10 Questions with Mezcal Unión


Alejandro Champion of Mezcal Unión knows that Mezcal is big business. Though the category is a small fraction of the total marketplace, and often misunderstood even by spirits aficionados, it is growing by leaps and bounds. According to The Spirits Business, IWSR figures had global Mezcal sales hitting $80million in 2015 alone, with volume increasing 279% from 2005 – 2015. Not bad for a category which, according to Drinking Trends, only generates 2.5 million liters of liquid each year.


Champion and his brand are at the forefront of this burgeoning trend. He sat down recently with us to discuss his love of Mezcal and how he wants to use the category to benefit Mexico’s indigenous farmers.

Breakthru: What's the latest news with Mezcal Unión? What have you guys been up to lately?

Alejandro Champion: We're continuing to unite farmers and producers. Just this year, we're going to start a project [to re-plant] Agave Espadín. As we continue to grow the brand, we're planting more Agave on a regular basis. The story about uniting farmers and producers is becoming a reality. We also are launching our new expression of Mezcal Unión El Viejo in the U.S. And we're also looking to develop our portfolio.


What do you do to ensure that the Agave crops stay strong?

We work with the right people. We try to approach people that know how to do things, and that are passionate. So when you work with professional people that love what they do, that's like the most reasonable way to make sure that you have a healthy Agave. Also, we try to plant our Agave in healthy soils, and try to not use chemicals or stuff that will harm the plant. We try to do things the right way, the organic way.


How has the brand evolved since you first launched?

Well, we've had a great response, but more than a response, people support us. It's not our story that they love – they love our cause. There's a lot of restaurateurs, bartenders, bar owners and promoters that have felt engaged with the brand because of our goal. It's been an amazing journey. We started hand selling in Mexico City – we started with 30 cases – and now we're in seven of the most relevant cities in the US. We launched in Paris, we're expanding to different territories, looking to another continent. It's been amazing.


What's the process like for getting into new markets and bringing a product to the States?

Well, that's actually my favorite part of it, getting into a new territory where you've never set foot. Pretty much the way we do it is we do our research about what are the coolest cocktail bars, coolest restaurants. We make a list of five of them, and then we start knocking on doors one at a time, and trying to talk to the right people.


What reaction do you get when you are with people who are trying it for the first time? What's that experience been like, and what kind of reactions have you gotten?

I think they always have this super cool impression about it, because a lot of them don't seem to know where it comes from. And when they see a picture or a video of the Agave plant, I mean, they're huge, massive plants. When they see the indigenous faces that are doing this, and doing the handcrafting in the middle of the mountains, and then when they taste it, and they taste all these different flavors and aromas that come from one little neat glass of Mezcal, they love it. It's so magical and impressive that when you show it to anybody's eyes and they can taste it, they fall in love with it. I mean, nine out of 10 people that I talk to, they just fell in love with Mezcal.

In your opinion, why has Mezcal become so popular, especially here in the States, in the last few years?

I think Mezcal is part of a new trend. We're going through a conscious era. I think “Fair Trade,” “organically-grown,” “eco-friendly,” all these different terms are becoming popular because we must go back to basics otherwise we're going to continue to harm ourselves. Mezcal is part of that trend. Mezcal is part of that conscious era. Mezcal is about understanding traceability, about being fair with the indigenous families, about being sustainable. So, I think that's why.


What makes Mezcal Unión such a unique entry into the overall Mezcal category?

I think there's not such a thing as a better Mezcal than another. All Mezcals that are artisanal and are fair to their producers are great. But what I would say makes Mezcal Unión special is that our goal is to generate progress. Our main goal is to have an artisanal, delicious product, but behind it, to have a positive economic system that allows indigenous farmers, and indigenous families to have a good life. To have a good way of living their lives, and having a healthy income, and for them to make a living out of what they know how to do the best.


How do you enjoy Mezcal?

I think their first experience on drinking Mezcal should be neat. A lot of bars are using it for cocktails, but it's made to be drunk neat. So you want to taste the plant and the process. You want to drink it neat. You want to enjoy it, not shoot it. It's not for shooting. It's something that you have to drink little by little, and enjoy it. Rinse your mouth with it and enjoy the aromas and the flavors. It's so complex. I like to drink it neat with a few sliced oranges and some Sal de Gusano, with sea salt spices from Oaxaca, and the worm that grows around the Agave. We fry them, mix it with the spices and the sea salt. You rinse a little bit on top of an orange, that's my best way. For cocktails, I love Mezcal Mules.


How is Mezcal unique to you and your story?

Well, I'm Mexican and there's no better way to represent Mexico than through its Agave. It's a plant which 90% of all species of Agave are endemic to Mexico. They have 8,000 years of history in Mexico. For me it's just in our blood, it's what represents us. Being able to sell it and generating good jobs for indigenous families, that's what drives me, that's the purpose, that's why I do what I do.


Do you have any predictions for the future of the Mezcal category and Unión?

I mean we would love to start exploring other states of Mexico. Oaxaca is not the only place that has amazing Mezcal. There are nine states with Denomination of Origin designation, but there are also almost 22 states that are producing amazing Mezcals, and they are not even allowed to be called “Mezcal.” So we are starting to try to spread out from Oaxaca, to discover amazing distillers and amazing products that are under the umbrella of Mezcal that we want to start showing to the world.


Anything else you'd like to add?

I would like to say that we should support all Mezcal, not only Unión. Make sure you understand the traceability of what you're drinking, and not pick a Mezcal only because it says “Mezcal.” You need to make sure that you understand the story, who's behind it, and support fair trade Mezcal.


Talk to your Breakthru Sales Consultant for more information on Mezcal Unión and our entire Mezcal portfolio.

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