Messengers of the Mezcal Gospel

While I am a connoisseur of a variety of fine spirits, it is the artisanal Mexican elixir, mezcal, that I drink the most. While this is in part due to my close association with Del Maguey, the global leader in the category, it is also just because I like mezcal better than, say, tequila or rum. And because I have visited Oaxaca, traveled rutted dirt mountain roads to the poor Zapotec villages where the spirit is made, and have watched them roasting and mashing the agave hearts, mixing them with mountain stream water, and nurturing them into the intoxicating distillate, while chickens and goats forage nearby.

Espadin fields near San Luis del Rio in rural Oaxaca

While Del Maguey is 90% of the mezcal I drink (close associations have their benefits), I enjoy trying different brands when the opportunity presents itself. And I like a good David and Goliath story. So when I received an email from venerated West Los Angeles wine institution The Wine House singing the praises of a new mezcal called Paquera, I was intrigued.

Paquera translates from the Portuguese as “flirt,” but is Brazilian vernacular for “friends with benefits,” of which there is a humorous origin story on the Paquera website. I was browsing that website, encountered a typo, and dashed off an email to Ben Zerbe, the label’s founder. We exchanged a few pleasantries, I directed him to my series of Oaxaca mezcal posts, and he suggested we meet to sample his mezcals. A few weeks and a natural disaster later, I was driving to Century City to connect with Ben and his marketing director, David.


David and Ben

We sat and chatted for awhile about Paquera’s origins (beyond the aforementioned origin story) — Ben had been introduced to mezcal by a family friend who ran tours in Oaxaca, and fell in love with the spirit. He found a mezcalero at a palenque in rural Ejutla, Oaxaca that was handcrafting a product he liked, and jumped into the crowded pool. Like many mezcal devotees, he speaks eloquently of the artisanal production and protecting the heritage of the villages and makers.

Paquera is a young brand run by young men — a refreshing counterpoint to Del Maguey’s wizened eminence in the category. Where Del Maguey is all about art and authenticity, Paquera is about lifestyle — their website and Instagram feed are filled with images of beautiful youth, beaches and bars, the mezcal a liquid accessory to a life of luxurious leisure. All of which is fine and good from a sales and marketing perspective. But it didn’t answer the main question I had, which was: Is it good?

And so we sampled.

Mezcals can range from the dirt-flavored, worm-in-bottle stuff of your worst college nightmares to extraordinarily smoky and complex, similar in profile to a fine scotch. Paquera’s mezcals showed less smoke than Del Maguey’s, which is probably the right approach for their audience, yet were attractively smooth. The espadin, their entry-level offering, was elegant and approachable, the perfect spirit for cocktails, while an espadin blended with wild barril agave was a bit more interesting. My favorite of their three bottlings was the 100% barril, a floral mosaic of flavors that offered up the most of Oaxaca terroir — the dust and sun and spice — and was best sipped neat, ideally from a traditional dried gourd or small clay copita.

The “mezcal rush,” as author Granville Greene aptly described it in his entertaining book of the same name, is at its peak. Is there really room or need for one more mezcal brand? Del Maguey recently sold a majority stake of the company for an undisclosed amount to the French beverage giant, Pernod Ricard. Like I said to the boys, “The rising tide lifts everyone.” Paquera is charting its own unique course through the category that will introduce mezcal and its hallowed traditions to a new audience. And for that, the mezcal world is a better place.

So I say, spread the word, boys. Spread the word.

 *    *    *
Paquera Premium Artisanal Mezcal
100% Espadin……………….$41.95
80% Espadin/20% Barril…$58.95

100% Barril…………………..$79.95

Where to find Paquera


A Chili Cook Off of One

Every early November somethingth, our cozy little canyon community has a chili cook off and swap meet. I have participated in the cook off the past four or five years. It’s always the same group of us — Tom, who brings his homemade wine and last year forgot to put his truck in park and we all watched as it rolled off the cliff; my pal Dan, who won last year but drank too much during the morning and was passed out in his van when his name was announced; the young duo of Julian and Trevor, who object whenever I don’t win. Nobody cares much who wins or loses, it’s a lot of fun.


I’ve never won. I came in second a couple years back. “Dude, you got robbed!” said Julian and Trevor, who won that year. More

The Evacu-cation

The first sign that anything might be wrong came on a Thursday afternoon, driving my son Flynn to his baseball practice in Agoura Hills.

As we wound through Malibu Canyon, we spotted a large plume of smoke rising over approximately exactly where the baseball field was. “Uh, Dad…” said Flynn, pointing. We arrived to discover the fire was a ridge away, so practice proceeded as planned.

The next day we could see the smoke from our home, rising like a mushroom cloud over our drought-dry mountains. I was at an afternoon birthday party for a 7-year-old drinking wine when my wife pulled up unexpectedly. “Mandatory evacuation,” she said. She was on her way to our friends Bob and Shoba’s house in the San Fernando Valley. I went back home, gathered a few more photo albums and the important artworks, and descended on the valley to join her. More

A Waffle Does Not Make Good Sandwich Bread (and Other Thoughts)

I received a Groupon in my in-box this morning (why I still receive Groupons in my in-box is another conversation) for a place called “Red Maple Café”. A rather generic attempt at an Americana tavern/eatery type name (the trend these days). Obviously not drawing the people they expected, if they are putting out a Groupon.

The photo included with the Groupon was of an ill-conceived sandwich, a meat of some kind — probably smoked heritage pork belly — suspended between two waffles. Making matters worse was a sprig of cilantro sitting ominously close to the meat. More

Lamb Shanks Two Ways, and the World’s Rarest Pasta

Awhile back, I was reading Saveur magazine, and stumbled on an article entitled “On the Hunt for the World’s Rarest Pasta.”

Su filindeu — or “threads of God” — are a hand-pulled pasta the width approximately of human hair, served at the end of a 20-mile overnight pilgrimage through sheep country on the isle of Sardinia, a tradition that has dwindled down to two or three woman still able to make it. Here’s the article, a great read, if you want to learn more of the back story.

Sardinian sheep

The fine filamented noodle supposedly takes decades to master. Repeatedly stretched by hand, it grows thinner and thinner with each successive round. It is only eaten one morning a year, following a foot bath, in the Sardinian village of Lulu at the Sanctuary of San Francesco, boiled in a sheep stock and showered with grated sheep’s cheese. More

Previous Older Entries