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

Eating Oaxaca

Oaxaca, they say, is the culinary capital of Mexico. I was eager to put this to the test.

I am still digesting Mexico City tacos when we arrive and check into our hotel. But my pal Mike rouses me from a brief respite on my bed that could’ve easily turned into an evening in, and we are soon walking the beautiful historic streets of the old center of Oaxaca city. More

Into the Maguey Mountains

I’m partial to Del Maguey single village mezcal. And not simply because my pal, Michael, is a partner in the company. (Though he has winced on the rare occasion he has discovered one of his competitor’s products in my liquor cabinet.) The mezcals are complex and delicious, I like the backstory, the commitment to preserving tradition, and the Ken Price labels. But I would become an even greater advocate upon traveling deep into Oaxaca with Mike, visiting two of Del Maguey’s palenques (where the mezcals are made), and meeting the men who make them.

Wild tobala agave at the Del Maguey bodega

It was a bright southern Mexico morning when the car picked up Mike and me, freshly filled up on breakfast mole and huevos, to head south out of the city and into the agave countryside. The day breaks open like an egg, the light harsh and silver as the swords of the espadin, elevation halfway to the sun and soon you are shielding your eyes. The landscape is dusty and weedy and cactusy, not the way I pictured Oaxaca, punctuated with the bursting spikes of the agave that will define our day. More

Thankful (But Not for Grasshoppers)

I had just finished my last post about my pal Mike and his wife Bridget harassing me from Oaxaca with their photos and videos of delicious meals, when they returned — bearing gifts!

There was a lovely and colorful dishtowel, a jar of black mole paste which to this cook is as good as its weight in gold, and there was a small jar of chapulines — roasted grasshoppers.



On the adventurous eater scale of 1 to 10, I consider myself about a 7. I’m no Anthony Bourdain. But I’ve recently been venturing more deeply into the euphemistically named world of “variety” meats, have sampled the slimiest offerings the world’s oceans put forth, and am a fan of such culinary curiosities as Japanese fermented natto and the stinking durian. There’s not a lot I won’t try, at least once. But one taxonomic class I have steadfastly resisted ingesting is that of the insect. More

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