At a current tasting at Rossoblu, the sprawling Italian outpost of chef Steve Samson, an unlikely pairing was occurring. As a substitute of matching wine with the chef’s signature pastas and pizzas, model ambassador George Garcia from Mezcal Mal Bien paired his spirit choices with custom-made Italian-Mexican fusion dishes, sharing tasting notes and somewhat of the story behind every batch. The Mal Bien founders, Ben Scott and Anthony Silas, spend most of their time in rural Mexican communities round Oaxaca and Guerrero, assembly with mezcaleros and importing batches via the label.
“We wished to chop out as most of the center males as we may,” Scott tells InsideHook. “We’ve bought an import firm right here within the U.S. and an export firm in Mexico, in addition to the model. Relatively than it going from the man who makes it to a dealer to a model to an exporter to an importer — and everyone’s placing their margin on it — we’re working instantly with the producers. In case you spend $100 on a bottle of mezcal and there are 100 palms within the cookie jar, how a lot is left for the man who made it? On the finish of the day, the one individuals who matter are the one who made it and the one who’s ingesting it.”
Agave spirits are having a second — a lot in order that lately, uber-rich celebrities from Kendall Jenner to George Clooney have slapped their identify on a bottle of tequila with a properly designed label and referred to as it good. I’ve tried each 818 and Casamigos, and each style effective, however one thing about these manufacturers and subsequent star-fronted liquor firms doesn’t sit fairly proper. Distilling agave has been a conventional Mexican follow for tons of of years, and it appears pretty apparent that native Mexican mezcaleros — who’ve been making it for generations simply to drink with their households and promote inside their communities — would make it finest.
Mezcal Mal Bien agrees, and for those who peruse the mezcal part at an more and more massive variety of bars in Los Angeles, you’ll discover their bottle with its distinctively easy design cropping up on cabinets. Adorned solely with a strip of lime inexperienced tape, a nod to the best way bartenders and cooks world wide shortly and effectively doc issues, Mal Bien’s casual label stands out. The bottle is laced with all of the pertinent info, just like the identify of the household who made it, what area of Mexico it’s from and when it was made. In any other case, the spirit inside speaks for itself.
Each Scott and Silas arrived at mezcal by the use of an curiosity in Scotch whiskey, one other spirit the place impartial bottlers is perhaps releasing the most effective stuff, even when they don’t distill something themselves. “In case you have a big-name model of Scotch and your personal distillery, you could have obligations to place out hundreds of instances,” Scott says. “So that you don’t actually have the chance to do the best and the most effective stuff since you’re attempting to maintain up with the demand for regular merchandise.”
This creates a second market, the place firms with out their very own distilleries purchase the perfect barrels of Scotch they’ll discover. As a substitute of being recognized for a selected fashion, they earn a status as curators of wonderful spirits. That’s the framework the Mal Bien founders have sought to copy within the mezcal world.
“A variety of the most effective folks within the enterprise are doing stuff in portions that you just couldn’t construct an entire enterprise round,” Scott says. “And we most likely couldn’t keep the extent of high quality if we scaled it up. Our concept was at all times simply to showcase what we thought have been the best, most attention-grabbing, scrumptious spirits. We don’t work with the identical [producer] each month, however for those who’re into one thing we’ve launched, your palate is in line and synced up with ours.”
Each batch of Mal Bien mezcal is totally different 12 months to 12 months, however as soon as the connection has been established, they’re dedicated to working with the identical households and representing the work they produce. At present, they’ve relationships with 11 totally different Mexican households who make mezcal, a few of them in extraordinarily remoted locations the place, as Scott places it, “nobody who isn’t from that group has been there for a few years.” (At the very least that was the case when Mal Bien went in throughout 2020. Since visiting, a couple of different manufacturers have adopted of their footsteps.)
One producer, Oscar Morales Garcia, makes an espadín utilizing a recipe developed by his late father, Lucio Morales. As a fourth-generation mezcalero on each his father and mom’s sides, the basic mezcal the household produced has been one in all Mal Bien’s staple imports. However a family-only model distilled and infused with lemongrass, Zacate Limòn, just lately earned a cult following when Scott and Silas introduced a small quantity again stateside. Morales now makes this specialty mezcal in honor of his father and mom, who died throughout Covid, and new batches simply launched at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans.
It’s precisely these sorts of distinctive, hyper-local choices — and an insistence on honoring the tales and other people behind them — that makes Mal Bien mezcal stand out. Their insistence on highlighting the precise producers is a welcome consideration in a metropolis the place Mexican tradition is ceaselessly appropriated, exploited and brought with no consideration.
“Mal Bien is extra about showcasing the one who makes it,” Silas says. “Ben and I don’t make mezcal — how may we sit there and act like this was us? It’s not us. We’re a workforce, and we wish everyone to get the popularity that they deserve. We consider that the one who makes it, their identify ought to be as huge as our model identify on the bottle. Their GPS coordinates are on there, and it makes us very completely happy to showcase these households who work so arduous to supply a product for folks to take pleasure in themselves with.”
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