondering what he thinks about the smoky spirit, Marin is quoted as saying that mezcal is “like Tequila but with tattoos and piercings”. He’s not wrong.

Ver2 Vodka

Who made it? Shane Lynch.

Remind us who he is again? An Irish singer-songwriter, best known for his time in Boyzone. Apparently, he’s a professional drift driver now.

What’s the goss? Lynch joined forces with caffeine and guarana-infused vodka brand Ver2, which was marketed as ‘Great Britain’s first energy vodka’ – make of that what you will – before industry watchdogs the Portman Group threw the book at them. The brand’s Twitter feed seems to exist solely to retweet questionable political opinions these days, so we’re guessing Ver2 is no more.

 

Ringmaster General Shiraz 2010

Sweet dreams are made of these

Ringmaster General Shiraz 2010

Who made it? Dave Stewart

No seriously, who? He was one half of British pop duo Eurythmics (the other half being Annie Lennox)

What’s the goss? Stewart teamed up with McLaren Vale estate Mollydooker to launch Ringmaster General Shiraz 2010, named after his 2012 album release. The bottling is said to be a version of the Aussie winemakers’ Carnival of Love Shiraz 2010, which is barrel-fermented and matured in 100% new American oak. Suggested food pairing? Kangaroo, obviously.

Angel Alkaline Gin

Who made it? Steven Gerrard.

Remind us who he is again? Liverpool’s former central midfielder and now manager of Scottish Premiership club Rangers.

What’s the goss? The Gers gaffer is reportedly set to add a range of flavoured gins to his alkaline water brand, Angel Alkaline. Described as “a premium contemporary English gin lovingly handcrafted with our natural alkaline water and bottled in England”, the range is pipped to span watermelon, lemon, blueberry and lime flavours. The news only broke in May 2019, so watch this space.

This stout weighs in at 13%

Drew Curtis / Wil Wheaton / Greg Koch Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout

Who made it? Wil Wheaton.

No seriously, who? The American actor best known for portraying Wesley Crusher on TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

What’s the goss? Working with Stone Brewery co-founder Greg Koch and Fark.com creator Drew Curtis, Wil (only one ‘l’ for some reason) Wheaton created a speciality imperial stout made using pecans, wheat, flaked rye and bourbon barrels. A new edition of the 13% ABV bottling is released every year, complete with awesome illustrated label.

Garden Shed Gin

Rugby gin

Garden Shed Gin

Who made it? Ryan Grant,

No seriously, who? A retired British and Irish Lions rugby player.

What’s the goss? The former Scotland international rugby union player swapped rugby balls for botanicals, launching The Garden Shed Drinks Company back in 2017 in partnership with wife Maxine and fellow rugby player Ruaridh Jackson. As well as the London Dry-style Garden Shed Gin bottling, the Glasgow-based team also makes Côte-Rôtie gin, which is aged in a French wine barrel.

No Comments on Minor celebrity boozes

Bats, agave and mezcal: a love story

We headed over to Temper in Covent Garden for an outstandingly educational afternoon with Dr. Rodrigo Medellin, known as the Bat Man of Mexico, for a chat about bats and…

We headed over to Temper in Covent Garden for an outstandingly educational afternoon with Dr. Rodrigo Medellin, known as the Bat Man of Mexico, for a chat about bats and their synonymous relationship with agave plants.

Did you know that 80% of agave pollination is due to the humble bat? Dr. Rodrigo Medellin, a professor at the University of Mexico, has spent pretty much his whole life studying and protecting bats, hence his nickname. Born with a love of animals, his first word was “flamingo”. At the age of 12, he held his first bat and his fate was sealed: he was going to work with bats for the rest of his life. We were lucky enough to see him talk about his passion, and learnt a lot about a species that isn’t given much good press. Move over Bruce Wayne, here’s the real batman.

With a glass of mezcal in hand, Medellin began to explain how bats and agave plants are linked. The relationship goes back around 12 million years, but don’t worry, we won’t start all the way back then. Instead, we’ll begin in 1988 with the lesser long-nosed bat, which are found in Central America and were, at the time listed as endangered. Fast forward 30 years, and in a truly historic moment in 2018 they were the first mammal to be delisted! This was no cue to relax, it was now time to focus on the maintenance and conservation of the species.

Batman of Mexico

The Bat Man with a lesser long-nosed bat

When Medellin first started studying the largest colony of lesser long-nosed bats in northwest Mexico, he and his team realised that the area was completely barren. Not an agave in sight. The nearest sources of agave were at least 40 or 50km away. Too far, Medellin thought, for such a small bat to fly just to feed. In a great plot twist, they found out that the bats were flying 90km one way to feed from agave plants. Medellin showed us a picture of a bat after feeding, its whole body completely covered in pollen. So, when these bats are flying 90km each way to find food, of course they’re spreading this pollen around from agave to agave like nobody’s business.

Agave is used to make mezcal, and Blue Weber agave is specifically used to make Tequila. The plants take between six to eight years to grow, and only sexually reproduce once in their entire lifetime, during which they bloom a magnificently tall flower. Medellin compared it to “a humongous penis”, and this flower is what bats feed from. However, this process takes up a huge amount of sugar and energy from the plant, so agaves that are destined to make mezcal are harvested before it can take place. Instead of natural reproduction, agave farmers take clonal shoots from beneath the plant and replant those.

