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Mezcal: Organic Cocktails

Posted on 25 November 2011

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By Emily J. Weitz


Tequila gets a bad rap. This drink has a reputation of tasting like diesel fuel, best thrown directly to the back of the throat so the gag reflex is bypassed. Among college students, shots of tequila pepper many a wild night.

But what about carefully grown, mindfully distributed Mezcal? This liquor which, like tequila, comes from agave, has a thousands-year-old tradition that dates back way before tequila. And Mezcal Dona Sarita, an emerging brand of Mezcal being imported by part-time East Ender Cesar Vela and locals Bernard and Sarita Kiembock, is looking to use Mezcal to bring the organic movement into the dimly lit bars as well as the bright open markets.

“This is the kind of tequila you can sip, though it mixes well,” says Vela, who is from Mexico and brought the Kiembocks their first bottle of Mezcal a few years back. “It has a pure, clean, smoky taste and leaves you without a hangover.”

Ms. Kiembock, who has lived in East Hampton for the past 30 years, “loved the flavor, the fact that mezcal is organic, and very trendy not only in Mexico but in New York City.”

They decided to start working on importing licenses to get this particular Mezcal, from Oaxaca, to New York.

“It’s taken over three years,” says Kiembock, “but finally, after all the approvals and trademarks, we are getting our first shipment of Mezcal soon.”

“Mezcal is a new trend for those who perceive the difference between tequila and mezcal,” says Vela. While both are extracted from cacti, the process for obtaining Mezcal is very different.

“Tequila is made from the blue agave plant,” says Ms. Kiembock, “and mezcal is made from the maguey plant, one of the agave species. The process of mezcal is organic. Once the plant’s root is cut, it is then baked to extract the juice which will eventually ferment and distill.”

This process “creates a cleaner, more natural drink than other tequila,” says Vela.

For a long time, tequila was “the cool drink,” says Vela. “It was the people’s drink. But now tequila has been mixed and over-commercialized. We created this company to offer certified organic ingredients and fair trade.”

In that way, Mezcal is simultaneously a throw-back to ancient traditions and a cutting-edge idea.

“It’s retro and forward thinking at the same time,” says Vela.

Since the economy went into a recession, many Mexicans have returned to their home country. Mezcal represents that homecoming.

“It’s a movement back to something more traditional,” says Vela.

These farmers aren’t growing organic because it’s trendy. They’re growing organic because they always have.

“It’s not more expensive to grow organic in Mexico either,” says Vela, “because traditionally, farmers in Mexico didn’t have money for fertilizers.”

So even though buying organic often hikes up the cost, Mezcal is neither tequila’s fancy great-grandmother nor its trendy niece. The prices are obtainable, around $25 or $30 a bottle. The affordability, coupled with the sophisticated, nuanced taste, has contributed to the anticipation for Mezcal Dona Sarita .

“Mezcal is taking off in the city,” says Vela. “But we want to make it the drink of the Hamptons by next year.”

To this end, Vela is thinking about where Mezcal fits in the larger tapestry of the drinking culture. And he believes it’s about getting to the women.

“We want to get to the strong women in America, to offer them these strong, delicious drinks. Margaritas with Mezcal mixed with organic peach juice. Or simply mixed with chilis, salt, and oranges. It’s smoother and smokier [than other tequila].”

In fact, Mezcal is becoming a social statement as well as a new alternative to tequila. It’s a return to deep Mexican roots, an opportunity to make the traditional the trendy as well.

“This is the original traditional drink,” says Vela. “We are bringing it back to the countryside. This is the way it’s been done for 3,000 years.”


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7 Responses to “Mezcal: Organic Cocktails”

  1. Selenar says:

    its always a good thing to use natural ingredients in your mixes…I know voli vodka is a low cal fix that uses completely natural flavors
    I love cocktails like these!

  2. anamaria says:

    There ae many mistakes in this article, starting with mezcal and tequila being made from cacti. The agave plant is closely related to the lily and is not a cacti or succulent.

    Actually, i was about to embark on correcting many errors when I realized there are more mistakes than truths throughout the entire article. A simple cfact check or visit to wikipedia wouldn’ve been nice to verify information. And not mislead readers.

  3. Chris Solberg says:

    I’m sorry to say that your reporter is not only lazy and a poor writer, but seems to have done little or no research on the subject of Mezcal. I know more than this from spending 1 hour with a couple mezcal producers. Unfortunately, this just mirrors the lack of good reportage worldwide.

  4. Ron says:

    What is “Mindful distribution”?

  5. Bob says:

    This article is kind of a slap in the face to the real tequileros and mezcaleros. Check your facts son!

  6. Pedro says:

    I am a bit disappointed by the way mezcal was approached in this article. There is a lot more behind this premium spirit. The main reason it is becoming popular in Mexico City is due to its quality, and not with the recession, because you can easily find cheaper vodkas, tequilas and rums. In Mexico City, mezcal is not cheap, and in NYC it is a bit expensive. The reason is simple, it is an artisanal premium spirit produced in small batches.

    The positive side of the news is that The Hampton’s are being introduced to mezcal. I spent many summer weekends over there and found a great mezcal selection in a couple of restaurants. As I recall, it was the restaurant Beacon in Sag Harbor, another one called Little Red in South Hampton, and Fresno in East Hampton as well.

  7. Fiona says:

    Some friends of mine introduced me to Ilegal Mezcal back in September (the Ilegal posters are all over NYC now), and it is top notch. I’ve tried a bunch of different kinds of mezcal (although not the brand in this article) and really like Ilegal the best. This article is more factual than the one above and taught me most of what I know about mezcal and the distillation process:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/22/dining/22mezcal.html

    Happy drinking!


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