We were interested to hear that Wahaka finally received its USDA Organic certification earlier this month. I chatted with Raza Zaidi, Wahaka’s San Francisco principal, via e-mail to see what the brand is up to. The organic designation is particularly interesting since only three other mezcals (Del Maguey, Montelobos, and Mezcales de Leyenda) have it and it seems like a powerful factor in the American market. Of course, if we missed another mezcal with that designation definitely tell us, this is a really interesting piece of the mezcal industry that we’re investigating further.
Raza told me that the certification process was pretty straight forward for Wahaka because “we were always 100% organic” and only use two ingredients estate grown agave and water. Susan and I have visited a number of palenques and know that most of them are organic simply because they operate in a traditional manner. They don’t use any pesticides or additives because they’ve always depended on the simplest of factors to create their mezcals. You actually get the sense that many palenqueros are suspicious of the organic label exactly because it carries the whiff of something foreign and bureaucratic.
Since most of the artisanal or craft mezcals we’ve found are de facto organic I’m really curious how mezcal makers see the value of the USDA stamp. Raza told me that Wahaka knows that the label will increase domestic sales but also brings with it a positive impression of quality. “Our motivation was to increase awareness of the purity of the product and to increase sales in US.” Raza put a point on the troublesome reputation that organic has in Mexico by noting that “most people in Mexico know that artisanal mezcals are by definition organic, here in US not so much.” That is, obviously, a continuing battle in the American food industry.
Wahaka has a bunch of other little news bits, they’re now bottling their silvestres, the Joven Tobalá and Joven Madre Cuishe, at 42% and will release a sample pack of their 5 mezcals in 200ml bottles. Just like those great St. George gin sample packs which make perfect gifts or a quick portable bar. There’s also that imminent Vino de Mezcal series that we mentioned a while back; that series should hit a mezcaleria near you later this month. Wahaka is also aiming for a special end of year release. It’s keyed to the holidays but we’ll see whether they can overcome all the bureaucratic hurdles before then. We certainly hope so.