It’s no coincidence that Mezcal Reviews started in Austin, Texas. As we’ve previously covered in this blog, our city offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy mezcal. Beyond local bars and restaurants, there are number of agave-focused spirits events in this city every year including Mezcal Fest at Takoba, Mexic-Arte Museum’s Taste of Mexico, and Austin Tequila Fest. In October 2017, Austin became the home to the long-running Spirits of Mexico festival. If you do an internet search for “Spirits of Mexico” you might find information about a spirits competition. This is a separate component to the festival. According to their website: Launched in 2002, the Spirits of Mexico Competition is the premier spirits competition in North America for agave-based and other spirits produced in Mexico. Taste Tequila wrote an interesting blog about how 10 judges tasted 52 different products for the competition. If you need an additional judge or two, we could be talked into it!

The public festival Spirits of Mexico, which was hosted in San Diego for many years, is an “agave adventure” featuring tastings of tequila and mezcal, food pairings created by award-winning local chefs, live music, and more. On a Thursday night a few weeks ago I left work (the job that keeps food mezcal on the table) and headed to Fair Market, a large indoor-outdoor event space in east Austin. The sun was sinking below the tall buildings of downtown and the Texas fall weather was perfect. It had been a long week already and I was looking forward to trying some new mezcals and making new friends. As I walked into the large Quonset hut warehouse it was clear this event would be huge. There were a number of tequila vendors, including Fortaleza and Suerte, arranging their line of blancos, reposados, anejos, and some, their extra anejos. Nearby, a band was unloading their gear on a large stage. I grabbed a water bottle and continued to scan the venue looking for.. mezcal, obviously.

Heavy Metl mezcal

Two incredible brands had long tables next to each other near the center of the venue: Mezcal Real Minero and Rey Campero Mezcal. What do these brands have in common? William Scanlan. William imports both brands to the United States through his company Heavy Metl Premium Imports. Jonny and I were fortunate enough to tour Mezcal Real Minero with William earlier to this year. It was great to see him again. William is always working and constantly on the road. The week before he was in Chicago at Mexico in a Bottle. William had some exciting news about certain spirits he was working to bring to the US soon. He also hinted at some interesting new releases from Romulo Sanchez Parada of Rey Campero. Most of Romulo’s mezcals released under Rey Campero are twice-distilled in copper pots with single varietal agaves. However, he recently produced a clay pot distilled ensamble with agaves Espadin and Salmiana (more on that later). You can be one of the first to know about these new imports from Heavy Metl by following William on Instagram. Before moving onwards to explore, I tried a recent batch of the Real Minero Ensamble; each batch is a bit different but they usually contain agaves Largo and Barril and two other agave varietals.

William Scanlan at Spirits of Mexico 2017 in Austin

William Scanlan of Heavy Metl Premium Imports (photo courtesy of Spirits of Mexico)

Issel Campos at Spirits of Mexico 2017 in Austin

Issel Campos of Mezcales de Leyenda (photo courtesy of Spirits of Mexico)

Mezcales de Leyenda

Next up was Mezcales de Leyenda, a brand you don’t see in Texas ironically enough. I was greeted by Issel Campos, the US Ambassador for Mezcales de Leyenda, who recommended a taste of their mezcal from Durango. “Do you have a bottle of agave Montana hiding somewhere?” I asked. She laughed. Agave Montana is an agave plant that turns bright orange when it blooms and had never been used in commercial mezcal (that I know of). Bottles of agave Montana mezcal are retailing for around $500 which is probably the most expensive retail price ever for a single 750ml bottle of mezcal. Mezcales de Leyenda has released a number of special bottlings this year, all in the $250+ price range.

Mezcales de Leyenda works with small producers across Mexico and imports a single mezcal from nearly every Mexican state with a mezcal Denomination of Origin. Their most recent bottles are from Puebla and San Luis Potosi. Issel told me that she is working to get their line of mezcals into Texas. We have a great agave scene here in Austin, but the spirits business can get complicated due to state laws and relationships between importers, distributors, and wholesalers. Hopefully we’ll see more of Mezcales de Leyenda soon. Issel also poured me some Pelotón de la Muerte mezcal which is their brand geared towards the cocktail scene. It is sold in liter bottles and adjusted to 41% ABV. Mezcales de Leyenda and Pelotón de la Muerte share the same NOM-O117X.

