When Cheech Marin got into the alcohol game he wanted to do something special. He didn’t just want to peddle another wine or beer that wouldn’t mean anything to him culturally. Instead, he went for something that he could connect to on a deeper level: mezcal.
It wasn’t all about history for Cheech, though. He was also excited about mezcal’s taste. He wanted to surprise people with a liquor as smoky as his film resume. The result? Tres Papalote Mezcal — which is unusually smooth, especially for a spirit with 46% alcohol, but maintains mezcal’s trademark flavors.
“We’re in a changing time when it comes to flavor,” Marin told Uproxx. “We’re in a generation with both millennials and older people looking for big tastes — so I feel like it’s a wide open time for mezcal.”
We asked the film legend for help navigating this lesser known of the agave-based spirits.
WHAT IS MEZCAL?
Marin was first approached about selling an alcohol a few years ago, when a team of investors pitched him on wine. When he passed, an associate asked “how about a tequila?” Marin wasn’t impressed, telling us, “Everyone’s doing tequila out there. But it crossed my mind, ‘Hey there’s not a lot of mezcal out here and people hardly know what it is.'”
He’s right, in a world in love with tequila, mezcal’s unique history is often lost — which is a shame, because it’s fascinating:
Ages ago, when the Spanish Conquistadors landed in Mesoamerica they were greeted with a fermented, slightly alcoholic drink called pulque. The fermented drink was thick, creamy, and a little sour — not really the Spaniards cup of tea. But the Spaniards had shown up with pot stills to make spirits from sugar cane, just as they’d already started to do in the the Caribbean. Versions of this distilled cane drink still exist around the Caribbean, South America, and Central America, called aquardiente (literally fire water).
But Mexico wasn’t covered in sugar cane, it was covered in agave. And when the rum ran out, they started tinkering with the local pulque and ended up inventing mezcal. Later, Mezcal got big production boost when Spain’s crown forbade their colonies from grape-based alcohol production, so as not to disrupt vineyards and producers back home. Suddenly, the spirit became a major focus of growers and distillers throughout Mexico.