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Why L.A.’s Agave Gatekeeper Called Yesterday ‘The Saddest Day’ for the Mezcal Industry Across Mexico

1:03 PM PDT on August 12, 2022

As mezcal continues its swift ascent into U.S. popularity, sweeping spendy finance bros, influencer entrepreneurs, Hollywood actors, and other damned yankees up in a craze for what they erroneously label it "smoky Tequila," another long-feared prophecy of agave gatekeepers is sadly coming true, with implications for Mexico, mezcaleros, and the very Earth itself.

A "mezcal Cristalino" has finally reared its ugly head, produced by Mexico's own Casa Lumbre Spirits and fronted by the face of Colombian pop-star Maluma.

Cristalinos is an increasingly popular and relatively new style in the world of tequila. Bottles of cristalino usually contain aged tequila, or a blend of aged tequilas, that are typically charcoal-filtered back to a clear appearance, endowing them with a unique marketing position for a spirits industry desperate to find the next thing or distinguish its products from the next tequila-come-lately. The removal of coloring is promoted as an excision of impurities, providing a "smoother" taste while appealing to the kind of person intent on drinking "the next big thing."

Some say the art of tequila was lost long ago to mass industrial production, despite a handful of producers who stick to traditional methods. Aged tequilas, though enjoyed widely throughout Mexico and the rest of the world, themselves are thought of as a sort of concession created to convert whiskey drinkers of yore to Mexican spirits. Critics may occasionally whine about such gimmicks as cristalino tequila, but sadly, such manipulations are already par for the course for tequila.

Mezcal is a different story. Whereas tequila is made with one very specific agave, mezcal embraces a much richer spectrum of dozens of fermentable agaves found in several parts of Mexico. Treasured mezcal tradicional not only avoids industrial short-cuts, but is traditionally savored at higher ABVs than the typical U.S. spirits of 40% ABV.

As mezcal has become more popular over the years, defenders of true mezcal have long feared the rush of big money getting attached to the product and watering it down for white, Western audiences, causing the particularities and details of this spirit to be lost along the way, while damaging the communities that have nurtured and protected mezcal and maguey for generations.

Which is why a 40% ABV mezcal being marketed with a celebrity face and embodying the cristalino trend is not sitting well with supporters of true mezcal who have long feared the spirit being exploited for profit that does not go to the people who farm agave or dedicate generations to the craft and hard work of making mezcal.

No one puts it as strongly and poetically as Ivan Vasquez, the owner of the small but mighty Madre Oaxacan Restaurant and Mezcaleria empire which counts one of the biggest collections of mezcal for sale in the U.S.

In an Instagram post, Vasquez posted a photo of Maluma sitting over a bottle of Casa Lumbre's Cristalino and told it like it is by saying:

It is one of the saddest days in the mezcal industry across Mexico. I can’t explain how this is damaging the history and tradition of our beautiful spirit called “Mezcal.”
Not only making a mezcal Cristalino with and ABV 35% for Mexico and 40% ABV for USA but selling their bottle at $64 produced in Tlacolula, Oaxaca where there are many giants mezcal brands already . Not talking about the family behind the production or the details of the production but putting @maluma as the rock start and owner.

@casalumbrespirits with the help of many writers, publishers and editors that have no convictions or professionalism will try to bury the mezcal tradition and history with articles and press news along with collaborations with people within the industry to promote this brand in exchange for a swiped in the POS to show support to the local restaurants but in reality the are paying for using th establishments to promote another celebrity owned mezcal. The gifts, the promotions and invitations will come full of surprises to you in order to support these events.

Why is a Mexican owned brand @casalumbrespirits doing this? Because they just care about making money and they don’t care the tradition or the future of the mezcal category.

Unfortunately a lot of consumers will buy and consume this because their marketing and PR will be so strong that will reach those uneducated consumers in both countries.

Enjoy your tradicional mezcal bottles, we are seeing the thread of this company and brand trying to extinguish the traditional Mezcal process by burying the history

The next 5 years will be critical to preserve the authentic spirit made by the real mezcalero families not by celebrities.

I’m afraid that my kids won’t have the pleasure to enjoy mezcal like we do because the industrialization of mezcal has arrived destroying hundreds of families and centuries of mezcal tradition.

More important the deforestation and water shortage in all parts of Mexico but specifically Oaxaca where all these celebrity owned brands are based and produced.

My father thought me to stand up for my believes and have a position in life. So my position is clear: Traditional mezcal.

Corporate succubi being what they are, we can't expect anything less from bloodsucking industries with a limitless greed for green. Companies, spirit or otherwise, will try to make money off anything that gains a little steam, even if it means killing you or the Earth with its byproducts and practices, enslaving local populations, or killing off entire rural economies.

That a spirits company is releasing a flashy new product, thereby diluting and destroying a time-honored jewel of an older culture, should come as no surprise. They're the scorpion to the world's frog. Our only recourse is to essentially, refuse to drink this shit.
As in so many similar cases, the responsibility once again falls on us as consumers, or writers or influencers or whatever, to educate ourselves about the brands we buy and make sure we're supporting those that honor and enrich the lands and people we care about.
It may ultimately be the only way to stop Big Mezcal in its tracks.
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