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Interview with Alejandro Champion

Melbourne, March 2024.
Interview with Alejandro Champion

Q: Alejandro, can you explain to us the importance of community and tradition at the heart of the Mezcal Unión story?


A: Our name means everything: Unión. When I first started Mezcal Unión with my three buddies, we wanted to represent the tradition and culture of Mexico, and we felt the best way to do that was through Mezcal. Why Mezcal? Mezcal is the most unique expression of Mexico. The first thing we did was to travel throughout Oaxaca, exploring different areas, from palenque to palenque, from town to town, and understanding the context of the rural communities. The people of these communities told us that what they lacked the most, and what could prove a game-changer for Mezcal, was unity.
When we asked them what they meant, they explained that by bringing small producers together, they could grow without losing their cultural heritage, or that of Mezcal. The last thing they wanted was for their beautiful spirit to become industrialised—for the big distilleries to come into their space. By bringing together small farmers and producers, they could grow and preserve at the same time.
That insight decided the purpose of Mezcal Unión: to collaborate with as many producers and farmers as possible and provide opportunities to as many people as possible.


Q: How does the union work in practice?


A: Many of the people we have met over the last 10 years, their palenques only produce 100-200 litres a year. By supporting them financially, we can help them get certified by the authorities, we can help scale production and capacity and we can help broker the agave by buying it and taking it to their distilleries. By doing all that, our partners can focus on what they love: transforming agave into Mezcal. In return, they give us a reasonable price, which allows us to have a reasonable price in the market. Mezcal Unión is about one thing: preserving cultural heritage while diversifying the opportunities among our union of small producers and farmers. We are helping them transform more agave in their artisanal way.
We wanted to create a project that would allow us to share with the world an artisanal Mezcal that is about bringing people together and diversifying opportunities under a business model where the sun comes out for everyone. That’s our intent, that’s our vision, that’s why we do things the way we do.


Q: How does this model help the local communities?


A: Mexico is a country rich in culture, but economically, it’s not the best and rural communities are the worst affected. Even though Mezcal is one of the fastest-growing categories, it’s still small. Most producers make very small quantities, and many are not certified by the authorities. Agave is also quite expensive to buy and grow, so in most cases, they only produce what they are capable of. It’s not that they don’t want to produce more; it’s that their circumstances don’t allow them to excel or thrive. The people we collaborate with are very hardworking and want to succeed to bring more resources to themselves and their families. They see in Mezcal Unión an opportunity for business.


Q: Tell us a little about the benefits to the farmers.


A: When we first started, the communities told us: Unión is el camino. The only way Mezcal can become a global category without becoming industrial is through the union of us all; we’re just following their advice. The first three mezcaleros we worked with have now started their own project—I respect it so much, and I’m so happy they’re successful. We had great luck to have collaborated with them for a few years. We’re just representing the work and the magic behind their hands for as long as they want to work with us.

 

Q: Your Mezcal Uno is a blend of Espadín and Cirial. What’s the difference between the two agaves?


A: Espadín is the most commonly used agave for Mezcal. Similarly to Tequila, it’s a blue agave. It’s a variety that, fortunately, likes to be handled by humans. You can fit up to 2000 plants in one hectare provided you farm them correctly within the agricultural calendar—it needs to be in the ground before the rains. It takes six to eight years to grow, and for every ten kilos in piñas, you get one litre of high-proof Mezcal. It’s a sweet and fruity agave. Cirial grows differently; it likes different soils and grows tall and long like a church candle, with the leaves at the bottom looking like a flame. It can take 14 years to grow and is more herbaceous, citrus and mineral. When used with Espadín, it gives balance to the sweet and fruity notes. This mix of agaves, alongside the artisanal process, brings the magic to Mezcal.


Q: Let’s get into production. Can you tell us about the approach?


