You can’t think of agave spirits without one name coming to mind, Phil Bayly. The founder of agave love and an all around agave spirits guru, Bayly was recently honoured as a Global Mezcal Ambassador by the Mexican Government for his work in the category. Drinks World’s Lukas Raschilla sat down to chat to Bayly about his recent appointment and appreciation for agave spirits.
Lukas Raschilla: The Mexican Government recently anointed you as a Global Mezcal Ambassador. What an honour. Can you tell me a little about this and what it means to you?
Phil Bayly: I have been appointed to promote and support the entire category that includes mezcal, artisanal mezcal and ancestral mezcal.
There is a lot of controversy about mezcal at the moment and I see it as my role to disseminate the information available and educate both the bar industry and consumers about what is fact and what is fiction.
My mission now will be to visit all of the eight states of the DOA where mezcal is produced, to gather first-hand information about the differences in the agaves used and production processes applied to make this unique spirit, and then share this information with the community at large.
LR: What was the process to being anointed as a Global Mezcal Ambassador? Did the Mexican Government reach out to you?
PB: Following the last ‘Agave Love Asia Tour’, I was approached by the President of the CRM (Mezcal Regulatory Council). He told me how much he appreciated my work and that he wanted to make me the first Ambassador for mezcal. I was humbled but did not really expect it to go any further until he messaged me in December last year informing me that he needed me to attend the National Assembly Conference in Oaxaca in February this year, to be officially recognised.
I travelled to Oaxaca as requested and attended the National Assembly on Saturday, February the 11th where Hipocrates Nolaco – President of the CRM and Alfredo Rendon Algara – Director of IMPI (Mexican Institute of Industrial Property) officially gave me the title.
LR: When did you first fall in love with the agave spirits category?
PB: I first fell in love with agave spirits in Australia when I was nineteen, but I didn’t realise it at the time. It wasn’t till I was about 25 that I rediscovered the category, working with Tomas Estes (International Tequila Ambassador) in Amsterdam. We used to get pretty crazy together, to say the least, but that was the moment I secured my fate and became addicted.
LR: Can you share with me how the idea for Agave Love came about?
PB: The idea for Agave Love came to me when I observed the growth of categories such as mezcal and raicilla; this created a lot of confusion for bartenders and consumers alike. Many people were thinking that these products were the same as tequila, which they are not. In fact, they are nothing like tequila – they have their own characters and although they are agave-based, the people, the culture behind them, the agaves and the production processes are so vastly different. They need to be approached and appreciated in a completely different way from tequila.
I wanted to bring out the people who made me passionate about agave spirits, to talk and share their passion with the industry both here in Australia and in Asia to make them passionate. I have also heard a lot of misinformation about the agave spirits, and so I decided the best people to talk about it were the people who make or regulate these spirits. If anyone knows, they do.
Agave Love was really designed to share in-depth and accurate information about all the agave spirits in a way to encourage people to want to explore further. For more details on Agave Love click here.
LR: Have you seen the perception of tequila and mezcal change in Australia over the years? How so?
PB: When I first opened Café Pacifico, Sydney in 1996, many people thought I was crazy to focus my whole bar around the agave spirits. The perception of tequila, in particular, was that of a cheap spirit that was the cause of many embarrassing nights and epic hangovers and it had to be gold in colour, otherwise it, was no good. There were also only five recognised brands available and about eight expressions at the time.
Tequila has taken a huge step forward in Australia, most bars will have anything from two to three tequilas and many will have a range of five or more. It used to be just one and more often than not it was a ‘false tequila’ – not made in Mexico, but in regional parts of Australia and not made from agave. Since 2013, these false tequilas are now illegal, following the Mexican Bureau of Intellectual Property, registering the name in Australia.
People are still drinking tequila shots, something rarely done in Mexico, but the quality of the tequila has changed for the better. The culture of sipping tequila as well as drinking in cocktails and not just the margarita is now very well established here. Most good cocktail bars will have at least one tequila cocktail on the menu.
LR: Which styles of tequila and mezcal are personal favourites and dear to your heart?
PB: For tequila, it is the blancos – fresh, crisp and clean with out the influence of oak, however, I do still enjoy a good añejo every now and then.
I love and enjoy well made 100 per cent agave tequilas from both the Valley of Tequila and the Highlands as long as they are coming from a good distillery.
For mezcal, I love some of the varietals – aroqueño, tepetztate, papalome and madreciuxe are definitely some of my favourites. Some of the villages and different states play a huge role in this, providing the terroir for the wild yeast used to ferment them. Places such as Santa Caterina Minas, San Luis del Rio, as well as the states of Puebla, Michoacan, Gurrero and Durango and of course Oaxaca to name a few. In this case, as with all spirits, it comes down to the hand of the maker, the Mescalero who is making it.
LR: I have to ask this, what is your favourite drink that doesn’t involve agave?
PB: Rum has always been a favourite; I started the Sydney Rum Club in 2005 with the help of Angus Winchester and I consider rum to have a lot of similarity to agave spirits in the sense of the diversity of the category. Spanish Caribbean rum used in a daiquiri is a classic and something I can drink for days when there are no agave spirits within 100kms. I also love some of the French Caribbean rums.