The Case in Favor of Celebrity Incursion Into the Mezcal Industry

Although it gets the occasional boost, these days the tequila industry really doesn’t need the added promotion from movie stars or sports celebrities. But mezcal, her lesser-known sister, surely does. And yet many so-called promoters of the typically higher alcohol content agave distillate are against any incursion of Hollywood or Yankee Stadium into their secret society. They dis a particular spirit based on little more than the name(s) associated with the brand, in many cases without even having sampled it. By contrast, the social media tequila pundits tend to engage in healthy discourse while providing tasting notes about even those brands with celebrity recognition.

Criticizing the likes of, for example Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul (of most recently Breaking Bad fame) and their interest in the brand Dos Hombres, fails to either advance the mezcal industry or financially ameliorate the families of its makers and the communities in which they work and reside. And shouldn’t those be two major reasons for commenting about agave distillates more generally? If the kvetch is resenting the wealthy from becoming wealthier and doing so off of the backs of hard-working poor rural Mexicans, perhaps take a step back and consider what’s actually happening.

Should we resent owners of brands including Del Maguey, Ilegal, Pierde Almas and Vago, for embarking upon relationships with the likes of corporate entities such as Pernod Ricard, Bacardi, Diageo and Samson & Surrey? They too are in it for the money. But because of the global reach of each of them, they expose mezcal to parts of the world likely otherwise not approachable; a good thing. If you resent it all, including the star power of the Jordans and the Jenners, the Hagars and the Aykroyds, and the Aarons and the Cranstons, then perhaps living in a capitalist society is not for you.

While of course there are valid criticisms which can be levied, at its purest and its best capitalism in part means that the free market governs the success and advancement of brands, including those of mezcal.

If the concern is forever losing the artisanal and ancestral nature of some of the popular mezcal geek brands, that will not happen. Celebrity does not necessarily mean a low quality product. And isn’t taste in the mouth of the imbiber? There will always be a market for relatively expensive high quality agave distillates. Just look at Tequila Ocho, Tequila 21, and some of the Fortaleza expressions. They thrive despite the lower end tequila products which flood the market. Not all tequilas are mainstream, and not all mezcals need head in that direction.

Why deny the fans of The Kardashians, Saturday Night Live, the NBA and Van Halen, the opportunity to pique their palates with agave distillates, even if it means an introduction via a lower end product? Many are people who may not have even heard of mezcal, and now literally millions, will sample it. Some won’t like it, others will, and still others will graduate to what some aficionados might consider “better” agave distillate products. The result is inevitably increased sales in broader markets. How can that be bad, unless the naysayers would prefer that rural Mexicans continue to live in small dirt road villages while they struggle to make ends meet, to have potable water 365 days a year, and to maintain a balanced diet?

Just because a celebrity with notoriety and purchasing power is involved in the industry, does not necessarily mean that they are squeezing the palenqueros in order to get the best possible price for mezcal. Are they using a healthy percentage of profits to feed back into the neediest sectors of the Oaxacan economy? It’s worthy of investigation before passing judgment. They may be no different from Mexican-owned brands, or American or Canadian “normal” entrepreneur-owned brands, or Oaxacan-owned brands some of the principals of which may or may not be the most generous people.

If it’s a lower end lower priced mezcal that enables the working classes of limited financial means to enjoy agave distillates other than tequila, then that’s also a good thing, even if it means turning to an industrial product after sampling those expensive spirits of the stars.

So far the mezcal industry has not had the good fortune of being driven by a cocktail such as the margarita in the 1930s or 1940s. Nor has it had the subsequent promotion, intended or not, of Sammy Davis Jr. and the rest of The Rat Pack. The mezcal industry needs the celebrity push.

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