Solidarity through Mezcal

The news from Guerrero has not been good of late, what with the abduction and probable murder of 43 students at a teacher’s college in Ayotzinapa, and the subsequent riots. But real life can’t be reduced to one storyline, and so I was happy to get some better news from our friend, tequila and mezcal expert Clayton Szczech, who wrote to tell me about a kickass organization of indigenous peasants  in the Río de Balsas region of Guerrero.

Maguey field in guerrero

Maguey reforestation project. Photo by Clayton Szczech.

Sanzekan Tinemi  is an autonomous community organization that supports sustainable development in rural communities, with an emphasis on reforestation and the preservation of folkways. Since 1990, the organization has been  fostering collectives in an effort to inject some much-needed cash into the region.

The group works to preserve and reinvigorate Guerrero’s existing folkways, and mezcal was a no-brainer. As boozy hipsters the world over have increased the demand for mezcal, Guerrero producers are poised to profit. But the boom in popularity threatens to undermine artisinal methods and put strain on the wild agave population. Old school mezcaleros are under intense pressure to sell out to large, modern mezcal companies. In order to provide support to small producers, the Sanzekan organization now represents a collective of maestro mezcaleros who use traditional methods and practice good stewardship of the land, including reforesting  the region’s wild agave cupreata. The collective includes producers from the  municipalities of Chilapa de Álvarez, Zitlala, Ahuacuotzingo and Tixtla.

Szczech writes, “Sanzekan Tinemi  (“Onward Together,” in the Nahuatl language) is the most inspiring group of people I’ve meet in nearly two decades of screwing around in Mexico. They are dedicated to the social and economic developments of their communities through the sustainable use of natural resources. Chief among these resources is the wild agave cupreata, which their families have been making into mezcal for centuries.”

I called Szczech for more details and he spoke with enthusiasm,

“It’s like the real, real deal. They’ve been around for 25 years, and have specific working groups in their organization. They have soil conservation, they have a reforestation group, they have a women’s group. And one of the things the women’s group does is create handicrafts and they use the profits for reforestation and other projects.”

Mezcal at rest in the Sanzekan bunker.

Mezcal at rest in the Sanzekan bunker.

The organization’s latest experiment is a program of ‘solidarity bonds,’ which allow you to prepay for mezcal that will be matured in glass for two years.

Szczech explains, “This traditional method mellows mezcal and balances flavors in an unmistakable way.”

The bonds are part of an effort to provide small producers with the financial support they need in order to resist selling out to corporations, which offer unscrupulous yet binding contracts that force producers to sell their heritage for a pittance.

“Sanzekan came up with these bonds as a way to get some money on the table now, to make those efforts less attractive to their members now,” Szczech explains. “Our solidarity will make a huge difference in the survival of their communities and culture.”

He describes visiting the reforestation project and touring the Sanzekan storage facility. “They built this crazy concrete pyramid. It looks like some weird Masonic shit. They just have thousands and thousands of glass carboys, organized by producer.”

A pyramid full of artisinal mezcal? This is the stuff that dreams are made of. Altruism that leads to artisinal mezcal? Sounds like my kind of good deed. If you are interested in supporting a dynamic community while simultaneously getting your hands on some legit mezcal, drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch with Szczech.




4 Responses to “Solidarity through Mezcal”

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  1. Lorena says:

    Hi Churpa,

    Well my mezcal days are long over, but I certainly don’t recall any of it being mellow.

    It’s great to read about groups working for sustainable development anywhere in the world, but especially in Mexico. With all drug violence, it’s hard for any good news to make its way out of Mexico.

    Would love to hear about some of their other projects. Are the crafts being sold online somewhere?

  2. Felisa Rogers says:

    You can check out their website: I don’t see anything about being able to buy folk art online, but there’s stuff about community events.

  3. Tina Rosa says:

    I never did like mezcal, but I probably drank it anyway! But always glad to hear about collectives here in Mexico and their positive economic impact on local communities.

  4. -El Codo- says:

    Ya gotta ask for the best in the house. The truly finest mezcal is contrabanda. Lunashine and getting your mitts on this stuff is more than difficult. The low octane mezcal grades are a mere step or two above engine starting fluid IMHO. To add insult to injury a lot of cheap mezcales have been adulterated with pop-skull cane alcohol. Oak stave barrels are incredibly expensive in Mexico. Being the owner of 30+ liters of 30-year old Tequila stored in a pony keg from Heitz Cellars makes me a snob. The irony is I seldom even take a sip anymore, but give small boutique bottles away as special gifts to mature Mexicans who sneer at the thought of using lime juice and salt. Purchasing the Tequila through a friend in the late 70’s took me through a school with a vertical learning curve about spirits. Traditional Mexicans are incredibly secretive and jealous about their source for agaves contrabandas. I never got to meet the seller and had to wait 16 hours before a trunk load of milk cartons arrived, sloshing with the Tequila. The cost was a hundred dollars and a pricey mechanic’s tool set. This stuff never did come cheap.

    But like coffee, Mexico has a range from truly horrid liquid all the way to some pretty good stuff. But in my opinion even the best cries for an oak barrel and six years of kicking back. It’s be interesting to try it out but ADUANA gave me a nightmare at Nogales even back then and something tells me they would almost draw a firearm if someone tried it today.