Nothing plays the symphony of smoke quite like mezcal, and Granville Green's The Mezcal Rush: Explorations in Agave Country captures his journey into the often misunderstood alcoholic beverage native to Mexico. Published this year, the 286 page exploration follows Greene's personal journey with the intoxicant that he once drank in his college days known as "the drink with the worm in it," to the esteemed cultural heritage that makes mezcal the fashionable drink it is today.
After sampling a bottle of Del Maguey in a Santa Fe wine shop, Greene was intrigued to know more about the complex spirit he drank. "It was just completely different from anything I'd ever tasted, and I felt like it was telling me a story, but in an unfamiliar language," Greene writes. Ron Cooper's Del Maguey has become a commonality in the American market. A true pioneer, Cooper has acted as a middleman, importing "single village" mezcal to the US market with bottle prices well above $150 USD. Del Maguey sparked a lust for Greene to travel to Oaxaca and Guerrero to study the complexities of the spirit.
From Greene's findings he explains that tequila is simply a type of mezcal but ONLY from the blue agave A. tequiliana variety. The pina, or heart of the plant, is steamed not smoked in a earthen pit and eventually fermented and then distilled. Mezcal can be made from not just the blue agave, but from 30 varieties of agave! The complexity doesn't stop there - similar to a terroir, mezcal production can be nuanced by the type of soil it is grown in, which yeasts from the surrounding plants affect the flavor, what type of still is used to ferment it... the list goes on and on.
Greene's most impactful take-away for me was the sustainability of the entire production of the spirit. As "entrepreneurs" like Ron Cooper continue to claim the artistry of the maestros mezcaleros as their own, the communities who need mezcal to survive will not be properly compensated. The greed for mass production in the tequila industry is allowing big business to steal espadin plants in unregulated Oaxaca and Guerrero. Smaller communities cannot afford the expenses associated with the DOC and will never be able to market nor export their product.
The Mezcal Rush: Explorations in Agave Country was a special read which does the mezcal industry justice and will make me think twice before picking up a bottle of Ron Cooper's Del Maguey products, or at least make me think of the mezcalero who produced it.
Buy the book here.