What a year it has been. The human losses have been incalculable, and the economic ones staggering. Experience Agave has been shut down de facto since the second week of March, 2020. Luckily, our entire team has weathered the storm and is doing well. With increasingly positive vaccine news, we are now beginning to plan for the resumption of mezcal and tequila tours.
As always, our priority remains maintaining the health and safety of our team, guests, and partners at distilleries, hotels, restaurants and other venues throughout Mexico.
Both our team members and our partners are eager to resume hosting guests who are willing to take reasonable precautions. For the time being, we will be working exclusively with guests who have been vaccinated against COVID, have had it and recovered, or quarantine for ten days upon arrival in Guadalajara or Oaxaca.
We are currently working with such guests on private mezcal and tequila tours, and are cautiously optimistic about the resumption of four-day group tours in the fall. We ask for your patience as we revise our pricing structure internally and with our providers — please remember all of us have been shut down for a year!
The public health situation in Mexico and abroad changes constantly, as does our knowledge about the virus and best practices. We are committed to staying abreast of information as it emerges, and will continue to be completely flexible in offering refunds for any cancellations resulting from the pandemic. We are immensely grateful for the patience of all our clients who have had to put travel plans on hold, and continue to be aware of the need for doing so.
We look forward to seeing you again in Mexico relatively soon. If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know.
Sincerely, Clayton J. Szczech Founder, Experience Agave
We are currently working with a public health consultant and our partner distilleries, hotels, and transportation providers to ensure that when our tours resume, Experience Agave will have effective safety protocols built into every aspect of our tours. We are preparing to implement social distancing, temperature checks, mask usage, frequent sanitization of surfaces, al fresco meals, and other “best practices.” We are confident that will be ready to host you in safety and style when the time comes.
Nevertheless, as both the United States and Mexico struggle to contain the novel coronavirus, we have decided that we will not be resuming public tours for the remainder of 2020. This includes the public versions of our Valley of Tequila Four-Day Experience, Tequila Highlands Four-Day Experience, Valley of Tequila Day Tour, and our Mezcal Pechuga Camp. We will not be offering a public Day of the Dead Tequila Experience this year either.
Our priority remains maintaining the health and safety of our team, guests, and hosts at distilleries, hotels, restaurants and other venues throughout Mexico. We are particularly concerned with the possibility of bringing COVID-19 from hotspots in the US to rural areas in Mexico that have been successful in keeping the virus out of their communities.
We will continue to accept reservations for privatetequila and mezcal tours with start dates in September and later. These tours will be contingent upon the circumstances on the ground in both Mexico and the United States, and we will continue refund 100% of any payments towards tours that are cancelled due to the pandemic.
We are all in this together, and we sincerely look forward to seeing you again in Mexico. If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know.
Sincerely, Clayton J. Szczech Founder, Experience Agave
“The best way to support the Mexican countryside from the U.S. is to actualize trade and immigration policies that are fair and would allow people to work with dignity and living wages on both sides of the border.”
“Oaxaca is mezcal country. Both industrial and artisan palenques dot the countryside and if you’ve developed a taste for this spirit then a day visiting some of these palenques with Experience Mezcal is a must. Accompanied by a passionate local guide you’ll discover the process of making mezcal from the roasting of the agave hearts, fermentation, right through to distillation. Oh, and there’s plenty of tasting to be had!
You’ll learn what types of agave create certain flavour profiles (with the opportunity to try and discern the difference) and visit palenques of varying sizes, from an operation that exports its product to the small shack in the Oaxacan hills. You’ll also get a chance to try freshly collected pulque made from the fermented sap of the agave plant. Trust us, one sip of the aguamiel (the sap prior to fermentation) will have you seek out pulque wherever you go in Oaxaca. Transport and a traditional Oaxacan lunch is included. Experience Mezcal’s mezcal tour in Oaxaca is a must.”
“Mezcal, tequila’s stronger and smokier relative, has become a staple spirit in trendy bars across Mexico and the United States in recent years, and the agave-based drink has inevitably attracted the interest of global alcohol giants. In the process local growers are worried a unique spirit is under threat…
Mezcal has been made for centuries in 26 of Mexico’s 32 states, but the DO [denomination of origin] limits production to just nine states. Distillers from other areas have expressed outrage over NOM-199, a new regulation proposed by the government and industry giants including Diageo and Pernod Ricard, that would have forced them to label their products as “komil” — an obscure indigenous word meaning “intoxicating drink” understood by almost nobody in Mexico.
A revised proposal would have them use “aguardiente de agave” – meaning agave firewater – instead of “destilado de agave”, the more literal name currently in use. Agave spirits expert Clayton Szczech said that while preferable to “komil”, the word “aguardiente” still has “a pejorative connotation that makes people think of cheap rum and seems designed to taint these products in the marketplace.'”
