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

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Winner!

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Sardinian sheep

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