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Podcast

The Lost Explorer & The Treasure Of Mezcal

Joseph Mortera and Deano Moncreiffe from The Lost Explorer believe that when it comes to Mezcal, you have no choice but to live curiously

By: Tiff Christie|March 15,2021

Seen by many as the darling of the spirit space, Mezcal’s popularity is forging ahead by leaps and bounds. But with this newfound popularity has come regulations to protect the spirit, notably the craftsmanship, but also the land. 

One brand that is embracing the spirit’s heritage and biodiversity as well as delving into what the spirit really has to offer is The Lost Explorer. 

We talked to two of the brand’s ambassadors, Joseph Mortera based in Mexico City and Deano Moncreiffe based in London about the importance of the land, what distinguishes their brand, and how their Mezcal should be drunk. 

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For more information on The Lost Explorer, go to thelostexplorermezcal.com or connect with the brand on Instagram @thelostexplorermezcal

Read Full Transcript

Interviewer:
Seen by many as the darling of the spirit space, Mezcal's popularity is forging ahead by leaps and bounds. But with this newfound popularity has come regulations to protect the spirit, notably the craftsmanship, but also the land.
One brand that is embracing the spirit's heritage and biodiversity as well as delving into what the spirit really has to offer is The Lost Explorer.
We talked to two of the brand's ambassadors, Joseph Mortera based in Mexico City and Deano Moncreiffe based in London about the importance of the land, what distinguishes their brand, and how their Mezcal should be drunk.
Thank you for joining us.

Deano:
Thank you for having us. It's a pleasure to talk to you about our brand.

Joseph:
Likewise. Thank you for welcoming us into your wonderful podcast.

Interviewer:
The Lost Explorer has very much an ethos that you are working with nature to create something beautiful. Where did this philosophy come from?

Joseph:
I think this philosophy actually comes from the tradition of just producing mezcal, which is very old and is very honest. Somehow, we just try to probably make it a bit louder. Along with our Maestro Mezcalero Fortino Ramos, that he believes it needs to be in rhythm with nature, the making of the mezcal, so I guess mainly that's why we grabbed that philosophy to do shout about it.

Deano:
I think that when you're in Oaxaca and you see mezcal being made, there's something very, just magical about the whole experience and the whole process. You really get to witness just how wonderful nature is. You see the agave plants grow in different sizes for different periods of time and the different climates that they grow in wherever it's in high altitude or wherever it's kind of remote or arid. You just see that the plants are survivors. They're very robust and they're very much part of this sort of micro environment, which when you really study and look at it, it's wonderful. The whole process of harvesting these plants at the right moment when they've reached their full maturity and then returning them back to the earth and using the natural rain water, all of these things come together in such a beautiful and unique way. It's something that it's really, really have to be in the rhythm of nature and understand nature in its entirety to be able to get the most out of the agave plant, I would say.

Interviewer:
A lot of brands talk about their environmental responsibility, but you seem to be putting it in more relatable terms almost as if the agave were human when you talk about it's sacrifice, for example. Have you done this so people better understand the frailty of the ecosystem that produces it?

Deano:
Yeah. I mean, a hundred percent, and Joseph will probably be able to jump in in a second and say a little bit more about this. But yeah, 100%. I think, it's that one of the many things that attracted me about The Lost Explorer was that effort to be, and we're very ambitious, we'll all quite rightly say that we have an ambition to become, in time, the most sustainable mezcal brand in the world. That is something that we're proud to say. We're on the embryonic stages of making that happen, but it's something that we care passionately about, and it's something that is one of our core pillars when we are doing what we're doing.
It's just having a sensitivity to nature and understanding everything that everything is connected. And when you have a Maestro like Don Fortino who really appreciates and understands that probably obviously more than I ever will because I've never made mezcal. It just all falls into place and it makes it very easy to understand. I think from a customer point of view, it's really important to understand. You can't just go around taking plants and not replanting anything because it's just not sustainable to do that way. We have many sustainable practices that we do. I think Joseph maybe able to elaborate on a few of those.

