Ron Cooper is the grandfather of all present expressions of the worldwide artisanal mezcal boom. He is the creator of Del Maguey Mezcal. For the past several years, when conversation about the history of this contemporary mezcal movement has arisen, he has been the recipient of praise; from me, and from some of his rival brand owners.
A plethora of complaints about and protests from the purchase of any spirits in the stable of Del Maguey products has enveloped the mezcal industry. Some cantina owners and even newcomer mezcal aficionados who consider themselves”in the know,” are upset that the mammoth booze baron Pernod Ricard has bought a majority of stocks in the brand. The reality is that but for Mr. Cooper, consumption of mezcal would be nowhere near where it is now, and many of Del Maguey’s detractors would still be drinking pedestrian industrial agave goods of nowhere near the standard of the mezcal now available; in the United States, Britain, Australia, Mexico, Europe, as well as China.
Mr. Cooper started developing the brand from the mid-1990s, when tequila was king and mezcal was its humble cousin. Since that time no one has matched the marketing brilliance of Del Maguey’s moniker”single village mezcal.” Others have developed different ways to promote the spirit, but were it not for Mr. Cooper they’d likely not be in the mezcal business, and in that case, nowhere close to generating the income they now produce for themselves, and more importantly agave growers and hard-working artisanal Oaxacan distillers; and given the current mezcal boom, for tourism in the Southern Mexico country where most of the spirit is generated.
The year 1995, when Del Maguey began exporting, marked a dramatic change in the diversity of mezcal products available outside of Mexico. Until then, besides unaged mezcal made with the espadín specie of agave,”with the worm,” product rested in oak barrels, and perhaps a little bit of tobalá, there was almost nothing else about. Look at where we are now, with there being exported in the state of Oaxaca alone mezcal distilled from 8 – 10 distinct species, with each having between 10 – 20 sub-species. Each of these 150 or so varietals of agave yields another nuance.
He has not given up control of the company, and in fact will continue to call the shots certainly at least well into the next decade. This will guarantee that the quality of Del Maguey will be basically the same as it has over the past 20+ years.
Who else in the industry would require of his customer that way of production and resources of the trade remain unchanged? The biggest change will be as a result of the Pernod Ricard global trajectory in the spirits industry, which will benefit not just Del Maguey, but the financial fortunes of the naysayers. Yes, demand for your brand will increase, but at least for now the need for greater production will be addressed by building more traditional ovens for baking, horses and tahonas for crushing, wooden vats for fermenting, and copper alembics for distilling; nothing more.
And what about the state of Oaxaca as a tourism destination? The US state department are constantly at the ready to dismiss Mexico as a viable and attractive tourist destination. Every little ruckus anywhere in the country attracts both media and foreign government (mainly US) focus, and fuels the flames of hoards, the curious thing being that they are generally the ones who haven’t been to Mexico, and relish at every chance to paint the whole country with one broad stroke of the brush;”Didn’t you hear, the drug lords south of the border in Mexico are slaughtering people, so you’d be crazy to visit Oaxaca.” It’d be no different than the US state department warning against travel to Banff Alberta or Niagara Falls Ontario due to civil unrest in Quebec or Greenpeace protests from the Arctic or off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Oaxaca need tourism to live, and more importantly to thrive. Mr. Cooper is more so than any other person, or entity for that matter, responsible for the seed of mezcal tourism in southern Mexico, and its continued exponential growth. Other manufacturers have helped the tourist trade in promoting travel to small Oaxacan artisanal distilleries, but it all began with Del Maguey. And the suggestion that the caliber of Mr. Cooper’s lineup of agave spirits has changed since the Pernod Ricard buyout, is outrageous.
We are living in a predominantly capitalist world. Other favorite brands will sell out as their owners decide to move on. If you base your purchasing decisions on distillery possession and little more as in some cases has been the case with Del Maguey Mezcalas much as it may seem unthinkable today, what will you need to drink tomorrow? If you have any questions or concerns look at Jupiter Bat Removal.