Inside the mezcal with sustainability on its agenda

Amores-hero-shot-agaveThe agave fields that feed Mezcal Amores

By Sam Bygrave

Four hours’ drive south of Mexico City lies Oaxaca. It’s a region known for its food; hundreds of different variations of moles and tamales depending upon which village the maker came from. And Oaxaca is just as famous for its mezcal.

That great white — sometimes aged — spirit is central to life in Oaxaca. It’s there from lunch until the night, sipped on its own. And as Luis Niño de Rivera, one of the young owners of Mezcal Amores told us, making a mezcal brand is also a very human — and passionate — endeavour.

“The guys who plant agave, the master mezcaleros, you have to go and know them” he said. “Win their trust. Be there once a month, talk to them, know their families. Then after five or six months, you sign. But you still have to be with them. Yes we pay the money, we put the effort, we have the agave on the ground. But that’s not it. We have to deal with them for seven or eight years, coming every year, to see that they’re caring for it, the agave is ok. So you’re dealing with them, their families, their worries and their needs.”


“It’s so fulfilling, because it’s so human,” he said. “They call you on Sunday, they invite you to their daughter’s wedding, to christenings, to everything — and you have to come! Otherwise they will take it as an insult.”

All the owners of the brand we met were passionate and deeply knowledgeable about agave in general. “I became very passionate about agave,” said co-owner Jorge Rodriguez Cano, when asked about the origins of Mezcal Amores. “I began doing research about the different plants, the different regions, and for me it was something that I really had to do something very meaningful with.”

Amores-distilleryInside the Mezcal Amores distillery

Mezcal Amores launched in December of 2011, and in that time has come to be the second largest-selling mezcal in Mexico.

We visited the Amores palenque an hour or so outside of Oaxaca, where we met maestro mezcalero Enrique Jimenez. Santiago Suarez, co-owner of the brand, was on translation duties for us, and said that Jimenez had been around mezcal his whole life.

“He’s great-grandfather started producing mezcal, it was called Fidencio,” he said. “His grandfather also produced mezcal, his father produced mezcal, and he started producing mezcal,” he said. “He doesn’t remember at what age he started producing mezcal, but when he was four years old he was already at the factory.”

This long family history means that Jimenez doesn’t want to change much in the way the spirit is made.

“He wants to keep the traditions, because it’s the roots of his family, his origins. He also doesn’t have the capability of producing it in an industrialised way,” said Suarez. “But if he had it, he prefers to stay making it in a handcrafted way to preserve his origins.”

How Mezcal Amores is made


The agave: The espadin agave that Amores harvests for their mezcal takes between seven and ten years to grow. It is harvested when the maestro mezcalero, using years of experience as his guide, thinks that they’re ready.

Cooking The agaves are quartered and brought by hand to a large pit. The pit takes 700 tonnes of agave, which are then cooked for five days. This will yield around 700 litres of mezcal.

Crushing The cooked fibres of the agave are then crushed in what they call an Egyptian press. A large stone wheel is turned by a horse slowly.

Fermentation: The crushed fibres are then transferred to wooden vats to ferment, using only the yeasts that are present in the Palenque. They know when the fermentation is complete by listening for bubbling activity — if there is none, the fermentation is complete.

Distilling The mezcal is distilled three times in wood-fired copper alembic stills before bottling.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about an agave crisis, and finding solutions to it for the guys who actually grow the agave has been a central part of the way Amores does business, said Suarez.

“We’re definitely worried about it. As you can see, we’re one of the few brands that have their own agave. Last year we planted at least ten agaves for each agave we used. And this year again the maestro mezcalero is planting at least ten for every one we use,” he said.

Right now there is a higher price because there is a shortage of agave. What the higher price for agave does though is drive new plantings of agave — it’s just that by the time the plant is ready to harvest, there may then be an oversupply of agave, leading to much lower prices for growers. Amores’ maestro mezcalero Jimenez says this boom and bust cycle has always been the way.

STILL-AND-FERMENTATION-AT-AMORESThe still in action at the distillery; right, the agave fibres fermenting away

“The farmers will plant more agave because they trust that the new trend is going to continue, and keep prices at a certain level,” said Suarez. “What we’re doing at Amores is we’ve signed the first forward price for agave, a first in Mexico. That means we give them a structured price of what they will be earning in seven years’ time,” he said, giving farmers certainty amd evening out the boom and bust dynamics.

And they are advocates for the mezcal category more broadly.

“You can try any type of mezcal, for any type of reason,” said Niño de Rivera. “If you’re mad, and you want to get madder, you buy a 55 per cent ABV mezcal. If you want to last all night, you get a 37 per cent mezcal. If you want to be good in bed — you get between a 42 per cent and 45 per cent mezcal! It gets you high but doesn’t disable anything you need to have fun later, no?”

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