In my last spotlight with Emma Janzen, I asked her questions about her perspective on various mezcal-related topics and about her journey while writing Mezcal... one of the best introductory mezcal books on the market. Emma's perspective was a first-hand, journalistic view on mezcal and all its beauty - from tasting notes, to education on the the spirit and its origin. As the market for mezcal continues to grow and more consumers begin experimenting and learning about this artisanal spirit - I figured that there was no better person to follow my previous conversation with Emma than the wolf queen of Montelobos Mezcal herself, Camille Austin.
I've had the pleasure of meeting Camille and learning about what she does for a living - which is quite the awesome gig. She travels all over the country, and also to Mexico, educating others on Montelobos as both a spirit and brand from a very experienced and cultured perspective. In a brief conversation I've had with her at one of my favorite bars in NYC, Ghost Donkey, I realized that not only was she incredibly passionate about what she does, but that she knows so much about mezcal - from tasting notes of the many agave varietals, to first-hand conversations with mezcaleros (master distillers) about the art and craft of what mezcal is at its core.
By the above, I was (and am) impressed by the pure cultural experiences that Camille carries with her in her role with Montelobos and how she and the brand are not separate, but one by the nature of what she does. In my interview with her she talks about her experience working for Montelobos while dropping some valuable mezcal knowledge that you will definitely want to remember. If you don't already, follow her on Instagram here!
What is your current role with Montelobos?
National Ambassador for Montelobos Mezcal aka “La Loba Mezcalera”
Tell us a fun fact about yourself!
I was in a 50 Cent video when I was 17
How did your love for mezcal begin?
It’s a love affair that gets deeper each day. I had my first taste of Mezcal when I was bartending in Miami about 9 years ago. Mezcal was still not very well known back then and there were few brands imported to the US, most of which had a worm in the bottle. This small category has come a very long way. With agave spirits, the plant itself is majestic, mysterious, and tells a story of origin, that one can easily become enamored by its resilience.
Every bottle of mezcal has a name, a place and a time, and that’s a beautiful thing, especially in this global, modern world that we live in.
What is something you find special, or unique, about working for Montelobos?
I love Montelobos because it’s contemporary and traditional at the same time.
It’s a 100% Mexican owned artisanal brand that is distributed by great boutique importers around the world. There are many things that make it unique, but the most important to me is that it’s an honest brand produced with integrity by everyone involved. And of course being able to work alongside Iván Saldaña is very inspiring.
When educating others about the brand, what do you like talking about the most?
Montelobos was born from Ivan’s vision to unite the heritage of skilled mezcaleros with his knowledge of agave’s biodiversity and its vast flavor potential.
With his background in biology, we will never produce mezcal harvested from wild agave species. We are constantly looking for ways to decrease our carbon footprint while trying to keep traditional production practices alive. And I can identify with that personally, as I live by similar ideals.
What is one thing you wish all people knew about mezcal that most probably don't?
In the US and other parts of the world there is this belief that the more wild the agave varietal, higher the ABV, and rarer the batch are the best mezcales.
Well, I will argue that there are some great producers making high quality Espadín in Matatlán, right in the world’s “mezcal capital”, just as there are mezcaleros using rare agave and uncommon production in Puebla, Guerrero or Michoacán.
I wish this “trend” of desperately seeking these rare and limited batch mezcales would cease. Our agave diversity is going to disappear if more producers and brands don’t begin to look at ways to replant, semi cultivate and plan ahead.
My advice to the consumer beginning to discover mezcal is to be weary of this, and to explore Espadin from different villages and producers first, and to know that wild varietal mezcales are a treat, and not for everyday consumption.
Sustainability is a hot topic in the hospitality industry overall, but it is even more relevant when speaking about the long-term sustainability of agave for mezcal production. What are your views on the best ways to mitigate this issue & what is Montelobos' approach to long-term agave sustainability?
Montelobos has been conscious of the issue since its inception. For Iván, it’s important that sustainability remain at the core of the brand. We only use organically cultivated agave varietals to produce our mezcales in both of our palenques in Oaxaca and Puebla, and in Puebla we have been working with a producer that has acres and acres of agave that he has been cultivating by seed for decades.
There are several brands stepping up to the plate regarding this issue, but currently there is no one brand of agave spirits that is 100% sustainable in its production. We are just beginning to tap into the use of wood and water. Hopefully in the near future we can make strides as a community to ensure mezcal, bacanora, sotol, raicilla and all of Mexico’s gems are around for us to enjoy for decades to come.
What is one cocktail trend that you wish would die in 2018?
The word “mixologist” and plastic straws.
What is your favorite cocktail you have made using Montelobos? What is in it?
The Lobo Negro is a fun and simple one with Montelobos, lime juice, ginger syrup and blackberries. I love ripe berries! These flavors play off of some of those interesting fermentative notes in the mezcal and of course that deep, blackish purple color adds some sex appeal to your hand.
I also love serving the mezcal neat with local fruits, nuts, herbs, salts and chocolates from the places that I travel to. That really allows the consumer to experience the diversity in flavor of the mezcal as it opens up and evolves while they sip.
Last year I discovered these great tropical fruits from the Amazon in Colombia and we were sipping Espadin with fresh lulo and uchuva all week long.
Your favorite NYC bar?
What's the best cocktail you have had in NYC?
Ghost Donkey’s Corn Mai Tai is pretty mind blowing. (Pictured on right)
Your favorite Bon Vivantito cocktail?
The Soul Reviver ... sexy!