Joseph:
Sure, of course. Well, I totally agree on that. Let's don't forget that this plant actually stays on the ground for many years and one of the things we're doing also as a brand is putting the years of the agave on our front label. This is just to conscientisize the people that this plant or this spirit, even though is not resting on a barrel for years, the plant takes many years to graft all the sugars and its energy from the sun. In a way, in a very passionate way to say it, it is a sacrifice of this plant to give us these amazing spirit that is either mezcal or tequila, in other words.

Interviewer:
Do you think there's a situation where with so many “celebrity brands”, on the tequila side at least, that people forget how long it takes the plant to develop. Do you think it sort of overshadows that a little bit?

Deano:
Oh, 100%. I mean, I think that's a great question because there's so many, it's hard to keep track of who's making a new tequila. I mean, there's celebrity after celebrity. It's like, wow, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they probably didn't know much about tequila until they've seen other celebrities do it. I mean, I am obviously generalising massively, but it is become, there's a good side and a bad side to that one. It builds a category, which is positive; it builds the agave spirits category, which is obviously, as I say, a really positive thing. But you have to have passion. You have to do it for a reason, which isn't just financially-based. It has to be because you understand that. Again, Joseph will be able to say it better than me, but you have to understand how big a part agave's play within Mexican culture and have done for many, many, many years. You have to respect that. If you don't do that, then that's when it will become problematic. It's a really good question.

Joseph:
It's a tremendous question actually, because I mean, in a way, the tequila industry has been more industrialised in a way compared to the mezcal industry. In many, many process, there are similar, but as far as respecting the years of the agave to reach full maturity, I think definitely the mezcal is the one who's taking this responsibility because let's not forget that tequila is made only out of one type of agave while mezcal, we have almost 300 types of agave.

Interviewer:
I must say I was struck when I first came across the brand by the labelling that you use on your bottles that almost have a sort of a curiosities element to them with the pig, the rooster, and the leopard, all with wings, antlers, or horns. How does that intertwine?

Joseph:
Well, those are very, let's say, very important elements for the Mexican culture, especially for the culture of the people in Oaxaca, because in other words, those mix of animals are called in Mexico, alebrijes. Those alebrijes represents a lot of the environment, especially where our agave grows because of the flora and the fauna that grows around our agaves. In a way, we wanted to represent them with an alebrije that for Espadin, it's a wild pig; for Tobala, it's cockerel; and for our Salmiana, it's a jaguar. All of these three main animals, well, they're sharing wings and a lot of stuff that represents the typical alebrije for the Mexicans. One of the design studio, Mexico-based in Guadalajara, Menta, they created these drawings that represent the agave, while also the fauna that grows around them here in Mexico, and especially in the central valleys of Oaxaca.

Deano:
They're super cool though, aren't they, when you see the bottle? I love the labels. I mean, you put them all together and it's curious. It makes you really curious. It's intriguing and it's curious, and it draws you in so much. The first time I held a bottle in my hand, I was like, "Wow, this is so cool." But yet they're magical. They really are magical.
It's worth mentioning, one of the things that we do, which is having the age statements on each bottle, because I think that is part of what we try to do with our mezcal, which is to educate, to let people know, "Hey, the bottles have a number eight, they have a 10, and they have a 12. Then, if you look closely, it will talk about the average age of the agave." It's a journey. I think that mezcal is not as well-understood as tequila, so this is a part of the education side of things as well. I think it's also how it's, again, people to understand and to respect what they're drinking and to respect a little bit about the process that goes into making a fantastic mezcal.

Joseph:
Eventually with time, we should also start sharing the areas where mezcal is produced, in Oaxaca, because it's very similar for what happens in Scotland with the Scotch, as they have their various specific regions as bayside, lowland, highland, et cetera. Oaxaca also has these very, very framed areas to produce mezcal as ours, which is central valleys. We have with different styles of making mezcala.

Deano:
It's such a good point because the characteristics are different everywhere, aren't they, with when you're creating Mezcals. I think that's something else. That's part of the journey that people will hopefully go on. They'll understand that terroir plays a huge, huge part in creating different types of Mezcal. It's such an amazing category and it's so versatile and you will taste something, like our Espadin is so delicious and fresh and has such wonderful notes, subtle smoke there, but I find it quite herbaceous in green. There's hints of red Apple there as well.
It's truly remarkable and it's very different to when you talk about the different flavour profiles and characteristics that you'll find in our Tobala or the Salmiana, because of the different types of plants and also the different age, different levels of time that it takes for them to get to their full maturities. It's honestly, it's so fascinating being involved with mezcal. I think for anyone who's listening, who hasn't really gotten into mezcal, the journey is an incredible one if you do start looking into it. You'll be amazed with what you can learn and all the different things that you can try out there.