The problem with this is that there is no genetic diversity from all these cloned baby agaves. Farmed agave have not been allowed to bloom in over 150 years, and in 2014 it was discovered that 270 million agave plants were clones of just two original agaves. Yep, our jaws dropped too. This means that they all have the same genetic makeup, so should a disease come along (or even the effects of climate change) they would all be equally susceptible. That’s a pretty precarious situation.

Agave plants destined for mezcal

Medellin proposed a solution to recover the genetic diversity of the agave species and, importantly for him, to help conserve the bat population. If agave farmers allow just 5% of their agave harvest to bloom, that will feed 100 bats per hectare. These bats will then pollinate the agave, reviving the genetic diversity. Should the farmers do this, they will be able to claim their mezcal or Tequila as ‘bat friendly’, and will be able to display a special hologram on their bottles certifying this. So far, mezcal and Tequila brands Ocho, Tapatio, Siete Leguas, Siembra Valles Ancestral and Cascahuin have earnt the title. Clearly, it has been hugely popular, as every single bottle of bat friendly mezcal has sold out. At the moment, it’s impossible to get your hands on any!  

Medellin is also urging bars and other establishments to display this information around the bar, in menus, and to educate the bartenders. The key is to offer people a choice (when some bat friendly mezcal returns to the market!) to help support this crucial cause.

Behold, a very tall agave bloom waiting for bats

Mezcal is one of the very few alcohols that doesn’t rely on a monoculture. Beer? Fields of barley. Wine? Grapes of one species (vitis vinifera) as far as the eye can see. Cognac? More grapes! Even Tequila is made only with Blue Weber agave. Mezcal can be made from any one of over 200 agave species, and this bodes for far healthier and robust ecosystems. When we asked Medellin about his favourite mezcal, he answered that from his top 10 at least half of them he would never be able to try again, and that’s fine with him. “Dwell in diversity”, he said, “or mezcal will become the next Tequila.” What he means by this is that, when you try a brilliant small batch mezcal, you must enjoy it and move on. Whoever said that variety is the spice of life was really on to something.  

At the end, we asked Medellin what Master of Malt could do to help. He answered, “the industry is thirsty for information”, so if we can continue to convey the crucial role that bats play then awareness will only increase. The industry is also thirsty for Tequila, so spread the word, just like those lesser long-nosed bats spread that agave pollen! Seeing Medellin speak about his work was truly inspiring. He was passionate, informative and downright hilarious, and his cause is something that we can all get on board with.

1 Comment on Bats, agave and mezcal: a love story

Warming tipples for autumn evenings!

Join us as well celebrate all things autumn with a round-up of sensational seasonal spirits! Autumn is a season loved by many. It’s all about comfort food and drink. It’s…

Join us as well celebrate all things autumn with a round-up of sensational seasonal spirits!

Autumn is a season loved by many. It’s all about comfort food and drink. It’s a chance to make the most of the produce from the seasonal harvest. It’s the time to attend bonfire nights and Halloween parties. It’s the season when we welcome the darkening nights and browning leaves with a hearty tipple and, let’s face it, heaps of bloody pumpkin spice.

But what makes the perfect autumn drink? Summer refreshers and cocktails are now out of the question. But winter warmers aren’t the required tonic just yet. In autumn, or ‘fall’, for our exceptionally literal friends in the United States, it only seems right to celebrate brown spirits: whisky, Armagnac, Cognac, Calvados and darker or spiced rums, as well as liqueurs and cocktails packed with seasonal fruits and colours.

In this spirit, we’ve produced a list of appropriately autumnal boozes. Each comes with a seasonal serve if you want to get creative. These ought to keep you going until the snow starts to fall.

No Comments on Warming tipples for autumn evenings!

How did The Glenlivet, Chivas Regal and Jameson perform in 2018?

With Pernod Ricard’s full-year sales results hot off the press, we take a peek at how the likes of Scotch whiskies The Glenlivet and Chivas Regal, Ireland’s Jameson, Cognac brand…

With Pernod Ricard’s full-year sales results hot off the press, we take a peek at how the likes of Scotch whiskies The Glenlivet and Chivas Regal, Ireland’s Jameson, Cognac brand Martell and Absolut vodka fared in 2017/18. Spoiler alert: Scotch wasn’t the star of the show…

It’s results season, folks! Big companies left, right and centre are publishing their annual (or quarterly) reports, giving us an insight into how they’re getting on sales-wise. Today it’s the turn of Pernod Ricard to disclose its full-year data to the end of June. We had a nose through the docs and crunched the numbers to see how some of the world’s biggest drinks brands got on…

1 Comment on How did The Glenlivet, Chivas Regal and Jameson perform in 2018?

Intrigued by the mezcal hype? MoM digs in…

This September, London Mezcal Week will return to the capital in a blaze of agave with the largest mezcal selection the UK has ever seen. We chart the rise and…

This September, London Mezcal Week will return to the capital in a blaze of agave with the largest mezcal selection the UK has ever seen. We chart the rise and rise of Tequila’s smoky sister with festival co-founders Thea Cumming and Melanie Symonds…

Clear your diaries, book your train (or plane…) ticket, and rinse your copita: London Mezcal Week is back from 10-16 September, bringing with it more tastings, dinners, talks, parties, cocktails and pop-up mezcalerias than you can shake a piña at.

No Comments on Intrigued by the mezcal hype? MoM digs in…

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search