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


Muddle & Wilde

What sounds like the name of a pair of bumbling, ineffectual British TV detectives is actually a new project by two of the most creative, beautiful women I know — Muddle & Wilde, organic drink mixes “handcrafted in small batches.”

Laura and Moira

Rereading the grammatical structure of that previous sentence, I realized it could be interpreted that my two friends are named Muddle & Wilde. They are not. They are Moira and Laura, two mothers at the elementary school where my daughters go — and are friends with their daughters. And we are friends with Moira and Laura, and so were impressed and excited when we heard about their venture. More

A Chili in the Air

If it’s early fall in Topanga, it must be chili time.

My ingredient list

My ingredient list

Every year, around the first weekend in November, the Topanga Swap Meet & Chili Cook Off rolls around. For a couple years, I was a judge. And then two autumns back, I was convinced by my friend Nonie who helps run the local community house to enter the contest, along with her husband Dan who was also entering. More

Queues and Barbecues

They asked me to do it again. Despite the lines — oh! the lines… — they asked me to do it again.

“Is there anything we can do about the lines?” they gingerly put forth.

Last Halloween, our children’s annual grade school Halloween carnival got an upgrade. It moved from school to the ballfield at the local community center, a live band would play, there would be a bar… And they asked me to do the food.

The Chef boogying at sunset

The chef/fairy/cow boogying at sunset

I was to cook for somewhere between 450 and 600 people. I was a week in preparation and was all set — except that the chimneys I needed for my coal were 90 minutes late. The carnival had opened at 3:30, people began queuing up for food at 4-ish. And I didn’t have anything to serve until close to 5 p.m., at which point the line had stretched from our home-plate set up well into left field. We would never catch up.


The Best Taco in Jalisco

When I go to Puerto Vallarta on the Mexican state of Jalisco’s Pacific shore, I am driven by a memory.

Many years ago, visiting the area with my pal Gary, I had what may have been the best taco of my life.

Al pastor at Pepe's Tacos, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

Al pastor at Pepe’s Tacos, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

“I’m not eating there,” Gary said as I made a bee-line for the grimy little sidewalk stand, feeding more flies than patrons, bottles of crema baking in the sun. I smelled fish tacos.

“Dos, por favor,” I told the leathery woman dropping fillets into oil. More

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