Joseph:
I agree. One thing that I love about our mezcal, The Lost Explorer, is that even though it's a different raw material and probably the same process, you can actually feel the hand of the producer, the hand of the Maestro Mezcalero throughout the three varietals or the three types of agave that we have. Even though they have different profiles, you can feel, you can sense it was made by the same person.

Interviewer:
Do you find, though, that people get a little bit confused with the numbers and assume they are an ageing number for the spirit once it's been distilled rather than for the age of the agave itself?

Deano:
Yeah, I think that's valid. If you look at our brand on a back bar, it's symbolic of normally an ageing process, but it's just that the ageing process is done in the ground rather than above ground. That's, again, why I think it's ... I think everything that we do as a brand is about drawing new, and existing customers in, and I have it in my bars. People will look and they go, "Why does that label have that?" It's a discussion piece and I think that's what's really key with what we've done with the numbers. It's definitely something that I think is very unique to us.

Interviewer:
Take us through the three expressions that you have.

Joseph:
Well, our Espadin, it's a very, very solid Espadin with hints of citrus, herbaceous, and it does have a really good balance of the [inaudible] you can taste a little bit of earthiness as well. It's a really well-balanced Espadin. It goes through artisanal process of making mezcal. In other words, it means that the raw material spent in our style, in our way of doing it, eight years at least on the ground in the central valleys, grabbing all the sun, all the energy from the sun possible, and starting to gather those sugars in the heart, in the pina. Once it's ready, well, we take it out of the ground, we cut it, and we put it in a earth oven on the ground for at least three days where these agave develops the sugars and these sugary caramel honey flavour and taste, that's through the cooking.
Then, on the fermentations, Maestro Mezcalero Fortino is one of the best I know during the fermentation process, because he is able to develop amazing fruit flavours. In the case of our Espadin, he managed to develop flavours of red apple and even some ripe fruits. It's very sweet, but it's herbaceous. It has a little bit of citrus-y as well. It's a really good balance between alcohol in the stairs of the raw material. It's 42 ABV, which is a really good introduction level of alcohol for even mezcal drinkers or people who are willing to jump into from white spirits probably, into mezcal. I think it's a really good balance.

Deano:
See, I'm going to jump in and say, I agree. That's all I've got to add. Joseph just summed it up completely. One of the many good things that we do when we work as brand ambassadors is try, although mezcal is in our recipe, it's alongside ours, it's so so unique in its flavour profile that you do get the right fruits, the hint of the sweet apple, the herbaceousness.
People always talk about smoke when they talk about mezcal as if it is the one defining characteristic. But I think that more than anything Fortino, his style, I think Joseph will agree with me on this, is that it's very much the characteristic of the agave plant, so its agave led and then smoke second. We really want people to understand the complexity, what's the difference between the Espadin and the Tobala, for example, which is an average age of 10 years for our agave. And when you get to the Tobala, it's hints of tobacco and cacao and vanilla, sort of leathery. You get sort of wood aromas, but it's very, very different to the Espadin.

Joseph:
I totally agree. I mean, The Tobala, for me, it's very umami. It evolves in your mouth. It has a little bit of smoke of tobacco, even some vanilla. You have some citrus. It's, for me, between the three expressions that we have, Tobala is definitely, it has everything. Once you drink it, you can feel the heat and you can feel everything out of this amazing agave. It's agave potatorum. I love it, Tobala. For many chefs that I know, they describe it as a very umami agave.

Deano:
When I tried all three of the expressions and the variants that we have, I was like, "Wow, wow." Then, I got to the Salmiana and I was like, "Double wow!" You have a sip and then you have a permanent smile on your face because you are experiencing something that is definitely herbaceous, kind of equally sweet and spice as well. Green chilli, grapefruit, and reminds me of if you go to a palenque where the production takes place in mezcal, you go to a distillery and you hear the sound of the agaves being chopped in half, and then there's something that's released in the air, like a raw agave aroma. That is the only way I can describe it. But you get that with the Salmiana, like it's just freshly chopped agaves, yet there's so much going on.

