Interview: Cheech Marin on the Mezcal Movement

Mezcal is having a moment. Premium takes on this smoky Mexican spirit are hitting the market in higher numbers. Behind this trend are mixologists across the country who are whipping up innovative cocktails with the agave spirit, introducing consumers to the different flavors and varietals of mezcal.

Comedian and actor Cheech Marin certainly took notice. He’s now the brand ambassador behind the premium mezcal Tres Papalote, brought into America through Riviera Imports. We recently caught up with Marin to talk about all things mezcal.

Beverage Dynamics: Why has mezcal taken off?

Cheech Marin: In our culture, everyone is always looking for the next trend, and what’s cool. Especially the Millenials — they don’t want to drink what their parents drink. The timing was right for something bold and new.

BD: What are some great mezcal cocktails?

CM: Mezcal is wonderful in a mixed cocktail, starting with a mezcal margarita (I make a special cucumber margarita). Another favorite of mine is a mezcal mule: add mezcal, instead of vodka, to a mule recipe for a delightful twist.

When I am out I always ask the bartender to come up with something interesting. I like a tart cocktail and my wife likes something sweeter and with fruit. Mezcal mixes great with fruits juices like pineapple or grapefruit juice, or try a strawberry freeze or a watermelon combination. At home, I often just mix mezcal with lime juice and agave syrup (to keep it simple) and garnish with a lime.

A little hint for those who try it neat or on the rocks: never use a lime if the mezcal is not in a mixed cocktail. Use an orange wedge, dipped in warm salt, to enhances the taste of mezcal.

BD: Why did you want to get behind a mezcal brand?

CM: I have been a long-time fan of mezcal — it is so much cooler than tequila.

When my friend Ed Caan, from Riviera Imports, came to me in 2016 and asked if I wanted to collaborate on a brand, I immediately knew that mezcal was it.

BD: What do you enjoy about mezcal?

CM: Mezcal has such a complex taste to it — very interesting and distinct. And I love that mezcal is steeped in Mexican history for almost 500 years, and has been part of rituals and ceremonies through the centuries.

BD: What would you recommend for the tequila drinker who hasn’t yet tried mezcal? What about the whiskey drinker?

CM: We created Tres Papalote to have a very smooth taste, with a slightly sweeter finish, and not quite as smoky as some other mezcals. So I would invite the tequila drinker to try Tres Papalote as they discover this new category.

As far as Scotch drinkers, I have many friends who drink only Scotch and love my mezcal as it has that smokey flavor and smooth finish. It is great in the warm weather, while Scotch can be considered as more of a winter drink.

BD: What’s next for mezcal?

CM: Mezcal is on the rise and still has a big growth potential. Although considered a small category, it is growing fast in popularity. The volume of total mezcal imported in the U.S. is a bit under 400,ooo cases a year. Shipments have roughly quadrupled over the last half-decade as it continues to expand. I believe mezcal is here to stay and many tequila drinkers will take the next step to enjoying mezcal. As I say “Viva La Evolucuion!”

Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece 5 Emerging Whiskey Brands.

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