Mezcal’s coming of age

26 June, 2018

“We think that the fact big players are joining is good for everyone because there is still a relatively large consumer base that is not aware of what mezcal is,” adds Jesus Pedroso, one of the directors of established mezcal brand Bruxo. “However, there’s the risk that the larger players could be tempted to go for industrial expressions soon.”

On the other side of the coin, mezcal continues to face issues of supply – unsurprising when its raw material generally takes a minimum of seven years to grow, not to mention other pressures, such as demand for wild varieties. “We’ve all heard stories of agaveros ripping out 30 year old agaves from the top of the hillside and moving on and not replanting,” says Sklar.

“When it comes to agave shortages, unfortunately the hype is real,” says Benjamin Schroder of Meanwhile Drinks, the company behind new brand Pensador. “In terms of cultivated agave, the challenge is keeping prices stable, which are currently spiralling out of control, unaided by increasing demand for agave sugars and syrups, whereas with wild strains we are faced with the more serious concern of losing species all together.”

PRICE HIKES

“The price of cultivated Espadin agave has more than doubled since we started production just 18 months ago, from fivepesos per kilo to between 11 and 13,” says Shepherd.

Rexer, while acknowledging that supply is an issue, is optimistic for the future. “There is now an economic incentive for Oaxacans to plant and cultivate agave. Over the past three years, as agave prices have climbed, growers have been planting aggressively,” he says. “If anything, the current price bump and tight supply is a healthy growing pain as mezcal establishes itself and grows outside of Mexico.”

While mezcal producers have been doing what they can to keep up with demand, the CRM has introduced a new set of regulations entitled NOM 70, which now divides mezcal into three categories – mezcal, mezcal artisanal and mezcal ancestral – each with their own requirements when it comes to production methods.

“For good reason, people want to know where products are sourced from, how they are made, as well as what impact that has on communities and the environment,” says Rexer. “With NOM 70 at least some of this is achieved.”

Pedroso says: “This standard strengthens, revalues and protects the artisanal production of a beverage that has a history of more than 500 years. In addition, it encourages the conservation of wild species of agave and sustainable production by forcing producers to certify their maguey lands.”

Beveland Distillers’ marketing manager Jordi Xifra is also optimistic about the new regulations. “This is a positive change as this kind of development helps to build mezcal as a category,” he says.

Mezcal is literally redefining itself as it establishes itself around the world, facing no shortage of challenges but, equally, with everything to play for.





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David Williams

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