Discover more from Drink Seco
no. 9 -WTF is with all the celebrity tequilas?!
All things tequila and mezcal cocktails! We discuss their history, politics, reputation, and why every celebrity seems to have a tequila brand!
Thanks for reading another Drink Seco newsletter! This week we’ll be talking all about tequila and mezcal! No, not Paul Mescal I’m afraid, (although you can bet I’ll find a way to put him in the newsletter).
Before we get into it, what’s been going on?
Last week we had the Oscars, a champagne carpet replaced the typical red one (indicative of champagne socialists? Or perhaps a shift away from red wine in favor of bubbles? Kidding, kidding). In case you didn’t see it, the main headline was that Everything Everywhere All At Once cleaned up the awards, and rightly so. A few people were more beautifully dressed than others. And movies either won or lost. Riveting stuff. But then I suppose every Oscars will be less exciting post The Slap.
On the personal front, Kate and I have been having a great old time in Denver, out west really has a lot going for it, and on the cocktail business front, it has been nothing but kind. I’ve been spending have of the last two months in Aspen, thanks to my amazing private clients. The air has been brisk, the sun has been hot, and I’ve been doing what I love most! (So really no complaints around here!)
Before the winter’s out I’ve got snowboarding on the bucket list, it’s definitely a different lifestyle to San Sebastián but one I can get used to. The active Denver way of life is a far cry from the siestas and pintxos bars of Spain. We plan to head back (to Spain) in August because you know… balance.
Anyways, let’s bring it back to cocktails! It’s hard to argue with tequila and mezcal cocktail’s rise in popularity, and with martini March coming to an end, what better way to shake (or stir) things up than to lead you into the next season of spirits?
Let’s get into it, here’s what’s on the menu for this week:
A quick history lesson
Tequilas on the rise
From feared to fabulous, an overview of the life of the party
Why does every celebrity have a tequila brand?
The hill (winery) I will die on
My favorite mezcal cocktail recipes
A quick history lesson:
To give you a brief overview, tequila and mezcal are ancient agave-distilled Mexican spirits. Tequila is mainly produced in Jalisco and is only made from blue agave weber. Mezcal, on the other hand, is produced from various different agave plants typically from the espadin variety. Both are made from agave plants, specifically the ‘pina’ juice from the heart of the plant.
Mezcal is known to be “tequila’s smokier cousin”, and while all tequila is mezcal, not all mezcal is tequila. To make it a little confusing for you, mezcal is also the name of agave spirits in general. There are also key differences in how they are distilled. To make tequila the agave is steamed, while for mezcal it is roasted.
Agave spirits are very expensive and time-consuming to grow and harvest, on average plants take seven years to thirty years to reach maturity, and once they are harvested, they die. So unlike wine grapes, they cannot be harvested from the same plant every year. However, like wine, the flavors differ depending on the unique region they are grown in.
Production of the drink dates back to the 17th century, however, Indigenous people consumed the fermented drink ‘pulque’ back in the 14th century, as a ritual intoxicant and medicinal beverage.
In the 16th century, the Spanish colonizers outlawed agave drinks sales, however despite this, the market expanded and the Spanish eventually instituted a system of taxation, evolving it into a commercial enterprise.
Despite a tumultuous history in the American imaginary (more on that later), tequila really took off in the 1940s and has been steadily growing in popularity since. Interestingly, it was first marketed for its medicinal qualities!
In 1974 the term "tequila" was declared as the intellectual property of the Mexican government. This means today in order to be labeled "tequila," Mexican law requires it to be produced in Jalisco or one of four other Mexican municipalities to be considered legitimate tequila.
If you’re interested in more of the history and politics of this infamous drink, check out this book called How the Gringos Stole Tequila: The Modern Age of Mexico's Most Traditional Spirit by Chantal Martineau which explores the evolution of tequila in America, from “frat-house firewater” to luxury good, talking traditional distillers, leading mixologists and academics on both sides of the border.
Drink Seco is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Tequila’s on the rise:
Tequila’s modern-day rebranding seems to be going well, from the crazy party spirit of choice to a luxury drink. Hats off to whoever its PR team is, smells like a Kris Jenner job... The reputation of being the “frat house fire-water” is almost as strong as Leonardo DiCaprio’s reputation for dating 23-year-old women. His PR team is yet to make a dent in this (true) stereotype.
According to the Distilled Spirits Council, tequila sales have grown about six percent every year since 2002 reaching over $4 billion in 2020. In 2022, for the first time, Americans spent more money on mezcal and tequila than they did on US whiskeys or vodka!
Tequila didn’t always have such a light-hearted, celebratory reputation in the States. And while I kid about a Kris Jenner-level PR team driving this change of image, it actually speaks a lot more to America’s perception of Mexicans and its identity as a whole. Unfortunately, as racism and politics play a bigger role in status in the marketplace than it is given credit.
From feared to fabulous, an overview of the life of the party:
Despite its long popularity in Mexico, in the 19th-century tequila came to be associated with various racial stereotypes and represented socio-political fears in the US. Mexico was already depicted as a dangerous destination for Americans full of illicit temptations. During prohibition, Mexican alcohol producers thrived and so did the promotion of its products. Maria Sarita Gaytán did some really interesting research into the intersections of the rise in popularity of tequila and “conflict related to colonial aspirations, ideas of racial inferiority and the evolution of United States–Mexico relations”.