Mas mezcal

As the venue started to fill with people I noticed a small line under a sign labeled ‘Mezcal’… that looked promising. This booth had a random selection of mezcals that are perhaps from the same local distributor?! There was Mezcalero Special Bottling #3 (which was empty within an hour – people loved it), El Buho Espadin, Montelobos Espadin, and Montelobos Tobala. I’d never seen the Montelobos Tobala in the US because it is not yet distributed here – it must have snuck its way into the festival. Carmen, visiting from Brooklyn’s Anchored Inn, was pouring the mezcals and didn’t understand my excitement as I studied the label. Given the amount of “research” completed since launching the site over a year ago, it can be rare to fine a mezcal in the States I haven’t tried at least once. This Tobala starts light, dry, and starchy then finishes with floral and green lemongrass notes. If this makes it to the US, my guess is they will try to sell this for around $79 USD which would be a decent value. This mezcal is made in the state of Puebla which is beginning to export more mezcal, mostly made from agave Tobala. Del Maguey’s San Pablo Ameyaltepec and Mezcales de Leyenda’s Puebla edition are made from agave Potatorum in Puebla. Brands list the subspecies of agave Potatorum as either agave Cupreata, agave Papalote, or agave Tobala. I’m not quite sure if this is simply a naming difference between regions in Puebla or different agave species. If you have any insight into the difference, please leave a comment.

Various mezcals at Spirits of Mexico 2017

Spirits of Mexico was in a full swing at this point. The band was playing as visitors crowded the nearby tequila booths. Local restaurants offered single serving food items like ceviche and tacos. In particular, I enjoyed the food from Alcomar and the newly opened ATX Cocina. The event offered plenty of food options as well as non-alcoholic drinks. Enjoy mezcal responsibly, folks.

As I made my way outside, I walked up to yet another booth with mezcal. This time there was a bottle of that Rey Campero I mentioned earlier: Rey Campero Espadin + Pulquero. There was also some Vago Madrecuishe and Vago Tobala, both from Emigdio Jarquín in Miahuatlan. A familiar face stood behind these great mezcals, it was Clayton Szczech from Experience Mezcal. Clayton lives in Mexico City but travels frequently. His company is dedicated to promoting mezcal culture and appreciation through tours, tastings, education and events. I had never met Clayton but was aware of his knowledge and experience in the mezcal world. He is very prominent in the tequila world and serves as a judge for many of the tequila tasting competitions (including Spirits of Mexico).. what a job! He was also sharing some Siete Leguas tequila at the booth. If you are traveling to Mexico to explore the world of mezcal and/or tequila, Clayton is a great resource. I could have sipped on Vago and talked about mezcal with Clayton all night but that would have cramped his style – he was there to create new agave advocates after all.

Clayton Szczech at Spirits of Mexico 2017 in Austin

Clayton Szczech of Experience Mezcal and Experience Tequila (photo courtesy of Spirits of Mexico)

As the night came to an end, I ran into some familiar faces. Philipp from The Austin Wine Merchant and David from The Austin Shaker were enjoying some Rey Campero mezcal together and chatting. They are competitors and friends, you can’t go wrong making either bottle shop your first stop when buying a bottle (or three) of mezcal in Austin. Before walking out the door I also ran into Steven from a bar called Half Step. Half Step is one of the best cocktail bars on Rainey Street in Austin and is the creation of 213 Hospitality. 213 Hospitality, which is based in downtown Los Angeles, recently brought two LA bars to Austin: 7 Grand and Las Perlas. Both are single spirits bars; 7 Grand features whisky, whiskey?, and scotch, bourbon.. clearly I’m not a whiskey blogger. More importantly, Las Perlas has one of the best selections of mezcal and tequila in Austin. They also host the bi-monthly Mezcal Collective which you need the check out if you’re in the Austin area. Steven said the hospitality interchange between Los Angeles and Austin will continue.

Missed out this year?

If you can make it to Austin next fall, do not miss Spirits of Mexico 2018! You might ask, is it worth the entry fee? Absolutely, a bar tab from a few pours of quality mezcal would quickly equal this entry fee. I enjoyed numerous pours of some of the best artisanal mezcals, also tequilas, incredible gourmet food, and more over the course of a few hours. The brands at the event were represented by people intimately connected to the product and its origins in Mexico. The event provides a great opportunity to learn more about the world of mezcal and all the wonderful things we are bringing over the border. We’re honored to have Spirits of Mexico make Austin their new home. See you next year!