Have you ever been hesitant to buy a snack because it’s been packaged too well? Lots of distracting shapes and colors, have a hard time finding the list of ingredients, etc.
Does it say anything like, “Now made with real corn!”
Wait, it wasn’t before?
The food and beverage market has been saturated with practiced gilders and whitewashers since before sliced bread. The booze industry is no exception. Whiskey, brandy, rum, tequila, vodka… no category is safe from packaging. Elegant bottle shapes, smoked glass, ornate stoppers, filigreed labels, celebrity endorsements, and even literal gilding. Oh, the endless ways a brand will dress up their spirits for your attention.
With the drinking public’s eyes fixed on mezcal, new brands in sleek packaging have begun populating the mezcal shelves of retail stores. Spirits packaging rarely reflects the reality of what goes into making the liquid beneath it. For example, there is no man in elegant coattails briskly walking up and down the production floors of any Johnnie Walker distillery. There are machines and hardworking people doing their appointed tasks, many of which are not terribly romantic, and wouldn’t ensnare any passersby walking the liquor aisle. That said, the greatest disparity between reality and what the label displays may lie with mezcal.
Unlike tequila, mezcal did not get scooped up by the industrial revolution. It remained in the past. Which is, in part, why the spirit has charmed so many today. Consumers like seeing something real, without the bells and whistles, something genuinely made by hand. However, mezcal is made by much more than that. It’s made with hooves, holes, stone, sweat, and blood. It’s made outside, not in pristine stainless steel fabrication centers. It’s made with dirt and fire, not precisely calibrated steam. It’s stored in what’s available which, for some, means glass bottles, but for others it means empty Coca-Cola bottles.
To cover all that up with a workshopped brand and color scheme seems downright insulting to the humble truth.
Enter Ocho Coyote, one of many young brands for an old industry.
Their logo presents the face of a coyote in simple black and white, peppered with Mexican folk art. The packaging does not overstep, and hints at an ancestral culture, all while giving the bottle a polished look fit for any metropolis. However, when scrolling through their website, I mostly found lore relating to “the Coyote’s luck”. Though not unusual for any marketing website to dig deep into the branding, it felt entirely unnecessary.
If you keep scrolling, however, you eventually come to some hard information about their mezcal: what kind of agave they use, maturation time, fermentation, distillation, ABV, all the details that geeks love.
While the branding leaves me with mixed feelings, in the end what matters is what’s inside the bottle. Today’s expression is made entirely from Tobaziche, an agave nearly eradicated in the 1980’s by industrial producers from Jalisco who urged local farmers to grow Espadin. Tobaziche can achieve great sugar concentration and depth of flavor, but it can take up to 16 years before it is fully mature, and ready for harvesting. Comparatively, Espadin is a reliable crop, with a large yield that takes half the time to mature.
Ocho Coyote Tobaziche Joven – Review
Bottled at 40% ABV.
On the Nose: A top note of green bananas, followed by woodsmoke and papayas. Near the end there is some crushed mint, intermingled with ethanol. Overall, the aroma is a splash of exotic, but feels short lived.
In the Mouth: Up front, the taste is astringent. Oily. Though the flavors widen on the mid- palate. Green tea, fresh bitter greens, white pepper, and chewing bark. At first, the smoke plays a minor background role. However, with more sips it quickly overpowers the vegetation.
For a variety of agave that is prized for its sugar content, this mezcal seems light and bitter. I have not had enough experience with mezcal made with underripe agave to say whether this is or not, but that’s my impression. The aroma, texture, and taste all seem a bit thin.
It would be unfair to judge Ocho Coyote’s overall quality on this Mezcal alone. However, I’ll admit this sample doesn’t leave me eager to seek out another.
I know we live in a world of appearances, but brands have more impact when the consumer is eager to tear it all off to get at what’s inside.
Image courtesy of Ocho Coyote.