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The Inspiration of Mezcal and Oaxaca

Ron Cooper Explains Mezcal

“You don’t find Mezcal. Mezcal finds you.”

Mezcal Culture

Mezcal to me is transformative and I view it as a cultural project. Tequila is very northern and is closer to the US border, Oaxaca is the most southern state. It has 16 indigenous languages that are still spoken today. Before kids learn Spanish, they learn their native language. In Oaxaca, written contracts don’t count. It’s oral contracts that count and I’ve never had anyone break their word. Mezcal comes from that culture.

Creating Del Maguey Mezcals

We have 6 producers and a dozen growers with 5,000 agave plants, which we plant every year in early June. I start with roast agave heart, so you can actually taste the plant and where it came from. It is shockingly sweet, way sweeter than blue agave from Jalisco which is steam-cooked. It gets this earthiness. The hearts are buried over hot rocks, not over a fire - which is a myth. They are roasted for 3 to 5 days and the starch is converted to fructose. The smokiness comes from the rocks that have been coated with smoke and oil from the fire. It creates a certain caramel flavor and sweetness. You’ll notice caramelized onion, tangerine, orange, citrus, high acids. It’s just an incredible flavor.

Mezcal Mysticism - In God We Trust

Our Tobala farmer, before he harvests, actually makes an offering to the gods. Our maker from Minero, Santa Catarina Minas says “primero dios” which means God first. If God gives me good maguey and good firewood, I can make good Mezcal. Industrial, high-volume production doesn’t leave any space for God in the bottle. Artisanal, super slow production maintains flavor and there is plenty of space for God in the bottle.


Because it is made so slowly, Mezcal is one of the few spirits where you get terroir. You can have something like grappas from Jacopo Poli, which are made from different varietals and you get really beautiful flavors, but I can’t taste the terroir. I fell in love with Nicholas Joly’s bio-dynamic wines when I first tasted them. You can really taste the terroir.

Drinking Mezcal

Drink it neat and sip it. The very first sip should be the tiniest sip you can possibly take and you push your tongue to the roof of your mouth, up into your teeth and squeeze. It automatically goes down around the sides of your tongue, to the back of your mouth. You swallow and the Mezcal warms your throat.

It’s going to be overwhelmingly intense because most spirits don’t have that much flavor in them. You have to give it 30 seconds and it tunes up your palette and it becomes acclimatized.

Then you take a second sip and it changes completely. It gets softer and sweeter. It talks to you.

Older women, past child bearing age in Oaxaca, leaving the market early in the morning always have a little “medicina” that helps their joints.

The Mezcal High

The essence of spirits is spirit and I think Mezcal has a different effect even than tequila. You have humorous thoughts runny around the back of your head simultaneous to talking and drinking. Your feet come off the ground about a quarter of an inch and half and hour later you are back on the ground again. The high is different -- it’s a more humorous, contemplative high.

I can drink one cocktail with gin, one with vodka, one tequila, I can’t drink rum at all, I don’t want to drink any cognac (except for one from Jean Grosperrin), but I can drink Mezcal all day and it doesn’t hurt. It just fits my body.

Pairing with Food

Mezcal pairs incredibly well with food. In 1995, I started doing pairing dinners - back when no one was doing spirit pairing dinners. It just combines with every kind of food.

Because of the smokiness of Mezcal, the obvious pairing is BBQ or any kind of grilled meat or fish. But, I’ve had incredible delicate, creamy onion soup with Mezcal. Any fruit or pastry with Mezcal poured over it is just amazing.

I have a friend who is a French chef and he’ll heat up a crepe pan, flashes San Luis Del Rio Mezcal, then pours the crepe batter in and rolls the crepe in a little powdered sugar - it’s just fabulous.

It’s also fantastic with flan. Take a little bit out of the top of a flan and will the hole with Mezcal.

Last Word on the Worm

It was the first Mezcal exported to the United States and it was a marketing gimmick. This guy went to Oaxaca from Mexico City and looked for the cheapest Mezcal he could find. They sent him out to this village, which today still has the biggest production of Mezcal. He noticed all of the agave hearts had larvae in them and it gave the Mezcal a unique flavor. Well, that’s a rotten agave. The larvae don’t enter the hearts until it is past maturity. It softens, then the larvae come in. He figured he’d put a couple in each bottle to signify what it is.

Clay Sipping Cups

Photograph courtesy of Ron Cooper / Del Maguey /

Gateway Mezcals

The Del Maguey Mezcal Vida is lower proof at 42% alcohol. It’s really been embraced incredibly by bartenders. It’s also really easy to drink. And the Espandin Especial is also unbelievably easy to drink. I must have had a dozen cups of it last night - from these little clay sipping cups - they hold about 3/4 oz. I felt good last night and feels good this morning.

Del Maguey Mezcal Cocktails

The Good Cork | Philip Ward of Mayahuel


1 drink

Glass: Rocks

Garnish: Apple Slice

Ice: Cubes

Ingredients for The Good Cork cocktail

Photo credit for the apple slice: visulogik [flickr]


- 1 oz. Del Maguey Vida Mezcal

- 1 oz. Red Breast Irish Whisky

- 1/2 oz. Benedictine

- 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters


1) Stir ingredients over ice.

2) Strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass.

3) Garnish with an apple slice.


Mezcal Mule | Jim Meehan, Winter 2009, PDT


1 drink

Glass: Rocks

Garnish: Candied Ginger, Slice of Cucumber, Pinch Ground Chili

Ice: Cubes


- 1.5 oz. Del Maguey Vida Mezcal

- 1 oz. House Ginger Beer

- .75 oz. Lime Juice

- .75 oz. Boiron Passion Fruit Purée

- .5 oz. Agave Syrup

- 3 muddled cucumber slices, plus 1 for garnish


1) Add the lime and cucumber slices to a mixing glass and muddle

2) Add the rest of the ingredients

3) Shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass filled with ice

4) Garnish with a piece of candied ginger picked to a slice of cucumber and a pinch of ground chili.

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Celery & Smoke | Michael Bowers


1 drink

Glass: Double Old Fashioned

Garnish: Lime Wheel

Ice: Kold-Draft


- 1.5 oz. El Tesoro Platinum Tequila

- 0.75 oz. celery juice

- 0.50 oz. lime juice

- 0.50 oz. Agave syrup

- 1 teaspoon Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal


1) Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker.

2) Add ice and shake.

3) Strain over ice into a Double Old Fashioned glass.

4) Garnish with a lime wheel.


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Bottles photographs courtesy of Ron Cooper / Del Maguey /

General Information

Del Maguey Mezcals







Photo Credit: Find. Eat. Drink.