However, during the Mexican Revolution, tequila became an important cultural symbol of nationalism, this became working into the books, art, and movies that came out of Mexico, spreading the name of tequila.
As the western perception of Mexicans underwent a transformation and “political pilgrims” began to travel to Mexico after the revolution, the perception of agave drinks and cultural traditions began to shift. This coincided with a Mexican government focus on tourism, which resulted in Americans slowly shifting their feelings about Mexicans and its products.
By 1940 Mexican-themed bars and lounges were popping up and gaining popularity. This was reinforced by the Mexican Golden Age in cinema, a declining threatening image of Mexicans in the US media, and friendlier diplomatic relations. Similarly, Mexico began to be promoted as the ultimate carefree, fun, affordable, holiday destination. Unsurprisingly, companies looking to capitalize on this followed.
Mexican culture and products now hold a very different place in the American imagination, not to mention the cultural practices, foods, and music that have become embedded in our culture.
Why does every celebrity have a tequila brand?
Continuing on from above, today it seems every other celebrity has their own tequila brand now, why is this? Well for one thing tequila is seen as a trendy and lucrative business investment on the rise. And from what you’ve read above, they’re right.
One thing’s for sure though, if celebrities put as much effort and money into useful innovations or healthcare products as they do makeup and tequila lines we’d be driving flying cars by now. This comment of course excludes our Lord and Savior Dolly Parton who put $1 million into Moderna Covid-19 vaccine research and production. She really said “vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vacciiiiiiine”.
Celebrity-backed tequila and mezcal brands do raise some ethical questions surrounding appropriation (for more on food and cultural appropriation in the hospitality industry check out the last newsletter) and just the general overshadowing of smaller brands making great (and often better) products. Not to mention actual worker exploitation and the harvesting and pillaging of Mexican agave plants. As we’ve already spoken about, tequila and mezcal have a deep and important Mexican history and culture and unfortunately, sometimes celebrity brands forget or distract from this to make money.
Anyways, in case you were wondering, here are some of the famous faces who have jumped on the tequila and mezcal brand bandwagon.
The Rock aka Dwayne Johnson: Mana
Nick Jonas: Villa One
Rita Ora: Próspero
AC/DC: Thunderstruck Tequila
George Clooney: Casamigos
Justin Timberlake: Sauza 901
Kendall Jenner: 818
Michael Jordon: Cincoro Tequila
Also to note, the new indie heartthrob, The People’s Prince, Our Lucky Irish Charm, yes, I’m talking about Paul Mescal, has hinted that he should get into the celebrity agave game… Mescal-Mezcal, I mean the name is there, get his team on it.
Once again, it isn’t inherently bad that non-Mexicans are making and producing mezcal drinks, it ultimately comes down to respect and acknowledgment or a platform for the families who have been making it for generations. Always support local businesses!
The hill (winery) I will die on:
Whilst we’re on celebrities and their alcohol brands, the only one I fully endorse (despite not actually having tried his wine), and the hill I will die on is Sam Neill’s.
This gorgeous man has a farm and winery called Two Paddocks in New Zealand that is one of the only consistent causes of happiness in life. If you were to look up wholesome, this man and his celebrity-named animals would come up. Yes, you read it right, celebrity-named animals. Some people say you’ve made it when you get a golden star in Hollywood, I say you haven’t made it until Sam Neill has a farm animal named after you. Some of the lucky stars include Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Angelica Huston, Susan Sarandon, and Graham Norton!
All that’s left to say is that I would pay good money to be one of his pets with a celebrity name.
My favorite mezcal cocktail recipes:
You didn’t think I’d write all about mezcal without sharing some cocktail recipes with you?
In the lead-up to Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) here are some mezcal and tequila cocktail recipes to try!
Better + Better Old Fashioned
Just as good as it sounds, combining the best of both worlds. Simple and delicious!
0.75 oz sweet vermouth
0.75 oz campari
0.75 oz tequila
0.75 oz mezcal
Better + Better Old Fashioned:
Another favorite of mine is this Old Fashioned made with:
6 dashes angostura bitters
0.5 oz velvet falernum
0.5 oz mezcal
2 oz aged rum
And finally, the mezcal paloma, the perfect summery and celebratory drink, light and refreshing:
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz simple syrup
2 oz grapefruit juice
0.5 oz mezcal
1.5 oz tequila blanco
Cheers! That’s all for this week, thanks for reading another drink seco newsletter x
Spring has officially started which means summer is on the way, so it’s time to start planning for those summer parties and BBQs. This means it's time to get a few more cocktails and fascinating dinner party convo starters under your sleeves. And where better to get all that than right here?
Drink Seco is a reader-supported publication. If you want to receive exclusive, bonus newsletters filled with extra juicy content and cocktail recipes, become a paying subscriber! Or if you’re looking to brighten up a loved one's inbox, gift a subscription!
I assure you, the man of the moment and everyone’s favorite hunk, would endorse this newsletter (if he knew about it…)
Enjoy the rest of your week kids!