“If you see a type of agave out in the wild,” says Luis Niño de Rivera, “you must plant that variety there.” The CEO and founder of Mezcal Amaras is pointing out an agricultural truth, yes, but in his case it is also a core business value. Touting itself as “the world’s first carbon neutral mezcal company,” Amaras has been taking bold steps to become “holistic,” as Rivera puts it—a true “seed to sip” operation that sustainably produces its own agave.
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That’s not an easy path, for a variety of reasons. Agave plants can take from 8 years to several decades to be ready for harvesting (partially explaining the predominance of espadín, among the fastest growing varieties), and the company’s aggressive replanting efforts—on average, 7 to 10 organic agaves in the ground for each plant harvested since 2014—embody a long game approach.
And though the category has enjoyed rising demand in recent years, the U.S. market has been a slow climber. That’s explained in part by the note that, according to Rivera, 90 percent of mezcal consumption in the U.S. occurs in cocktails, whereas in Mexico that number is closer to 30 percent.
The good news—as was deliciously clear at a recent virtual tasting—is that the growing Amaras range provides some intriguing variations. These are mezcals made with passion, and an embrace of the spirit’s complex potential. Here, some tasting notes on the current roster.
This came across as a very classic and elegant mezcal, and I later used it in a margarita to great effect. On the palate, it offers tropical fruit notes and hints of cinnamon—good for sipping but excellent in cocktails. A puff of smoke, but in balance. ($40)
Amaras Espadín Reposado
Aged in a combination of French (for the lid) and American oak, this reposado sees a rather long 90 days in barrel, leading to a wonderful sippable softness. Dark notes of vanilla and caramel make this an unctuous crowd pleaser to enjoy on its own, perhaps with some dark chocolate. ($50)
This $60 bottling was the talk of the tasting—recognizably a mezcal, to be sure, but on a far branch of the tree. The cupreata plant takes 13 years to mature as opposed to 8 for most espadín. From the state of Guerrero (ie not Oaxaca, source of the vast majority of mezcal), home to Acapulco, this rarity offers intriguing leather and cocoa notes on the nose, but evolves quickly on the palate to a bright herbaceousness. There’s a subtle grassiness and whiffs of white pepper—a savory finish that keeps one coming back for more.