Mezcal Amores



First things first.

This is a bright and smooth 100% Espadin Agave Mezcal. It’s currently the number 3 selling brand domestic brand there.

Bottled at 37%, the fire many associate with agave is restrained, but the earthy creaminess follows through in abundance. Pure, smooth, smoky goodness.

I defy anyone to drink it and not fall in love.

That alone should be enough for you to want to seek out this nectar and devour it, but the story, in Australia gets even better.

The guy that is importing Mezcal Amores (and Los Azulejos Tequila) is quite simply, one of the good guys. A young Mexican, Jorge Cervantes is passionate about his country and the products to be found there. He’s also committed to working with companies that remain locally owned, to the benefit of the economy. Forget your fair trade coffee and chocolate, this is social justice you can really feel good about.

He is Mextrade, and you should invite him to your bar, try his great products, implore him to break out the gusano and enjoy the company of a guy who is doing it for love and money.

Sydney bartenders should get on board the contest Jorge has put up on Facebook. A trip to Oaxaca with all the trimmings is up for grabs for someone who falls in love with Amores and creates a new cocktail.

Jorge, salud.

Interviews, Spirit

Interview: Stephen Myers from Ilegal Mezcal

Stephen Myers, like many liquor entrepreneurs, is wearing a branded tee when I run into him in Sydney. The shirt has a cluster of three rabbits screen printed on the left breast.

I’ve been brushing up on my religious history of the Postclassic era of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican chronology, and in particular of the Aztec cultures, so I ask if the rabbits are an obtuse reference to the the Goddess Mayahuel, the Aztec personification of the Maguey, or agave plant (Yes, this plant was important enough to have a goddess.) Legends have it that she was mother to many children, the Centzon Totochtin, essentially 400 rabbits that liked to get drunk and party.

I get a wry smile from Myers and a lightning fast answer. “Yeah, or it could just be three rabbits fucking.”

This type of humour is one of the real joys of spending time with Stephen, who started the Ilegal brand with John Rexer about 7 years ago.

Myers doesn’t really tell the story of the brands inception and growth in a linear fashion. It’s a fascinating foible, one that allows people like me to join stories together, uncover snippets that others may have found online, invent the odd hazed remembrance and cobble them all together into more personal, perhaps a more meaningful whole. It has resulted in me being in possession of a story, that while certainly began being his, feels as much like mine as I sit down to write it. If there are glaring untruths or pansy fictions, they are most certainly mine but to paraphrase Steve Coogan playing Tony Wilson quoting John Ford – “when you have to choose between truth and legend, choose the legend.” So it goes.

Like all great liquor stories, this one starts in a bar.

Myers and Rexer established themselves as proprietors of a small bar in Antigua, Guatemala. The idea in print seems born of a desire to remain clothed, watered and fed. The reality probably was closer to keeping liquor in a glass and banter to pass the time. The photos of the place look rustic, and the roof needs to be physically held up in a rainstorm. Big authenticity tick there, this is surely a brand not brainstormed in a boardroom.

Café No Sé attracts a motley crew of artists, expats and characters, people who have made a decision to get as far away from what seems like civilisation in order to discover some supreme truth about themselves and the world in which we live. I reckon Stephen probably fit into this category, once upon a time. Now though, with suitcases full of branded t-shirts and and stickers and an obvious passion for this, the latest turn this life has taken,  I’m willing to go out on a limb and say Stephen Myers has found his secret, and you can by it three varieties, in bottles of 700mls.

The Ilegal brand was born out of trips into Oaxaca State, across the border in Mexico. Rexer and Myers were unhappy with the tequila and Mezcal they had available in Guatemala, so undertook the clandestine importation; yes, smuggling, of the fine smoky liquor from their immediate North. So popular was the fruits of their labour, a decision was made to move up the chain from supply to manufacture, and they haven’t looked back.

It seems like exicting times ahead for the brand. Stephen is relocating to Europe as the push for world domination continues. Mezcal seems to be enjoying a wonderful golden age, as increased interest and consumption of tequila creates an educated pool of drinkers looking for something new and interesting. Helping too is the shift around the world to rid the bar of cigarette smoking, the peaty malts of the West Scots coast and the even more visceral mezcals of the Oaxacan state now offer then illusion of a soothing drag, where legalities, or health concerns do not.

Ilegal is made from only three ingredients; Agave Espadin, Oaxacan Sun and Time. It can take 12 years for the agave to ripen, before the spines are cut by a jimador and the hearts taken from the fields to the distillery. The hearts are then baked in an earth oven, acquiring the iconic smoky notes of mezcal and accentuating the earthiness shared by every spirit made from the agave. The cooked hearts are smashed under a stone wheel, fermented in an open oak vat and batch distilled in a small copper still. It is then either bottled for the Joven style, rested for the Reposado or aged for the Anejo. All three are worth indulging your senses in.

Contact Sapere Drinks for information on how to stock Ilegal in your bar, and if all you want is a taste, try Eau de Vie, Victoria Room or Cafe Pacifico.


This is Ilegal

Stephen Myers, one half of the Ilegal Mezcal leadership, will be returning to his convict roots to introduce an unsuspecting Australia to his smoky mezcal goodness.

There are tasting sessions planned for the trade, the rest of you are going to have to wait for the Sa’pere distribution machine to kick in and get these wax sealed beauties out and around the now (even) luckier country.

2pm, March 1st @ The Victoria Room, Sydney

1pm, March 8th @ Canvas, Brisbane

3pm, March 10th @ Luxe, Perth

3pm, March 15th @ Black Pearl, Melbourne

RSVP to Brendan at Sa’pere: brendan@saperedrinks.com

Adelaide and Tassie, no Mezcal for you…

Spirit, Uncategorized

Marvelous Mezcal

An idea, a song, a discovery, an invention, may be born anywhere. But if it is to be communicated, if it is to be tested and compared and appreciated, then someone has always to carry it to the city.

