In a peculiar twist of fate, just as craft beer consumption in Oaxaca has begun to skyrocket, South Africans who have traditionally preferred microbrewery beers to commercial beers and, indeed, spirits, are now turning their attention to mezcal. In January 2012, La Muerte brand mezcal, distilled in Oaxaca, hit the shelves of South Africa.
Until recently, mezcal (also known as mezcal), the spirit derived from a number of varieties of agave (or maguey) plants, took a backseat to its more popular sibling, tequila. But with the help of a marketing plan currently being promoted by the Mexican government through its ProMéxico agency, the southern state of Oaxaca, which produces most of the country’s mezcal, has become a favorite of liquor importers. emerging.
The businessman Rui Esteves enters. In less than two months, his La Muerte mezcal has become the best-selling Mexican spirit at Cape Town’s popular El Burro restaurant, known for its wide selection of tequilas; No small feat given that La Muerte had to dislodge popular products like Patrón and Olmeca from their lofty rankings.
Since 2007, Esteves’ main business interest has been in beer, importing German craft beer into South Africa and promoting it through an innovative and aggressive marketing plan. Then, about three years ago, Esteves began introducing tequila and other agave-based spirits (as well as agave nectar) to the South African market. The agave business began strictly as a hobby, with Esteves capitalizing on the advertising acumen he had honed during his dealings with imported beers.
But for Esteves it has always been much more than his experience in marketing and promotion that has driven his products, and in this case the La Muerte mezcal. “I love working with artisan producers motivated by the pride they take in what they make or distill,” he says. “And just as importantly,” he continues, “I only work with products that I love to drink and that are part of my life; I have no passion for whisky, so I don’t work with it.”
And so Esteves traveled to Oaxaca about a year and a half ago with mezcal on his mind. He met with several palenqueros (producers), sampled their products, and later decided to work with someone in Matatlán, a town about a 45-minute drive from Oaxaca and known as “The Mezcal Capital of the World.” must be; a sign that crosses the road when entering Matatlán tells you so; and above the sign is a full-size copper pot still.
“It was important for me to sit down with the palenquero and his wife and family in their home before making a decision about working with them,” he explains. “Meeting the rest of the family reaffirmed their passion for what they do, and knowing that they have a tradition of mezcal production in Matatlán dating back to the 19th century didn’t hurt either.”
Although mezcal had previously been available in South Africa, drinkers really had no idea what it was or how it was made until La Muerte appeared on the scene. And of course the products that were available were not of the artisanal quality that Esteves has now introduced. Tequila struggled with its reputation until the Patrons began to be imported. Until now, it has been necessary for the drinking public to appreciate mezcal, through La Muerte. “South Africans are embracing it; they can’t believe it actually tastes delicious,” he says proudly.
Esteves initially chose rested with worm because he felt it was a distillate that could be easily marketed at an affordable price. His other entry into the mezcal market, a five-year-old añejo aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, came about as a result of a spontaneous emotional decision. “I just fell in love,” he confesses, and then adds, “what I feel for quality mezcal, and in fact for the magic of Oaxaca, I want to share with my compatriots and compatriots.”
And the brand? Esteves could have chosen any of several names. “Oaxaca is full of inspiration”, she shines her. “The name was influenced by Day of the Dead, of course, and the respect Oaxacans have for the dead, and more generally, their ancestry and heritage.”
Despite the meteoric rise in popularity of La Muerte mezcal in recent months, Esteves maintains that to date he hasn’t really done much marketing and at the moment is just planting the seed and measuring the potential of mezcal, in South Africa and so on. as in other non-traditional markets for Mexican liquors based on agave.
Esteves is aware of the recent fashion in some large American cities, and indeed in some parts of Mexico, for mezcals made not only from the espadin agave that is used to make their reposado and añejo, but also from some wild magueyes and other magueyes.” of design”. But he remains cautiously optimistic and plans to introduce other mezcals in select markets by taking slow, deliberate steps. “I tend to get carried away,” he confesses. But judging by the initial reception of La Muerte mezcal in South Africa, the more Esteves rushes with his plan, the better for Oaxacan palenqueros, for Mexico’s economic fortunes, and for South Africans. And if Esteves holds its course, craft brewers should beware.