Ron Cooper is the grandfather of present expressions of the worldwide artisanal mezcal boom. He’s the creator of Del Maguey Mezcal. For the past several decades, when conversation about the history of this contemporary mezcal motion has arisen, he has been the recipient of praise; from me, and from some of his rival brand owners.
An array of complaints about and protests from the purchase of any spirits at the stable of Del Maguey goods has enveloped the mezcal industry. Some cantina owners as well as newcomer mezcal aficionados who consider themselves”in the know,” are upset that the mammoth booze baron Pernod Ricard has bought a majority of stocks in the brand. The reality is that but for Mr. Cooper, ingestion of mezcal would be nowhere near where it is now, and several of Del Maguey’s detractors would still be drinking pedestrian industrial agave goods of nowhere near the standard of the mezcal now available; in the United States, Britain, Australia, Mexico, Europe, as well as China.
Mr. Cooper started developing the brand from the mid-1990s, when tequila was king and mezcal was its humble cousin. Since that time nobody has matched the marketing brilliance of Del Maguey’s moniker”single village mezcal.” Others have developed different approaches to foster the spirit, but were it not for Mr. Cooper they’d probably not be in the mezcal organization, and in that case, nowhere close to generating the income they produce for themselves, and more importantly agave growers and hard-working artisanal Oaxacan distillers; and given that the present mezcal boom, for tourism in the Southern Mexico country where a lot of the spirit is generated.
The year 1995, when Del Maguey started exporting, marked a dramatic change in the diversity of mezcal products available out of Mexico. Until then, besides unaged mezcal made with the espadín specie of agave,”together with the pig,” product rested in oak barrels, and possibly a little bit of tobalá, there was practically nothing else about. Each of those 150 or so varietals of agave yields another nuance.
He hasn’t given up control of the business, and in fact will continue to call the shots certainly at least well into the next decade. This will guarantee that the quality of Del Maguey will be basically the same as it has over the past 20+ years.
Who else in the industry would require of his customer that way of production and resources of the trade remain unchanged? The largest change will be as a result of the Pernod Ricard global trajectory in the spirits sector, which will benefit not just Del Maguey, but the financial fortunes of the naysayers. Yes, demand for your brand increases, but for now the demand for greater production will be addressed by building more conventional ovens for baking, horses and tahonas for crushing, wooden vats for fermenting, and copper alembics for distilling; nothing more.
The US state department are constantly at the ready to discount Mexico as a viable and attractive tourist destination. Every little ruckus anywhere in the country attracts both media and overseas authorities (mainly US) focus, and fuels the flames of hoards, the curious thing being that they’re generally the people who haven’t been to Mexico, and enjoy at every chance to paint the whole nation with one broad stroke of the brush;”Didn’t you hear, the drug lords south of the border in Mexico are slaughtering people, so you would be crazy to visit Oaxaca.” It’d be no different than the US state department warning against travel to Banff Alberta or Niagara Falls Ontario due to civil unrest in Quebec or Greenpeace protests from the Arctic or off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Oaxaca need tourism to live, and much more importantly to thrive. Mr. Cooper is more than any other individual, or entity for that matter, responsible for the seed of mezcal tourism in southern Mexico, and its continuing exponential growth. Other manufacturers have helped the tourist trade in promoting travel to small Oaxacan artisanal distilleries, but it all started with Del Maguey. And the proposal that the caliber of Mr. Cooper’s lineup of agave spirits has changed since the Pernod Ricard buyout, is outrageous.
We are living in a predominantly capitalist world. Other preferred brands will sell out as their owners opt to proceed. If you base your purchasing decisions on distillery possession and little more as in some cases has been the case with Del Maguey Mezcalas much as it might appear unthinkable today, what will you need to drink tomorrow? If you have questions check out Greenacres Bat Removal.