Ron Cooper is the grandfather of present expressions of the global artisanal mezcal boom. He’s the founder of Del Maguey Mezcal. For the past several decades, when discussion about the history of this contemporary mezcal movement has arisen, he has been the recipient of praise; from me, and from some of his competitor brand owners.
A plethora of complaints about and protests from the purchase of any spirits in the stable of Del Maguey products has enveloped the mezcal industry. Some cantina owners as well as novice mezcal aficionados who consider themselves”in the know,” are upset that the mammoth booze baron Pernod Ricard has bought a majority of shares in the brand. The truth is that but for Mr. Cooper, consumption of mezcal would be nowhere near where it is now, and many of Del Maguey’s detractors would still be drinking pedestrian industrial agave products of nowhere near the quality of the mezcal now available; in the US, 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 no one has matched the marketing brilliance of Del Maguey’s moniker”single village mezcal.” Others have developed different approaches to promote the spirit, but were it not for Mr. Cooper they’d likely not even be in the mezcal organization, and in that case, nowhere near 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 state where a lot of the spirit is produced.
The year 1995, when Del Maguey started exporting, marked a dramatic change in the diversity of mezcal products available outside of Mexico. Until then, besides unaged mezcal made with the espadín specie of agave,”together with the worm,” product rested in oak barrels, and possibly a little bit of tobalá, there was practically nothing else around. Look at where we are now, with there being exported in the state of Oaxaca alone mezcal distilled from 8 – 10 distinct species, with each having between 10 – 20 sub-species. Each of these 150 or so varietals of agave yields a different nuance.
In a lengthy conversation with Mr. Cooper during the first half of 2018, I asked the hard questions, except of course about the sale price of his interest in the brand; rumors abound of course, but to my thinking it’s no one’s business. Whatever he got and will get, he deserves. He hasn’t given up control of the company, 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 deserves whatever Mr. Cooper is getting? Who else in the industry would require of his purchaser that means of production and resources of the trade remain unchanged? The biggest change will be as a result of the Pernod Ricard global trajectory in the spirits industry, which will benefit not just Del Maguey, but the economic fortunes of the naysayers. Yes, demand for the brand will increase, but for now the need for increased production will be addressed by building more traditional 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 foreign government (mainly US) attention, and fuels the flames of hoards, the curious thing being that they’re generally the ones who have never been to Mexico, and relish at every chance to paint the entire 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 go to 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 in the Arctic or off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Oaxaca need tourism to survive, and much more importantly to thrive. Mr. Cooper is more so than any other individual, or entity for that matter, responsible for the seed of mezcal tourism in southern Mexico, and its continued exponential growth. Other brands have helped the tourist trade in promoting travel to small Oaxacan artisanal distilleries, but it all began 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 move on. If you base your buying decisions on distillery ownership and little more as in some cases has been the case with Del Maguey Mezcalas much as it may seem unthinkable today, what will you have to drink tomorrow? Look at Wellington Bat Removal for more information.