I have been sitting on this article from the NY Times about the mezcal industry since it was published this past weekend because it is a bit of a mess and I needed time to digest it and discuss it with others in the mezcal world. We’ll set aside that they initially misspelled by name, we’ll also set aside the actual quote they pulled. This is a perfect example of why people hate talking to reporters: You can spend an hour talking to a reporter about the complexities of the mezcal market, who has access to capital, how the people and product are being represented, only to have one line in the whole article. Even then it can feel like your words are completely out of context.
So why is it a bit of a mess? As the article was pitched to me (and others quoted) this was supposed to be a deep dive into the business of mezcal today. Instead it ended up being a PR piece for El Silencio and their new distillery. Their PR team deserves a pat on the back for that, because getting a profile piece in the Sunday Times is a true coup. Unfortunately it’s one major missed opportunity. Instead of a story that explores the very real challenges mezcal is facing right now with spiking demand, we get someone saying generally that mezcal production is headed to one million cases a year. There’s no exploration of what that would mean for mezcal producers (or the environment!) nor who benefits from this explosive growth. Nor is there any discussion of whose voices are being amplified when it comes to talking about a product that is so laden with cultural identity, heritage, history. Mezcal is not vodka.
We have been doing our level best to explore all of these topics so if you want to read about sustainability, economic opportunity, tradition, or trends, we have you covered. We’ll continue digging into these topics with gusto because this really is a huge story that should have more attention. We’d love to hear from more people so if you have thoughts comment below or send us your perspective because, more than anything, this is a conversation that needs more voices.
As for some of the gross inaccuracies and mischaracterizations, perhaps the most glaring is the suggestion that donkeys defecate while crushing agave and their shit ends up in the mezcal. Granted it makes for great dramatic reading but is pretty far from accurate. I’ve seen plenty of mezcal made and have not seen this sort of thing, it’s a gross misrepresentation of the intense focus that mezcal makers invest in their operations. They work hard to make sure this doesn’t happen and keep their operations incredibly clean. But the bigger point is to notice who floated that idea and to understand why. El Silencio has invested millions of dollars in their state-of-the-art distillery and they justify the expense by saying that it removes horse shit from the operation?
Don’t get me wrong: The solar powered Tahona is awesome, I’d love to see more used wherever possible. It’s just unfortunate that they felt the need to sh$t on the vast majority of distillers who use horse (or mule, though rarely donkey) pulled tahonas. Who knows what the majority of producers of mezcal would do if they too had access to capital like other brands that can afford to build state-of-the-art facilities.
As for what impact this piece will ultimately have on the mezcal category, I can only hope it sparks curiosity on the part of any readers and that they begin exploring mezcal more. Based on traffic to Mezcalistas since Sunday, people definitely are hungry for more.