A: We are Mezcal Artisanal, which has its own set of rules, just like Mezcal Ancestral. The important parts are how you grow the plants, cook the plants, the fermentation and the distillation. In my opinion, there are things that can be tweaked as Mezcal grows. The tahona can be changed without affecting the flavour, which would give the horse a nice life! And maybe there is an alternative to wood as a heat source for distillation. Maybe. We must be open to change as we grow.
The things that must be preserved and can’t be changed are the cooking of the agaves in a conical oven underground using wood from the region and stones on top—that part cannot be touched because it makes Mezcal what it is. Natural open ferments are also key to the flavour of Mezcal. Then, it must be distilled in copper pots.


Q: Working with as many as 50 families, how do you maintain consistency?


A: We do everything in our power to maintain consistency in quality, not necessarily in flavour, because the expression is given to us by the agaves themselves—it’s the terroir we are tasting. We have a master blender, Alicia. Then, one of our founders lives in Oaxaca. He builds relationships with farmers and producers, and when it comes to production, he ensures everyone respects the artisanal process. Then, we collect the batches and bring them to our bottling facility for master blending. Each variety of agave is blended separately into a container, then we have a separate container to make the master blend of 90% Espadín and 10% Cirial—that’s how we keep consistency. It’s sort of like a solera.


Q: How does the climate and season impact the flavour of Mezcal?


A: Fermentation time is key to the flavour of Mezcal. Some distilleries are in the highlands, some are in the lowlands, and some are in the valleys. The difference in the atmosphere and weather effects the fermentation process. Then, the agricultural season is important. You need to farm the agaves before the rainy season; if you don’t, then you’re pushing the plant to grow in a season that’s not right. Also, most distilleries are open-air, so humidity, rain, sunshine and location all influence the flavour of Mezcal. Finally, we can’t forget the hand of the mezcaleros, which is just so important.


Q: What are your two favourite uses for Mezcal?


A: Agua Fresca! There is no wrong way to go with Agua Fresca. You will be offered one wherever you go in Mexico, and there are so many different types. In Mexico, we are privileged with our produce. My favourite recipe is to boil the hibiscus flowers with ginger, cinnamon and rosemary and sweeten it with agave syrup. Serve it in a big glass ringed with sal de gusano (worm salt), with a lot of ice. I also like to drink it neat at room temperature with a big slice of watermelon or orange. It’s perfect in a negroni or an old fashioned, too.


Q: Finally, how has your trip to Australia been?


A: Australia has been amazing. The people are so hospitable and kind and so friendly. And the nature, pristine, beautiful oceans and beaches. The mix of metropolis and history, alongside a thriving economy with beautiful nature and kind people who love agave, how could I not be impressed?

The Spirit

Mezcal Unión Uno Joven
Bibendum Bar

Mezcal Unión Uno Joven

Mezcal Unión’s core release is a blend of farm-grown Espadín agave and wild Cirial, sourced mainly from San Baltazar Guelavila in Oaxaca. Espadín is grown widely throughout the region and forms the cornerstone of most Mezcal bottlings. Cirial, on the other hand, takes much longer to grow—14 years as opposed to six to eight for Espadín. As a small component of the blend, it lends a mineral and herbaceous character to the blend. “When used with Espadín, Cirial gives balance to the sweet and fruity notes,” says Alejandro.

Uno starts out with soft layers of sweet citrus and panna cotta before moving toward archetypal Espadín notes of roasted tropical fruit combined with a little salinity and a hint of pepper. The level of smokiness is spot-on; confidently present without being overwhelming. There’s also an edge of citrus peel and a twist of green herbs in the mix—echoes of the wild Cirial. Perfectly primed for mixing, it's a great, well-priced Mezcal to have in the drinks cabinet.

Uno starts out with soft layers of sweet citrus and panna cotta before moving toward archetypal Espadín notes of roasted tropical fruit combined with a little salinity and a hint of pepper. The level of smokiness is spot-on, confidently present without overwhelming. There’s also an edge of citrus peel and a twist of green herbs in the mix—echoes of the wild Cirial. Perfectly primed for mixing, it's a great, well-priced Mezcal to have in the drinks cabinet.

"The ripe, fruity style of this mezcal lends itself to making margarita variations and other cocktails. Look for tropical fruit flavors like lychee and banana, and a mild note of jalapeño on the finish."
92 points, Wine Enthusiast
Mezcal Unión Uno Joven
Bibendum Bar

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