Max Ways

New York City has long been a place to set the trends for the industry at large, be it printing, building, fashion, food or fun. In booze terms it still places itself at the pinnacle of cocktail style and that enduring hipster catch-cry, authenticity. The city has a pull on many around this world, its shining towers and grimy streets, the ultimate testing ground for talent and resolve.

While one could argue that the city does not possess the best examples of taste and discernment on show globally, it does without a doubt contain the largest number of individuals willing to part with hard earned dollars to show what taste and discernment they do, indeed, possess.

The latest trend to be called out in a voice so large is the ancient spirit, Mezcal.

Naren Young, Australia’s most successful cocktail scribe and Bar Awards lifetime achiever wrote in January professing his love for the Mexican spirit and talked about how it has been taken to heart by the best and brightest behind the sticks of Manhattan’s best boozers. I’d encourage you to give it a read.

My Antipodean alumni might find themselves a little shocked at this epistle, as the selections in this country do not yet match the levels Young mentions in New York, or the many more to be found in San Fran and the other cities with a much closer proximity to provenance (and potentially a much more likely claim on setting the global trend for the spirit.)

Essentially, Mezcal is indie scotch.

Made for centuries by the various civilizations that have risen and fell on the isthmuth of the Americas, mezcal has its base, like tequila, in pulque. This milky looking liquid is literally the fermented sap of the maguey. To avoid confusion in a very confusing subject area, maguey is used to collectively name the various subspecies of agave used to produce mezcal, where agave is generally used to denote the blue agave which is legally required to produce mezcal’s more famous brother, tequila. Aren’t you glad we cleared that up?

Where the success of marketing tequila has pushed much production into industrial facilities that can slake the thirst of people eating Mexican food around the world, mezcal remains an artisanal endeavour, practiced by small group, usually in individual villages, primarily in the state of Oaxaca.

Maguey are harvested, either from the wild or from small cultivars. The outer leaves are cut down and the pinas are roasted in a ground oven, similar to the Polynesian Umu and Maori Hangi. This increases the smoky flavour and intensifies the earthiness of the spirit itself. The hearts are then mashed under an ancient volcanic stone and left, fibers and juices together to ferment in the open air. Both are then transfered to the still, either copper, introduced by the Spanish in their conquest, or the much older clay stills, thought by some to have been gifted by pre-Colombian Chinese traders.

Much of the modern renaissance for mescal comes down to one man, a New Yorker, Ron Cooper (which adds to the authenticity of the NYC claim)

In the 1990’s Ron visited Oaxaca and was astonished to find fine spirits being aggregated in larger towns, mixed together with the production of many villages in the area and sold cheaply in gallon jugs. He roamed the hills and offered to pay a premium for single village production and started bottling them for sale. Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal epitomises they indie-ness of the category. One of the products, Pechuga, is made with a chicken carcass in the still, which once cooked, decides when the distillation is complete. Tobala village leaves the pina in the earth ovens for an entire month. I have a bottle of the Chichicapa, which I guard jealously.

The worms too, while not the doorway to a pyschoactive world, do impart a mellowness of flavour to the drink and in aged mezcal expressions, a small handful of worms can be added to the barrel. Gusano de Oro and Gusano Rojo, the white or red catepillars (they’re actually not worms at all) that live either in the leaves or pina can also be ground up with chilies & salt to provide an enlivening addition to your mezcal ritual.

I know, I know, this all sounds great. But I am a blogger, obsessed by the effort that goes into the production of great spirits and the stories that surround them. Why should you even begin to give a fuck?

It comes down to two reasons really.

First, the indie nature. No two villages or brands taste the same, there are similarities but each producer has his own way, his own style and his own still. It is a spirit that offers you a connection to a founder, a family tradition and a long history, unsullied by a large and consuming conglomerate (for now at least)

Second, the ingredients. The Maguey captures the flavour of its surrounding. French wine snobs pontificate about the terrior, the taste of place that comes through the wines. With mescal, this unfolds a thousand times. The ten years it can take for a plant to mature exposes it to drought, hardship, bounty and love. The spirit is sometimes called gotas de tiempo or ‘drops of time’

As you savour the spirit, you can feel the time that went into it.

Australians can start to get excited at the upcoming visit of Steve from Ilegal Mezcal to all states in the lucky country, starting in March with Sydney.





Oh, Mezcal. Why are you so hard to find in the sunny island on which I live?

My recent trip to New Zealand held a number of firsts, including a veritable back bar of hard to find liquor. Chief amongst the fine taste profiles I will carry around in my head was Mezcalzero, a blindingly good Mezcal that takes hard to find to a whole new level.

To buy a bottle, you’ll have to be in California, and even then you’ll need lucky, only 168 bottles are available in the state. I’m looking into relocating to Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca just so I can get a regular supply. It’s made by Los Danzantes and it seems like it’s not the only amazing product they’ve birthed. Their website makes me thirsty and could only really be improved by an online store that ships to Sydney.

The spirit itself is finely made, with the smoky taste of the fire pit there, but the distillation is obviously world class, resulting in a smooth, tasty, can’t get you out of my head experience.

Like many good things in my life, Camper English tried it first. I was was further away from the source and any retail outlet, so I’m claiming my tasting was more special, at least.

My everlasting thanks to Boris, for carrying this bottle to NZ, and letting me share in its demise.

Please, booze fairies, send a case to Australia.

The back label is dfown here after the jump, just in case you’ve seen a bottle and want to know for sure, or like me are going to buy real estate next door to the place of origin using Google earth.

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