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.”