“Clayton Szczech – A widely respected ‘Tequila Geek’ and owner of Experience Tequila recommends Casachuín Blanco, Real Mexicana “Extra Dry” Extra-añejo, and 7 Leguas Single Barrel Extra-añejo.”Continue reading
“Designed by owner Clayton Szczech as ‘group tours for people who don’t do group tours,’ Experience Tequila offers hands-on tours around Mexico’s eponymous region to acquaint guests with the spirit. Clients will learn about all the parts of the tequila production process, from agave cultivation and harvesting to distilling. Guests will also imbibe in the private tasting rooms of some of the oldest tequileros (tequila experts) in the world.”
“Oaxaca is the second-poorest state in Mexico and its most indigenous, two braided facts that owe much to geography. When the Spanish plowed through in the 16th century, they found a rugged terrain dividing Oaxaca into isolated village-states. In some ways that’s still the case: Many communities have maintained their own dialects, their own traditions—and yes, their own mezcals.
So how do you penetrate the state’s 36,000 square miles of god-knows-how-many tiny producers? I had been led here by two guys from the United States—my spirit guides, if you will. [Experience Mezcal founder] Clayton Szczech is a serious fellow with a minor pompadour and dark, skeptical eyes. When he was younger, a career test predicted he’d grow up to become a podiatrist or an undertaker. Instead Clayton moved to Mexico to lead tequila and mezcal tours for the similarly obsessed…
…I didn’t want a cursory tour of all god-knows-how-many distilleries. I wanted to see one—to zero in on a single family at the center of these massive changes. To Max and Clayton it was a no-brainer. The next morning we’d drive out to the village of Santa Catarina Minas.”
Residents of Jalisco’s Highlands region awoke Thursday to a substantial blanket of snow and ice covering the ground and local crops, including the emblematic Highland blue agaves. Online social media quickly filled with stunning and beautiful images, and alteños young and old took advantage of the novel opportunity to make snowmen and snow angels – activities they usually only see in foreign movies.
Those younger than about 25 years had never seen snow locally before. Their parents, however, easily recalled the winter of 1997, when a similar winter blizzard brought snow to the region for the first time in a century. That literal storm was an early element in the metaphorical perfect storm that created the severe shortage and crisis in the blue agave industry in the early 2000s. As the snow and ice continue to melt today, agaveros, tequileros and observers throughout the region are holding their breath, waiting to see how bad the damage will be.
The blue agave has evolved for tens of thousands of years to survive extremes of heat and aridity. It is not native to the Jalisco Highlands, where it began to be planted only around the turn on the 20th century. The plants do not easily bear extended cold snaps, much less freezes like this. Extended low temperatures will “burn” the agaves’ tissues. Sugar content, necessary for Tequila production, can plummet. Agaves two years old and younger are particularly vulnerable, particularly if the cogollo (the top center portion of the plant, where new leaves emerge) is frozen.
Today I spoke with Dr. Adolfo Murillo, a Highlands native, organic agave farmer and owner of Tequila Alquimia, about what they’re seeing on their agave ranch in Agua Negra, on the outskirts of Arandas.
“Luckily for us, our fields are on the fringes of the state of Jalisco [near the Guanajuato border], where we get less rainfall in any given year. It turns out we also got less snow, “ said Murillo. “I’ve always said that the layout of the fields is very important. Agaves should be planted on a slope for good drainage, as ours are. Also, the slope should be toward the morning sun, so the agaves are warmed since early in the morning on cold mornings. Again by luck, in Agua Negra the sun began to shine early in the morning, so the snow that had fallen on our agave was melted off fairly quickly, and the agaves do not appear to have sustained any damage.”
Dr. Murillo explains that it doesn’t take long to assess the damage. Plants that have been sufficiently frozen will begin to wilt as they thaw, eventually drying out and rotting.
Industry veteran and Selección ArteNOM owner Jake Lustig remembers 1997 and the ensuing crisis period well. That freeze, and the ensuing vulnerability of the agaves to a variety of pests led to “widespread consolidation and surrendering of Mexico’s national spirit to multi-national conglomerates earning their capital in Tennessee whiskey, Puerto Rican rum or French vodka, who could sustain agave price fluctuations. Some folks without that ‘diversification’ went bankrupt and closed or sold out,” according to Lustig.
As the whole world begins to grapple with the reality of accelerated climate change, the Tequila industry will not be an exception. Dr. Murillo points out that this snowstorm is no fluke, but rather the latest incident in years of changing regional weather patterns including freezing temperatures as early as October, sporadic and unpredictable rain, and a general breakdown in the formerly predictable annual weather pattern of warm temperatures and near daily rain from July to September.
We should know a lot more about the severity of the damage to the agave crop in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, you can be sure that thousands throughout Jalisco will be praying that the damage is light. Jake Lustig will be among them, signing off a recent message with this: “Let’s light a candle and hope that global warming trends pardon Mexico on this cycle and we don’t experience such dramatic losses.”
For continued updates on this situation, and all aspects of Tequila, sign up for our newsletter in the upper right hand margin of this page. Cover photo courtesy of Jenny Camarena.