Joseph:
It's very herbaceous. I mean, it's definitely by far the most herbaceous of all, and it has this layer of green chilies, like you just said, which is very specific for that type of agave. It's funny because, I mean, the Maestro Mezcalero always in a way, living curiously, he is using an agave that is not endemic of the state of Oaxaca, not even central valleys, but it's an agave very well-known in the center of Mexico, closer to the north, and he brought it to Oaxaca. You won't find a lot of Oaxacan mezcal brands making a Salmiana because it's not an endemic agave of the region and there is no tradition in Oaxaca to produce this amazing type of agave. I think Fortino really created something marvelous by doing a mezcal Salmiana within Oaxaca and with this expression that it's super herbaceous and that I really like and enjoy. A very bitter layer of probably grapefruit peel. I really, I really like Salmiana and a lot of people are that are already try it are very, very love of that liquid.

Deano:
You know what's great about all three is that they're so different. I literally constantly change my mind which one is my favourite expression, because it just depends on what, I guess, the sipping occasion, but also just you pick up different notes at different times. They are also so very, very different. I guess that's the reason why we love mezcal because a lot of people out there are producing amazing stuff and it's also different. Every producer will have their own specific style of what they want to achieve. Like I say, for us, this is very much about given the flavours of the agaves, we're agave-led, and you really will understand the difference between an Espadin, a Tobala, and a Salmiana when you try our three expressions.

Interviewer:
Now, if someone were to buy either of these expressions for the first time, how do you think they should first experience it?

Joseph:
I would definitely go for sipping. I mean, our Maestro Mezcalero Fortino, it's a very elegant distiller. It's a very elegant producer of mezcal. I pretty much go for sipping. However, if you buy the Espadin and want to try our Espadin, it's also for sipping, but you can create marvelous cocktails out of this expression because of the possibilities it offers to blend with other ingredients.

Deano:
The ideal scenario, which I know that we probably can't do right now because of the state of the world, but if you could get for the first time a bottle of The Lost Explorer in your hand and you were able to go camping with your friends and sit out, have a campfire, sipping mezcal, the Espadin, that would be a dream scenario. In nature, outside, with great company, sipping away, would be ideal. We're a long way away that so you can't ... well, hopefully not too far away, but if that's not possible, then as Joseph said, just being in the right company and sipping for sure.
The Espadin is probably more versatile when it comes to creating a cocktail with it. You'd probably use that, and obviously, maybe because of the price as well, you wouldn't ... unless you wanted to create a real luxury experience or a margarita, you probably wouldn't use a Tobala. For me, it's just sipping, again.

Interviewer:
Let's talk about the Espadin a little more, then. What cocktails do you think ... I mean, obviously a Margarita is an obvious one; a Paloma as well, possibly. What other cocktails do you think work particularly well with it?

Joseph:
Well, I've been doing a lot of tests with a lot of cocktails. Besides doing some brand job for The Lost Exploder, I also own a bar in Mexico City called Cafe Ocampo, which is more Italian focus on it's style of drinks. That's why I try to use a lot of classic cocktails. It's funny because most of the cocktails that I love are probably gin-based, but once you switch it to Espadin, they work really well. I have many examples about that like, probably the Last Word or even a Hanky Panky.

Deano:
Trust me, have a look on our website. Joseph has created some stunning cocktails. Personally, I've made a really beautiful Negroni and a very different style of Negroni, just a bit creative. I smoked some citrus fruits just to elevate it a little bit. But again, substituting anything that you would normally have a white spirit that has a lot of depth to it, pop the Espadin in there instead and you won't go too far on.

Joseph:
Yeah, I agree. Boom. It tastes good pretty much with every classic.

Interviewer:
Do you think people don't really quite understand how to use Mezcal in the same way that they might understand how to use Tequila?

