The problem with Mezcal - Bartenders VS Guests
Updated: Mar 29
Dear hipster bartenders, I understand your love for the smoky agave spirit & I understand the romance of it all as well as the unique flavour profile. I respect the traditions of production & the cultural significance of Mezcal & Tequila in Mexican culture. In fact I was enjoying some fantastic single-village mezcals this year in Mexico City...
We have admit there is a problem though: All over the world Mezcal has been championed the last 4 years as one of THE trends of the bartending world. What started out with the Del Maguey Mezcal series years ago has grown exponentially with new brands coming out every month promising unique new expressions, rare agaves & sticking all sorts of animals in the still for that 'unique' aroma. It has almost become a bucket-list for every bartender worth his salt to take a photo of himself harvesting his first agave(probably out of breath & sweating), taking a picture of the poor donkey going around in circles crushing the agave or the baking process. Don't get me wrong this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments that should be cherished!
That being said how many bartenders do you know that can go a WHOLE night drinking Mezcal? Like, seriously...I probably know only 5...
The Mezcal story pattern closely resembles the development of Scotch Whisky, the original smoky flavour was not an intentional development but rather a product of circumstance with a lighter more pleasant style emerging with new technologies. The same can be said with the split of Tequila from the rest of the agave spirits. You have to ask yourself why are so many Mezcal brands produced for the export market & yet don't exist in Mexico itself? Why did the Mexican people choose to drink Tequila in much bigger quantities as opposed to the traditional & revered Mezcal? These are questions I might not have correct answers to but we should investigate!
The PEOPLE vs the BARTENDERS Look at it this way, bartenders who honour their craft are essentially alcohol fetishists, every time looking for the 'new' product to get their 'high'. Yet we're usually completely disconnected from the needs & wants of the general public, we're not aware of what they're drinking or at least we choose to turn a blind eye on it. Becoming for focussed on ourselves rather than the needs & wants of our guests.
Recently I did an interview with a Dutch newspaper that was asking me for the global trends that could be coming to the Netherlands in the foreseeable future. I responded to the journalist with a question of my own - Where are the Dutch people going on holiday? - most people can only afford to travel so much per year & most have 'normal' jobs 9-5 as opposed to bartenders.
Where those people go & the culture they're exposed to as well as how well they'll enjoy that specific culture can be a good indicator of what could be trendy in the near future. Anyone starting a new business or jumping on the bandwagon of a trend should always do that when the wave is coming at the correct time(any surfers out there?).
The Mezcal Phenomenon The most curious thing about Mezcal is that it has transcended the 'travel theory' that I talk about above. In Europe we have Mezcals selling for over 40 euros a bottle of backbars without moving for months. There are few tourists I know picking Mexico as a destination & outside of "Taco, Corona, Sombrero & Guacamole" most people aren't aware of the rich culture of the region.
The other surprising aspect of the popularity & rise of Mezcal is the inclusion of the spirit as a cocktail ingredient in bars worldwide. Bartenders globally as pushing the beverage of unsuspecting guests with stories they've heard through the grapevine & of lands they've never even been to!
It's almost like the quote from the film Good Will Hunting: "They can tell me all about the production, people & cocktails but they can't tell me what a baked Espadin agave smells like..."
Mezcal is the fossil fuel of spirits The huge growth of agave spirits in the last 10 years has seen the category grow so much that we're possibly facing an age shortage in the coming years. Diageo bought George Clooneys tequila for 1 billion & Bacardi finalised the brand Patron for 5.1 billion so the big boys are definitely in it to win it. The question stands is considering that some of the Mezcal agaves takes over 14 years to reach the right maturity in order to be harvested to be created into Mezcal AND some of them can only be grown in wild conditions as opposed to farming grains such as barley & wheat. What does the future look like?
Jesus Juan Rosales Adame from the University of Guadalajara published a paper in way back 2012 dubbed "Sustainability of the traditional management of Agave genetic resources in the elaboration of mezcal and tequila spirits in western Mexico". He claims that based on current trends in consumption of agave spirits we can see the extinction of agave as a plant towards the mid to end of the 21st century. So another 20 years of your favourite smoky spirit, rising prices due to lack of supply & dwindling quality due to overconsumption.
In the end I've pointed out some issues & opposite to what my mentor has taught me I haven't presented any solutions. To be honest I might not have the information available to me to warrant an opinion. As a geeky bartender I worry about things usually out of my control & agave spirits(Mezcal more so) are definitely one of them. I worry that there is a trend 'bubble' that's going to crash, I worry that agriculture will destroy the plant environment so I won't be able to enjoy my campfire chicken distillate...