The Tasting Panel magazine

July 2013

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Page 119 of 149

IN THE BIZ Del Maguey founder Ron Cooper enjoys his Single Village Mezcals during this year's Manhattan Cocktail Classic. Mezcal's Champion HOW DEL MAGUEy'S RON COOPER REVIVED MEXICO'S ARTISANAL AGAVE SPIRIT by David Ransom / photo by Adam Lerner H aving spent the better part of four decades roaming the villages of Oaxaca befriending the artisan Zapotec Indian palenqueros (producers) of Mexico's native spirit, artist and one-time surfer Ron Cooper's passion for mezcal is obvious. "My first trips down there in the early '70s, I found some great mezcals, all made by these tiny producers in the traditional ways using wild agave harvested from the surrounding countryside. They were unlike any I had had before—so intensely flavorful, so pure. I fell in love with them," says Cooper. "These spirits were not made in commercial distilleries with modern equipment, and were not in distribution as we envision it; they were just made in and for the town." For years, Cooper's focus was only to enjoy them while concentrating on his increasingly successful career as an artist. Often traveling to Mexico for relaxation and inspiration, he'd bring bottles home to enjoy with friends. Ultimately however, it was an attempt to use mezcal as art that got into him into the spirits trade: A big jug of a mezcal that he had been given to incorporate into one of his art projects was confiscated at the border. "That's when I decided I wanted to do something with these wonderful spirits as a business." Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal, the company he started in the 1990s, is now one of the most respected small companies in the industry, and Ron is considered by many to be one of the great authorities on the product—and by some accounts, the mastermind of mezcal's resurrection. Del Maguey's portfolio features eight regularly available bottlings, all named either for the type of agave used or after the village of origin, and each is a uniquely different product from the next. All are still made the way they always have been: by hand in small batches, by small distillers, in traditional woodfired clay or copper stills. Occasionally when one of his producers comes up with a new concept, Cooper will add it to his Vino de Mezcal series, a group of limited releases he offers mostly to his on-premise clientele. These special offerings, often as small as 50 cases, are often sold out pre-release. "What sets Del Maguey apart, other than how good the mezcals are, is that there is nothing even remotely like them in the marketplace," says akawinegeek. com's Steve Olson, who has worked with Cooper for years to promote the brand and its concept, "but even bigger than that, is that Ron is helping these tiny back-country producers in remote Mexican villages to preserve their way of life and their craft by giving them an income, and in doing so, is also giving them a future." 118  /  the tasting panel  /  july 2013 TP0713_100-148.indd 118 6/24/13 6:04 PM

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