Joseph:
I mean, probably in general, the Mezcal has this meat of have a lot of smoke; but once again, if you find an elegant producer, an elegant Maestro like ours is and produces mezcal with not that note in your face of smoke, I think you can mix it pretty much like every tequila as well. It just a big meat, I think, that it's been around for a while. But no, a good mezcal doesn't have to be extremely smoky.

Deano:
I think it's hard for people to understand because it's a new category and I'm specifically talking about in the UK here. I've been working with agave spirits for quite a few years now. I've seen the growth of the category from sort of being led by Tequila and how that has changed and developed to now, the mezcal, in the last couple of years. I see, even in my bar, I have an Agaveria here, so we specialise in agave spirits. What's interesting to me is that the number one thing that people search for to find my bar is Mezcal. Last year it was Tequila. And this is by some distance. I'm not talking now maybe four times as many people that are using the word Mezcal to search, and to find my bar, are using the word Tequila.
All of that is great for us to know, because the Tequila cocktail is very, very popular, but people come in specifically, and this is what gives me a lot of pleasure when people say, "I don't know anything about Mezcal. Can you tell me? Can you teach me?" There's a curiosity around it in Europe and I would say that this is representative across Europe. People are so curious about the category. They want to know more. What does it taste? What about that? What would you recommend? What should I drink it in? I can see happening, it's a really exciting category to be part of. But definitely, the people are not quite sure of how to go about it. The default cocktail is definitely a Margarita.

Interviewer:
I suppose the two of you must have very different experiences of representing the brand because in Mexico, people would understand Mezcal innately; and in Europe, it's still all about discovery and trying to get past the mythology of the smoke.

Joseph:
Well, I mean, in Mexico, it's a huge category. I mean, it has a lot of tradition. Probably in numbers, it's not as huge as Tequila is, or even Rum. But it is a very understandable category for lots of Mexicans and it's definitely the category, the trendy people are drinking. It has many layers of historical impact in the Mexican culture that it's been drinking Mezcal forever, however, talk more loud about Mezcal outside Mexico and in other countries and in other continents. For Mexicans, it's something to be proud of. A lot of Mexicans respect this spirit and sometimes they don't even touch it to mix it with drinks or cocktails or anything. They just go for the sipping and probably a ritual to drink Mezcal.

Joseph:
Yeah, jump in Deano, if you want.

Deano:
No, sorry to interrupt. I was just thinking, though. You know what, Joseph, actually for me, one of the biggest differences is that I was a foreigner going over to Mexico, you see Mezcal, it's a community. It's a mini-community. It's part of the culture. It's ingrained and it is obviously so important. I think that's quite, I don't know, probably the only word I can think of, is it's quite romantic to put to anyone outside of Mexico because it's done in such an artisinal way, the craft element is just wonderful. It's pure and it's so genuine and it's so honest. That's why, I guess, when people go over and they experience it for the first time, you can't help but fall in love with it. But yeah, it's just such a huge part of culture, isn't it? I guess.

Joseph:
It is. I mean, for Oaxacans, it has an impact in their communities. I mean, when we talk about to enrich communities, I think the mezcal, not even ours, I mean, every mezcal, every palenque in Oaxaca somehow enriches just the community. In many ways, the impact is so deep that for a lot of Mexicans, the mezcal, it's a sacred spirit. It's something that you're not supposed to sometimes mix. You just sip it, have a small ritual. But definitely, the mezcal for Mexicans is something to be proud of.

Interviewer:
Now, Mezcal doesn't have, as most spirits do, a “signature cocktail”. Do you think to help people understand mezcal better that's something that should be developed?

Joseph:
I think, I mean, as the category grows, I think definitely a cocktail for these categories is going to pop up and it's going to be marvelous and wonderful. But yeah, I mean, something about the versatility of this spirit is that you can pretty much grasp every cocktail that exists and it's going to be a good result about it. Pretty much every everything. Probably, it's nothing that will happen with other categories as, I don't know, something with grape, could be Cognac or Brandy, but this white spirit, this agave spirit as Mezcal, I think it's very versatile and very mixable as well. I think it's just the age of the category that makes us not have that classic cocktail, that specific cocktail for Mezcal, but I don't know. What do you think, Dean?

