It’s the latest buzzword of the bar world: sustainability. Brands champion it, marketers co-opt it, and the rest of us pretend we know what it means, if only to feel extra warm and fuzzy while throwing back our favorite cocktail.
But in the quickly changing world of mezcal, sustainability is a lot more than hype. It’s a function of survival. From 2005 to 2015, mezcal sales in the U.S. increased by almost 300 percent, making it one of the fastest-growing spirits in the country and indeed the world. This dizzying uptick in consumer demand comes at odds with an artisanal product that can take years, even decades, to cultivate.
Big brands from far outside Oaxaca are descending upon a fragile ecosystem, lining up for a lucrative slice of the pie. The temptation to sacrifice the future for a fast cash grab is palpable. And now, more than ever, mezcal must take steps to preserve its future. Thankfully, a select group of stewards south of the border are taking action.
At El Silencio, CEO and co-founder Fausto Zapata has been particularly mindful of this as his company has grown into one of the biggest labels in the U.S. “Initially, one dollar of each of our joven bottles sold was reinvested into the region,” he says. “As the espadín bottle grew in popularity and production increased, we moved toward investing in proper maintenance of the fields and addressing the most pressing needs of the farmers. We’ve also poured resources into infrastructure in San Baltazar, where we employ locals to help build road access to the fields and distillery.”
You, of course, have the most important say in all of this—with every purchase, every sip. What you hold is much more than liquid in a bottle. It’s a statement on how you want to shape a vibrant yet vulnerable community. It’s a lot to swallow, so sip wisely.