Xania Woodman has worn a lot of hats over the last few years; Currently, she’s the Senior Editor of Dining, Beverage & Nightlife at Vegas Seven, brand ambassador for the NEAT Glass, as well as a fellow Drinkwire contributor (and probably a few other things!). But even as her titles may have changed, one thing she has always been consistently is a strong supporter of emerging beverage industry talent and brands in Las Vegas.
Now she’s directing that energy into a new event series called Now Drink This! Hosted at the glammy Fizz lounge inside Caesars Palace (side note: co-owned by Elton John), the series follows through on a premise that Xania and I have discussed in the past, i.e. How great would it be to share some of the beverage education that industry professionals get with the drinking public?
Las Vegas is a particularly good place for this kind of thing because: 1) There are a lot of enthusiastic tipplers here, whether local or visiting and 2) There are a lot of interesting brands looking for a leg up in an extremely competitive market.
After missing the first two in the series, I finally made it last week to one featuring Kimo Sabe mezcal, with their regional sales director Gaston Martinez (a stalwart on the Vegas beverage scene), executive vice president of sales Kirk Gaither, and Kimo Sabe co-creator Ashley Walsh Kvamme.
Kimo Sabe is an intriguing brand, because it has a very clear mission: to make mezcal ready for primetime and become the market leader in that category. With production based in Oaxaca, they source agave pinas from their own fields as well as several other regions and blend for a consistent expression—uncommon with mezcal, which is largely terroir driven (especially on the high end).
In that respect, it’s a bit more revolutionary than your typical craft whiskey or gin, so perhaps it stands to reason they would need three presenters: Martinez, Kvamme and Gaither all speaking to different aspects about the product and company.
After an introductory sparkling cocktail, Martinez took the floor and explained the history of spirits in Mexico (it starts with a religious ritual where the agave was chewed and spit out before fermenting into ‘pulque’ …mmm! Haha) and the five steps of both traditional and modern mezcal production.
For those unaware, after the agave pina is harvested by the jimador (and the cultivation of the agave is a whole other lengthy conversation, and process, taking a minimum of 8 years) the pina is (1) slow roasted in a covered pit for about 5 days; (2) ground into pulp and juice in a stone tahona pulled by a donkey; (3) the juice is open fermented using natural yeast; (4) the fermented ‘beer’ is then distilled in an alembique arabe two times, cutting heads and tails (Kimo Sabe actually runs it a third time) and then (5) rectified for stability. [By the way, much of the difference between mezcal and tequila is in the first two aspects—mezcal can be made from more types of agave in more places, and it is roasted rather than steamed. There’s more, but that’s a topic for another time.]
Kimo Sabe actually treats the mezcal with sound waves to further homogenize the spirit.
Martinez then handed things over to Kvamme, who explained some interesting background about the mezcal industry overall—for example, 80% of it is in Oaxaca, but actually 9 different states in Mexico are allowed to make it; Of some estimated 2000 mezcal producers across Mexico, only 10% are actually legally certified. She also detailed how her family company (which started in bean-to-bar chocolate production) is seeking not only to broaden the spirit’s popularity, but along with it, help make agave farming sustainable both ecologically and economically for the farmers.
Then Gaither spoke to mezcal’s current sales climate in the US and its potential…interesting, although at this point I think many of the 20+ crowd were ready to taste (well, I know I was).
So Woodman explained the proper use of the NEAT glass for evaulation, and Martinez returned to take us through the tasting. Intriguingly, it incorporated other products—Patron plata tequila and a traditional style Del Maguey mezcal to provide points of comparison against Kimo Sabe’s joven “Albedo” and reposado “Rubedo.”
After tasting the Patron, Kimo Sabe Albedo was notably less sweet, softly smoky, with a grassy freshness.
Then trying the Del Maguey before the Rubedo (aged in new American oak for 6-8 months), the latter offered a distinctly herbal nose, and a less smoky palate, toasty/nutty with sweet vanilla, savory red pepper and a softly spicy finish.
Chocolate, from the Walsh family’s own artisinal production, and slices of orange with gusano salt, were offered as contrasting pairings.
To be honest, as a traditional mezcal lover, Kimo Sabe isn’t necessarily drawing me away from my favorite sipping mezcals, including Pierde Almas Espadin and Alipus San Juan. But it’s definitely a well-made spirit, and I’m intrigued by its possibilities in cocktails (daisys, flips, sours in particular), as Martinez demonstrated with two more mixtures.
As for the Now Drink This series, they appear to be scheduling regular-irregular sessions, which seem well worth the $40 for two cocktails and the tasting (as well as some promotional swag)