Happiness occurs arbitrarily. It can happen from a glance from a beautiful stranger, transformation after a morning coffee, or a moment alone in nature; magic works in mysterious ways. This fall, a new spirit is pervading the craft cocktail world and its effect is, well, quite magical. Loved by dignitaries, politicians, and aristocracy, its legend in Mexico is a fairytale: “You don’t find mezcal, mezcal finds you.” Its possessive charisma is both ancient and fresh. On a sun-filled day, a new mezcal found us in Los Angeles and it’s safe to say we’ll never be, or drink, the same.
In a dimly lit parlor sits a sexy, surreptitious Mescalero. His own appellation of origin is unclear. Beneath a wide black brim, he is something of an enigmatic cowboy trailing the mezcal frontier. Beside several bottles of Mexico’s prized nectar is the elusive proprietor of Dos Perros. After the first sip of extra añejo, all the folklore becomes crystal clear. It’s hard to ignore every complex nuance as it coats the throat and warms the body. The flavors are irreducibly straightforward. At once, the spirits have come alive.
In a rare conversation, Dos Perros’ heritor and creator spoke about the wonders of Oaxaca and the world’s craving for authenticity.
What was the lightning bolt moment to conceive Dos Perros?
The moment I tasted what was in [the extra añejo]. I was traveling through Mexico and curious about mezcals. I tasted [the extra añejo] and then heard an entire story about how the mezcalero, Pedro Mateo, would never talk to me. Mezcal is something he only makes for the president of Mexico, state governors, and generals in the army of the highest order. It can’t be bought; it can’t be sold. I harangued this storyteller and said he must put me in touch with Pedro. Pedro refused a meeting with me. I found out he had a ranch in Oaxaca, so I flew down there to make myself a guest at the ranch. There were a few rooms adjacent to it for rent so I hung out for a week and just drank through all of his stuff, got to meet him, and it turned into a horse-riding, gun-firing bender.
So, the saying goes, “Mezcal finds you." What year were you found?
It was 2009. I was already curious about mezcals on the recent trip. For about a dozen years I lived in lands far away from Mexico and its influence, and tequila was an impossible thing to find except for cheap versions you’d never think to drink. When I went to Mexico, I was all in for the new tequilas that had arisen since the time that I’d left the western hemisphere. So, from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s, tequila had grown to this entire family of artisanal spirits. I built a tequila collection and was really enjoying the experience. Through that process, I started to recall a little bit about mezcal and how you really couldn’t find it in the States. Most Americans’ first experiences with mezcal at that time involved a horrible hangover and drinking gasoline. On my trip to Mexico I started asking questions about an elaborate or more embellished form of mezcal that we’re not getting in the US. I was asking everyone I was with about the best mezcals in Mexico. There were less than a few dozen brands, and now there are over 3000. Of everything I tasted from individual family farms, the only thing I liked was the one thing no one could get outside of Mexico because the maker was unwilling to sell it.
Describe what happens when you drink a really good mezcal.
Well, it depends how much you’re drinking of it [laughs]. For me, it’s not the kind of drink that you just have a glass and go about your day. It’s something that you uncork and sit with people you’ve either really been missing and want to hang out with or you drink with a stranger you’re curious to know a little bit more about. It’s the kind of thing where you polish off the entire bottle. For me, the experience I have when I wipe out a bottle is pure magic. When you drink a bottle, I feel you can see around corners and become invisible at your own choosing. Also, you become wildly sexy to all things, inanimate or otherwise.
What’s the difference between mezcal and tequila?
There are a few fundamental differences. Tequila is steamed; mezcal is roasted. Tequila only comes from one form of agave, whereas mezcal can come from any agaves including the blue agave that tequila comes from. Mezcal is the predecessor to tequila; tequila is a newer and more industrialized process and it couldn't be as it exists now without that industrial process. So, for mezcal to be what it is, it’s almost exclusively artisanal and almost exclusively done in small batches.
Do you think the mezcal boom coincides with the rise in farm-to-table food and craft cocktails for a reason?
I think it coincides with a global phenomenon where people are seeking authenticity and in an environment when people are looking for things that are real, and things that are made by hand and by a person…whether it’s in the world of food or in music or art. All authentic things that people hunt for, they usually try to attach themselves to it as it represents various different reflections of their identity. The music people listen to, the food people eat, the places they go, the hotels they stay at. So I think it coincides with a trend where people are looking for things to attach themselves to and see depth.
What is mezcal doing for Oaxaca?
Oaxaca is experiencing a tourism boom now for several reasons. Again, going back to the hunt for things that are authentic. Mexico has always been a major tourist destination, and I think people that have become familiar with Mexico and have explored its various cities are hunting for something more that’s gotten lost along the way, and Oaxaca has it.
Dos Perros Mezcal is available online at Old Town Tequila and select locations in California. Below, see three of the label's most magical offerings.