A little about Playa Zipolite, The Beach of the Dead . . .

Playa Zipolite, Oaxaca, Southern Mexico, on the Pacific Ocean. A little bit about my favorite little get-away on this small world of ours.

Zipolite, a sweaty 30-minute walk west from Puerto Angel, brings you to Playa Zipolite and another world. The feeling here is 1970's - Led Zep, Marley, and scruffy gringos.

A long, long time ago, Zipolite beach was usually visited by the Zapotecans...who made it a magical place. They came to visit Zipolite to meditate, or just to rest.

Recently, this beach has begun to receive day-trippers from Puerto Angel and Puerto Escondido, giving it a more TOURISTY feel than before.

Most people come here for the novelty of the nude beach, yoga, turtles, seafood, surf, meditation, vegetarians, discos, party, to get burnt by the sun, or to see how long they can stretch their skinny budget.

I post WWW Oaxaca, Mexico, Zipolite and areas nearby information. Also general budget, backpacker, surfer, off the beaten path, Mexico and beyond, information.

REMEMBER: Everyone is welcome at Zipolite.



Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mezcal: Freeing the spirit

Mezcal: Freeing the spirit

11 November, 2015
Mezcal is a spirit steeped in the rituals of mexico’s ancients. Hamish smith discovers how it is finding its way in the modern world.

Decimated to a 10th of their population by the conquests of the 1600s, the indigenous Zapotees of Oaxaca spent the next 400 years recovering. Like many indigenous groups across Mexico they were marginalised from industry, wealth and communication. Only their culture thrived, but weaving and arts and crafts could scarcely improve their fate beyond a few pesos from strayed tourists. However, another of their ancient ritualistic practices is having a profound impact on their lives. Mezcal is bringing money and living standards to a historically destitute people. Not just in Oaxaca but across the eight states that produce the agave spirit. Mezcal is probably the original ‘fair trade’ spirit.  
But where there is growth – mezcal sales grew 22% last year – there is money to be made and commerce has flocked. Some out of love for the spirit and the communities that make it, others to simply supply the feverish demand.
The number of brands increased 48% between 2011 and 2014 to 362, according to the Consejo Regulador del Mezcal (all figures), which regulates, organises and promotes the industry. Unlike many categories in which few distilleries supply many brands – Kentucky bourbon, Irish and Canadian whisky spring to mind – it is the opposite for mezcal. The CRM claims there are 1,388 ‘service units’ all in separate geographical regions.
Probably there are more. Mezcal exists in large distilleries but mostly in villages, shacks, in canisters, pots and plastic bottles. To export it you have to be registered, but otherwise it can be as informal an arrangement as growing garden vegetables.
Monte Alban is the major brand, if we can call 18,000 cases in 2013 major, while, according to the regulator, Ron Cooper’s Del Maguey – which incorporates the mixable Vida and Single Village expressions – was second that year.
This puts mezcal into perspective. Overall volumes are still very low: 231,000 cases, which is 0.02% of total spirits, says the CRM. So despite mezcal’s reputation as the coolest spirit in the world, in volume terms you might say it’s a case of much ado about nothing.
Then, volume isn’t everything, particularly when talking about high-value spirits. The average bottle price in the Mexican market was $20.64, while export average was $38, says the CRM. This is comparable to the likes of scotch and cognac. That all adds up to $88,274,711 – not bad for what for centuries has been a village industry, and largely still is.
Costs associated with production are also very high, so margin isn’t necessarily significant. “Mezcal has no economy of scale,” says Stephen Myers, of Illegal Mezcal, one of the top 10 sellers. He says producers pay the highest price for all parts of the process – from “plant to consumer”, commonly an eight to nine year cycle. This cost is passed on to consumers. So far, they don’t seem to mind.
Del Maguey, a brand that has been supporting Zapotec communities for decades, appreciates mezcal’s attraction is in its authenticity and handcrafted nature. “There is high stress on the microeconomies and microagricultural systems in Oaxaca,” says Michael Gardner, partner of Cooper at Del Maguey. “Del Maguey has sustainability measures in place to protect supply chain and families that have been with us for 20 years now. We are watching this closely.” 
In the future co-operatives might be essential to make the logistics of production more economical. Andy Bishop of Moscow Bar Show fame, is working with producers to help provide such solutions. Myers agrees this is the right way forward if mezcal is to ever build its volumes and expand its footprint. He says producers that group together are “not competing, it’s complementary”.
Del Maguey is one of the few brands to have gained international awareness. Amazingly, its volumes are still in the low tens of thousands (according to the CRM), yet it is the brand, particularly on most bartenders’ lips – verbally and physically. But high volumes are not the objective for what co-owner Ron Cooper calls his “liquid art” project. Gardner agrees: “Del Maguey is the artisanal category leader globally in distribution and sales,” which is “just fine with us”.
Del Maguey now operates in all the US states through Sazerac Company; the EU; Mexico, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, UAE, Israel and selected South American and Caribbean markets. For a brand that until recently relied on FedEx for distribution, this is a mightily impressive list of destinations.
As for the category at large, mezcal is in more than 40 export markets, with the US followed by Chile – which tends to buy lower-end mezcal – Spain, Australia, the UK, Peru, France, Germany, Canada and Sweden.
Many European distributors are signing up mezcal brands. In the UK Speciality Brands has Illegal Mezcal and Beveland, based in Spain, has recently agreed a deal with a large mezcal player, Casa Armando Guillermo Prieto. The agreement will see ‘the biggest distillery in Mexico’ license Zignum, El Señorío and Recuerdo de Oaxaca. 
“Zignum will be our flag on developing this new category,” says Jordi Xifra Keysper, marketing manager at Beveland. “Our strategy is to work hard in the on-trade at the beginning because that’s where the trend arrived and has more visibility. Bartenders will be the number one target and they will be the first consumers.”
The CRM too has identified the US and Europe as targets, but also other cocktail centres. “To promote the category we have identified some world capitals to focus our efforts, such as Los Angeles, New York, Sydney, London, Berlin and Singapore,” Eleana No of the CRM.
Its role has widened in line with the category’s development. “The CRM has taken the initiative to not only be a regulatory council of the quality of mezcal; it now seeks the organisation of the industry, the promotion and the education of the category for the correct identification of its appellation of origin,” says No. “We encourage and train the communities to develop their products and bring them to the international markets.
“For the world mezcal is just a Mexican spirit, but for us it has become the engine of economic development in the communities of this high tradition, in contrast to their marginalisation.”
With the CRM showing strategy and international groups providing distribution for this village industry, the future could be bright for mezcal and those who make it. With eight states offering hundreds, if not thousands of styles, there is certainly plenty for consumers to explore. Providing the integrity and authenticity of handcrafted production remains, it is likely demand will too.
The ancient ritual of mezcal has survived, but now freed from rural obscurity, it is to be seen if global commercialism will be its making or undoing. 

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