Agave aficionados, rejoice: London Mezcal Week (LMW) is back for the third year in a row. Running from 15-21 July, this year's celebrations will see 40 producers gather at Shoreditch bar TT Liquor to share their spirits and talk all things mezcal.
But that's not all – LMW co-founders Thea Cumming and Melanie Symonds, owners of mezcal brands Dangerous Don and Quiquiriqui, respectively, have also put together a line-up of speakers, seminars, bar takeovers and supper clubs set to take east London by storm. Imbibe caught up with Cumming to talk category development, the best mezcal bars in the UK and what's on offer for the trade at London Mezcal Week 2019.
What’s new at London Mezcal Week this year?
This year we’re basing the whole event at TT Liquor as our partner venue... That’s a good thing because it’s a really cool multi-functional venue, an old prison with a cellar bar downstairs and a full cinema and the mezcal masterclass room and terrace.
We've also got lots of new brands, some that haven’t worked in the UK before. We've got more sotol than we've ever had before and different types of agave spirits.
London Mezcal Week speakers
LMW will see some of the legends of mezcal leading seminars on all things agave
- Tom Bullock, agave ambassador and author of The Mezcal Experience
- Raza Zaidi, owner of Wahaka Mezcal
- Cristian Bugiada and Roberto Artusio, owners of the Roman mezcaleria La Punta
Another thing that's really great this year is our seminars on both the Friday and Saturday in the cinema room with some of the greatest agave gurus [see box, right].
Those speakers are something that's new and that we're really excited about, because ultimately we're trying to promote the category and so it's amazing to have these people who care so much about agave spirits all in the same room sharing the message and sharing their stories. With mezcal it's difficult, because there are so many myths about what we should be drinking, so we're trying to dispel those myths.
And what are some of the myths you're working to dispel?
The more top-level stuff is about what mezcal is in relation to tequila. We also want to give people the tools to make decisions about which brands to buy into and which mezcals to purchase. Everyone's always asking ‘is there enough agave’ because agave takes 25 years to grow, so it's totally different from any other category.
There is enough agave, but it's about asking if the producers are using it properly and if brands are being responsible, not just taking large investments from international companies to put money in their pockets. We’re trying to make sure that everybody understands the questions you should be asking to decide which brands you should be supporting.
How is the mezcal category evolving?
It's evolving quickly, that's for sure. People are getting more and more interested. As we move towards more conscious drinking, drinking less but better quality spirits, it's grown a lot.
People care what they're putting into their bodies more, and it's such a beautiful spirit, made from a plant and there's real traceability there. Mezcal is so rooted in tradition, so diverse and more interesting than things we've been used to drinking. It's captured bartenders' attention and that's infiltrated the consumer's drinking habits too.
Still, mezcal only got its denomination of origin in 1974 and hasn't been exported for that long, so people are pretty unaware of how diverse it is. But in Oaxaca it's been consumed for hundreds of years, and they've experimented loads. That just hasn't trickled down to us yet – we're behind, but we're getting there.
Which bars in the UK are really doing their bit for mezcal?
There's an amazing bar called Ojo Rojo in Bournemouth. Gemma Terry, the bartender there, is really making sure the right spirits are used. A lot of the time bartenders are driven by GP, but for example she'll make a Negroni with a Papa Diablo Especial, which is an expensive product, but she knows it's good. She says, let's use these spirits, let's not just save them for the back bar.
Who else? Hmm… There's Masa + Mezcal down in Bristol, doing a lot of talks and educational pieces. In London, Hacha has a number of agave spirits paired with little bites of food, which shows that there's a different mezcal to go with every flavour combination. Mezcal is diverse, and you can enjoy mezcal like wine.
How is London Mezcal Week working with the trade to push the category forward?
The main thing for London Mezcal Week is the two-day tasting on 19-20 July. We're making Friday trade-focused, with discounts on tickets for the trade, and 50 to 60 different agave spirits to try, as well as five speakers.
It's often difficult for small mezcal brands. Getting into the UK is basically impossible without lots of money, so we've got 40 different producers that are all really small. It's an opportunity for the trade to try so many different agave spirits so that they can start to support the smaller brands. A lot of times bartenders want to do that, it's just a case of finding out what the spirits are.
And which part of the week are you most excited for?
Definitely the tasting festival! It's just so overwhelming to have so many people who love and care about agave spirits in the same room. It's amazing to see what people are doing in the category and how much people are supporting it.
Get your trade discount
London Mezcal Week has teamed up with Imbibe to offer our readers an exclusive trade discount – just follow the link here and enter the code 'IMBIBELOVESMEZCAL' at checkout.