Creating a Mezcal Brand: A Chat with Carmen of Mezcal Agua Santa

Aww mezcal! That spirit that is winning over the hearts of many people all over the world. Most of the best of this delicious spirit stays in Mexico but there are a few people out there working hard to get it to exported to other countries. Carmen Marron is one such person. Over the past number of years she has been working hard to build up her brand, Mezcal Agua Santa. The hustle is real when working on an endeavour like this and we are so excited to share her story.

Bartender Atlas: Who are you? Where did you grow up? Where do you live now and how did you get there?
Carmen Marron: My name is Carmen, proud Mexican. I grew up in one of the most chaotic, yet full of life cities of the world, Mexico City. I am a daughter of hard-working skillful entrepreneur parents, sister of amazing professional women. I moved to Canada, to Montreal in 2010 to do a master’s degree in business, which allowed me to meet really great people, among them, my lovely husband. It was in 2015 that my boyfriend (today my husband) and I decided to move to Toronto.

BA: Before starting Mezcal Agua Santa, what were you doing as a career?
CM: After graduating from Business School, I worked as a consultant for an UN agency, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for the Environment unit. I really enjoyed this working experience since it allowed me to work with international projects with different States; hence, meeting interesting people, learning about different cultural practices for work, and sharing unforgettable experiences.
Parallel to my work experience, I have kept dancing classic ballet, which is my passion, nurturing soul and body.

BA: What made you decide to start your own mezcal brand?
CM: I knew I wanted to create an environment for my career in which I could give gratitude back to my family and my country, but wasn’t sure what to do really. It wasn’t until one of my trips going back to visit my family in Mexico where everyone was talking about mezcal, and its charms. I was confused, really, because in my childhood Mexicans would drink whisky, beer, tequila (maybe). So I decided to do some profound research, and visit the home of mezcal, Oaxaca. On my first visits to different palenques, I just fell in love with Mezcal, its process, its people, the whole thing! Then I thought! OH.. THIS IS THE JACKPOT! I can make this the drink for Canada!!! Having no idea of the complexity of the regulations in Canada, I invested myself fully into this magical yet super complicated industry.

BA: Where does the name “Agua Santa” come from?
CM: Agua Santa word to word means Saint Water but as a better context think of it as “Holy Water.” While driving in Oaxaca looking for a palenque, I got lost in a valley. Turning to the side of the highway, I found a river that was named after Agua Santa. I thought it was a divine sign to name our mezcal after this experience.

BA: What kind of mezcal does Agua Santa carry?
CM: We only bring 100% artisanal certified mezcal. We have currently two kinds of mezcal, one that is Agave Angustifolia, or Maguey Espadin, and Agave Karwinskii or Maguey Madrecuishe. We will also, later this year, carry a Pechuga Mezcal. Once a year we want to introduce one new variation that is hard to find in Canada. With our mezcals, we are proud to say that we are doing sustainable practices to work in a clean environment, such as the new implementations in our production to clean the vinazas that end up in the river, so instead of polluting the water from the region, these vinazas will be retained in a filter to later be used as compost.

BA: What have been the biggest challenges for you in starting a mezcal brand?
CM: The bureaucratic paperwork in Mexico is a nightmare. It took me about 5-6 years to get my certification and right documents that allow me to sell a certified mezcal and to be able to export it. When I started there was not much information about how to export the mezcal. Different people will have different opinions on the legal process. I had (still have) to be sure, because a small mistake can be fatal to the business.

BA: What is it like working in a male-dominated industry?
CM: It is hard, but not impossible to stand up. I remember once meeting a producer from Oaxaca who would not acknowledge me when I was in the negotiation process. Instead he would respond to my dad, who was just there to keep me company. Even in the warehouse in Toronto, the first couple of pick-ups I ever did, the guys would not even hear my order or pay attention. It took bunch of patience and courage to stand up and be firm on my request to be served.

BA: What advice do you have for other women who want to start their own business?
CM: Everything is possible with hard work. We won’t change an era of male dominated industries but we can break patterns. Patience, courage, and resilience are magic components. Do not accept a NO for an answer and DO NOT let anyone to underestimate your power.

BA: The Agave spirit category is growing in popularity, especially when it comes to mezcal. How do you feel about this trend? Do you worry about the sustainability of the mezcal category? How can we be responsible mezcal drinkers?
CM: I feel with a huge commitment to keep spreading the love of mezcal while preserving the resources. It is not easy I admit but it is possible. We should be conscious that the land is prosperous but is not endless. That is why I make once a year small batches of mezcal with different wild agaves. Because we need to let nature to regenerate itself. We can certainly be more responsible drinkers by acknowledging the source of our drink and understand the process of it. This is the reason that I keep doing presentations regarding the process of it with different customers, for them to spread this education to their peers and customers.

BA: What is the best way that one can enjoy Mezcal Agua Santa?
CM: I am a purist so I am biased. The way I love to drink Mezcal Agua Santa is by sipping it. I understand it goes well with different cocktails, but if so, they should be always in a way to portray the smokiness of our mezcal as it will show the hard labor process behind its elaboration.

BA: Where can one get Mezcal Agua Santa? Are you working on getting it into other market?
CM: It can be acquired through Private Ordering by emailing me at carmen@mezcalaguasanta.com or through Instagram. It will soon be available at the LCBO retail as well (fingers crossed for April!). As well, we are currently in the process of trying to enter the US and Asian markets.

BA: What is your favourite place to visit in Mexico?
CM: I love the whole country and can’t pick just one place. There are so many great people, places, food, traditions to enjoy. I know it sounds cheesy, but I really love the whole country. I enjoy being at home with my family in Mexico City. I find going to Oaxaca fascinating and being in the plantations or in the Palenque smelling the uniqueness of the smoky oven. Have you heard of Chipiltepec in Estado de Mexico? In my opinion they have a fantastic celebration for Guadalupe Virgin’s birthday. Never mind Tabasco (not the salsa), but this tropical jungle, where you can see the coffee trees, but be careful if you are single and they offer you POZOL, you might be coming back with a loved one back home. SEE IT IS HARD TO PICK ONE, SO I STAY WITH THE WHOLE COUNTRY.

Looking to enjoy Mezcal Agua Santa in a cocktail? May be suggest this beauty that comes from Josh Lindley.

Guilty Conscience
2 oz Mezcal Agua Santa Espadin
0.7 5oz Lemon Juice
0.5 oz Rosemary Syrup*
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin, add ice and shake hard for 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe.

*Rosemary Syrup: Add 2 cups of hot water to 2 cups of white sugar and three 6inch long rosemary sprigs. Stir or agitate to dissolve sugar. Let cool. Remove rosemary sprigs. Keeps 2 weeks.

 

Post in collaboration with Mezcal Agua Santa. Please drink responsibly.


Jessica Blaine Smith
Co-creator at Bartender Atlas
Jessica co-created Bartender Atlas with her bartender husband Josh Lindley. She is a full-time photographer based in Toronto, Canada. In her professional life, she documents the lives of others. Her camera has taken her all over this beautiful world from Cuba to Trinidad to France to New Zealand and Australia. While not a bartender herself, she definitely loves a strong cocktail, preferably one that is brown and/or smokey. She also loves poutine, pilates, other peoples' children and, of course, sitting at all of your bars.
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