Deano:
I think that it probably will be a signature serve that Joseph and I will create, so watch this space. Then, when we have it, that'll be the one that people drink for years to come. Now, honestly, I agree with you. It's really hard because sometimes it's easy to default to the Margarita for obvious reasons because it's led by agave spirit. But sometimes when you have so many different variations of a liquid, it's really hard to have something that actually stands out and is the go to drink. I think that's part of the charm. I think that's part of the charm of it that it's not an oOld Fashioned, it's not a Pisco Sour, it's not anything that just kind of jumps to mind. It's not a Brandy Alexander. It's a discovery.
I think that's what's really unique about the category so people will have to go, "Oh, can I try it? Can we work with this?" Bartenders will be experimenting and they'll keep doing amazing things and pushing the category forward. I see it's a really exciting time for the category for people to just keep experimenting and explore over and to try various different things.
If you speak to our founders, they will both say the best way to drink Mezcal is to sip it. I think that does give it the respect that it deserves because of its complexity of flavour. But then, it is also equally, you've got to be versatile enough for people to explore in cocktails.

Interviewer:
Have bartenders created any cocktails with it that either of you didn't expect?

Deano:
Oh, that's a good question. Anything I didn't expect?

Joseph:
Well, I see a lot of people mixing tequila and mezcal in the same cocktail.

Deano:
I was just thinking the same, actually, when you said that. It just came to me. I think the first way that that was done was making margaritas, so they'll use the base. The key base would be tequila, and then they'd use a 10 mil float of mezcal and give it a different complexity. But now the balance is sort of 50-50, and sometimes even the other way round as well, which can be quite interesting. Talking about transitions, I've seen in the last couple of years, more people not using mezcal as a cocktail modifier, they're using a small amount, to actually being a key ingredient, that has been a huge step in Europe anyway, in particular. I'm going to use it as the main spirit.

Interviewer:
What would you think is the most important thing that people should take away from their experience with The Lost Explorer?

Joseph:
Well, I suppose that it's a brand that represents a very, very honest liquid. We want to be sustainable and we want to shout about it and we definitely want to give back to the communities and to take the mezcal to a higher position than it is right now. That's what I would love to people to take out of this brand that is going, it's going very serious about sustainability as well.

Deano:
I think with that, the whole ethos of celebrating the earth and living curiously as well. Yes, you may see Mezcal, you might not know what it is, but take that leap of faith, try, explore the category, explore our brands, and understand the differences that are there. I think just to touch on what Joseph was saying, I think key to us is it's not just how we do things. We're very mindful of the people that we partner with to help us make our products as well. Everyone has to have the right sort of ethical approach to even down to the labels that we use. We need to make sure that the companies that are helping us to do that have the right sustainability mindset and the right ethos as well. The projects that we'll be associated with and the things that we want to celebrate, I kind of feel that we're in a really good place to make a positive impact with what we do.

Joseph:
Also to respect the tradition of producing mezcal. It's very important for us.

Interviewer:
If people do want to sip curiously with The Lost Explorer, where can they find it around the world? What countries is it available in?

Joseph:
To be honest, we just launched a couple of months ago and we are still growing in distribution. Recently, we are in Mexico obviously, and just opened South California, U.K. A few cases are going for Iceland and to many other countries probably for this year. But if you want to know specifically where you can find us, what I would recommend is for you guys to visit us in our homepage, which is thelostexplodermezcal.com.

Interviewer:
I assume other than the website, they can also connect with you on your socials?

Joseph:
That will be a pleasure for me. If you want to reach me with any questions about The Lost Explorer mezcal or mezcal in general, please reach me in Instagram @JosephMortera. M-O-R-T-E-R-A. I will be happy to answer any questions you guys might have.

Deano:
We are more than happy to talk mezcal, to talk agave spirits, to about anything. We're here to answer any of those questions. My Instagram is @dondeanomoncrieffe. You should be able to find me there.

Interviewer:
Look, thank you guys for joining us.

Joseph:
Thank you so much for inviting us to talk about The Lost Explorer Mezcal. Hopefully, we'll be sipping mezcal together soon once it's over. Thank you so much.

Deano:
That'd be great. Deano, Joseph, thank you so much for your time. I hope that it was enjoyable for everyone who's tuned in and listened.

Interviewer:
Thank you.

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