Mexico artisanal distillers: a current panorama of Mexican spirits


Although tequila and mezcal have conquered the world, a wide range of distillates produced in our country is gaining greater visibility and prominence.

When it comes to distillates, no one can deny that tequila and mezcal have raised the name of Mexico all over the world. From blue agave or Weber tequilana –the raw material used to make tequila– to other varieties, such as espadin, cupreata, and madre cuishe –used in the production of mezcal–, lovers of spirits of Mexican origin have been integrating these terms to his vocabulary to demonstrate mastery of a subject that arouses passions and debates between the followers of one and the other.

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Since the early 1990s, when tequila became an important source of income for our country, many of the efforts of the industry focused on positioning this national emblem in as many nations as possible and an interesting race for the diversification of a distillate that today has its fastest-growing category in the crystalline. At the same time, new brands have also emerged in the market that compete with the oldest and most respected in the sector and, in many cases, betting on business models that, while adhering to traditions, also incorporate practices that defend sustainability. , social responsibility, concern for the environment, and the renewal of natural resources.

However, from a few years to now, brands have emerged in different regions of Mexico that cover a wide spectrum: from ancestral drinks, such as sotol, raicilla and bacanora, to others traditionally imported, among which whiskey, la gin, and sake. In the case of the former, it is about the popularization of distillates whose consumption was highly localized; in the case of the latter, of fortunate experiments that incorporate ingredients typical of the areas where they are produced. In all scenarios, we are faced with the diversification of an offer that enriches the current panorama and opens new paths to the creation of a national identity through our distillates.

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Part of the Mezcal Amarás portfolio. (Courtesy)

Their majesties the agave and corn

In an interview with Life and Style, Joseph Mortera, founding partner of the Café Ocampo bar and global ambassador of the mezcal brand The Lost Explorer, explains that the production, marketing, and business model of most Mexican distillates are inspired for those of tequila and mezcal. That is, from their perspective, the availability of good raw materials is the most important thing. “Without a good raw material, there is no good distillate. Everything that is now being produced in Mexico in an artisanal way and in small batches is inspired by these business models, ”he assures.

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Raicilla Estancia. (Horacio Rodríguez)

In the case of products such as raicilla and the new tequila and mezcal labels that have appeared on the horizon – there is The Lost Explorer, Rosita Tahona, and Estancia – the starting point has been the agave. Although none of these distillates is newly created, their differentials are in the focus of the brands, which focus on the production of high-quality liquids rather than large volumes.

Raicilla Estancia, for example, is a drink made with Maximilian agave in Estancia de Landeros, Jalisco. Its name comes from its place of origin and one of its good practices is that its containers are made with recycled glass from bottles that are bought from the villagers. In the case of the Rosita Tahona mezcal, made entirely with maguey espadín harvested in Santa Ana del Río, Oaxaca, what is sought is to enhance the origin, awareness, and sustainability of a production that is carried out through methods handcrafted.

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Sotol Flower of the Desert. (Courtesy)

If we talk about sotol, the first thing to clarify is that, despite the fact that its production process is practically the same as that of tequila and mezcal, the plant used in its production is not an agave. The groves grow mainly in the deserts of northern Mexico and until 1920 the drink obtained from its distillation was widely consumed by the inhabitants of that region. After several decades in which its manufacture and consumption were prohibited, in 1998 the ban was lifted and in 2002 the designation of origin was granted to the states of Durango, Coahuila, and Chihuahua. Originally from the latter, the Flor del Desierto sotol begins to make its way among consumers in the center and south of the country, for whom this distillate is still somewhat unknown, but not a little exciting.

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Abasolo whiskey. 

Of course, it is also important to mention bigger and better-known brands, such as Amarás, in the case of mezcal, and Volcán de mi Tierra, if we talk about tequila. The first has developed a holistic model that seeks to preserve the land, the agave, and the communities that produce mezcal. Currently, they work with five types of agaves and allocate 20% of the net sale of each bottle to the development of internal initiatives and social responsibility. Volcán de mi Tierra, part of Moët Hennessy’s portfolio, is a tequila brand launched in 2017, whose philosophy is based on an appreciation for heart, care, and craftsmanship applied to every step of the creation process.

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Nixta is a corn liquor- (Courtesy)

Corn is another of the products that have served as a starting point for new distillates. Abasolo is a whiskey made with cacahuazintle creole corn that is endemic to Mexico. Its elaboration involves the nixtamalization of these grains, the use of champagne yeast and the aging in American white oak barrels. The production is carried out in the Abasolo distillery and winery, located in the State of Mexico, which is also responsible for the manufacture of Nixta, a liquor that is made with tender corn from each season and is characterized by its atole notes. , corn bread, nuts, vanilla and caramel. Another whiskey produced in Mexico from native corn is Juan Montaña, a Moonshine-type liquid produced in Aguascalientes,

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Nami Sake. (Courtesy)

From gin to sake, from north to south

Beyond corn and agave, the eyes of Mexican entrepreneurs have also turned to other types of inputs and spirits. Derived from personal interests and preferences in some cases, projects such as Katún have emerged, a gin produced in Yucatán with ingredients from the southeast of Mexico and distilled in a copper alembic. For its elaboration, 17 Yucatecan and Mexican botanicals are macerated, among them, chilies, fruits and flowers, with juniper – the only imported ingredient – in neutral corn alcohol, which results in a London Dry type gin.

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Katún gin is produced in Yucatán. (Courtesy)

Sticking to the traditional Japanese method of producing premium sake known as sokujo, Nami was founded in 2016, the first brand of its kind in Mexico. Originally from Culiacán, Sinaloa, she aims to generate new conversations based on respect for traditions and incorporating the passion, warmth, and joy of Mexican hearts into the production of this rice-based distillate.

Ancho Reyes also deserves a mention in this section. Taking as inspiration the homemade liqueurs that were prepared in Puebla in the 1920s, this brand has created a family of liqueurs prepared from ancho chili and poblano chili. With their spicy touches, they pay homage to some of the flavors for which Mexican culture is most identified. A little further south, in a cloud forest in the Sierra Mazateca of Oaxaca, Paranubes is made. Four varieties of cane are used in the process –typical, hard, black and creole– and the result is an agricultural-style rum that has won important industry awards around the world and that has raised the name of Mexico very high.

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Ancho Reyes liquor. (Courtesy)

Committed to small brands that have a long-term vision and that offer high-quality liquids, Mexican Spirits MX – a distributor headed by Fernando Acevedo – specializes in Mexican distillates. “We pay tribute to small producers in the country who have worked conscientiously, as a family and for generations, making unique distillates in the world. We work directly with them and support national brands ”, Acevedo explains.

Throughout its little more than two years of existence, a very important part of its work has been to educate the owners of consumption centers and customers about several of the distillates that have been mentioned in previous paragraphs. “Just as there is good eating, there is also good drinking,” says Acevedo, while ensuring that this work is beginning to be reflected in a demand that is growing little by little, particularly in fine dining restaurants, luxury hotels, and specialty bars. And, for him, this is just the beginning, because although many of these distillates enjoy great popularity and reputation outside of Mexico, in some cases, they are just beginning to be known or valued within the country. “Demand is just taking off, but we are confident that in about five years these high-quality small brands will have gained a lot of steam,” he adds. Without a doubt, we are witnessing a revolution that sooner than we think will be transforming our preferences when serving us a drink.

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Ron Paranubes. 


Mexico Daily Post