Creating An American Agave Spirit With Mean Mule

You may not think of the U.S. as producing an Agave Spirit, but Jeff Evans at Missouri distillers, Mean Mule is looking to change all that

By: Tiff Christie|January 19,2023

When you think of agave spirits, your mind naturally goes to places like Lesko and its surrounding areas in Mexico.

But what if, instead, it went a little further north of the border? That is what mean mule distilling wants your mind to do when you think of the agave spirits that they are producing in Kansas City, Missouri, located slap bang in the Heart of America.

Mean Mule was born of generations of distilling tradition, but this time all above board and legal and with a whole new ingredient. But what does it mean to be an American agave spirit?

To find out more, we talked to Jeff Evans about moonshine and agave gin.

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Interviewer (00:41):
When you think of agave spirits, your mind naturally goes to places like Lesko and its surrounding areas in Mexico. But what if instead it went a little further north of the border? That is what mean mule distilling wants your mind to do when you think of their agave spirits that they are producing in Kansas City, Missouri, located slap bang in the Heart of America. Mean Mule was born of generations of distilling tradition, but this time all above board and legal and with a whole new ingredient. But what does it mean to be an American agave spirit? To find out more, we talked to Jeff Evans about moonshine and agave gin.
Thank you for joining us, Jeff.
Jeff (01:28):
Well, thank you for adding me.
Interviewer (01:30):
Now, I suppose we'd better start with the origins of the name and how one mean mule kind of changed the fate of your family.
Jeff (01:39):
Absolutely. So the way the whole story goes, the legend as it is, is we come from five generations of distilling tradition. My wife's great, great, great great grandmother imported from Germany, settled in Missouri in the early 18 hundreds. She built a still and started a company, and so she passed that down to every subsequent generation after her and the 1920s. There's a little bit of a social and economic change as far as alcohol's concerned. In the United States, we call that prohibition. Now, it didn't stop the family from making their hooch just made them a little bit more careful. Well, one day the patriarch, one of his customers decided he'd gotten a bad deal, so he reported him to the feds. So here come the revenue was up the long driveway to the farmhouse gonna shut down the operation and take everyone to jail.
Now, what these revenues didn't know is that Fritz, the man in charge was a very careful guy. So he had built a false floor inside of one of his barns, and underneath that floor, he had his entire operation laid out on top of that floor. He'd gone out and he'd bought the meanest mule that money could buy. So these two revenues come up to this barn and kick open this door in their arrogance and really their ignorance. And at that point, they had to fight a 700 pound mean Missouri mule. And within two minutes, one man was dragging the other one down the road, and they never came back. So we're called the Menial Distilling Company because on that day, only one thing could save those five generations of distilling tradition. Now, at the time, they were ma making a lot of corn whiskeys, fruit brandies, these sorts of things. Agave really wasn't a something that they knew about or had had tried. And so when we decided to relaunch the family brand in 2015, much to the chagrin of all of the grandparents and go legit, we wanted to do something that had never been done before in the United States.
Interviewer (03:29):
There are a lot of people who probably have Moonshiner's in their family history, but if they decided to do it themselves, they would probably go for a grain-based whiskey or a gin or something that's a little bit simpler. How did your mind even come up with agave?
Jeff (03:50):
Yeah, so Agave’s been a passion of mine for a long time. I've always been fascinated with mezcal, tequila, Bacanora, Raicilla, and it was kind of a pet project of mine. And so when I had the opportunity to kinda launch this on my own, you know, obviously there's some things that happened in the background. No one learns this by accident. Right. And so in, in my attempts to learn, agave just became one of those things that was harder to make than anything else. And it just kind of became an obsession for me, right? How do I make something that is the same quality as these beautiful spirits that we're getting out of Mexico? And so what became a question became an obsession. And what became an obsession eventually had to go from hobby to legit. And there was, there was no other route for us at that point, just because it was the only thing that took all of my attention all at once. And so we decided to use agave in the United States, and it's been an adventure ever since.
Interviewer (04:56):
Now, do you have a bartending or some sort of spirit's background?
Jeff (05:03):
No, no. My, my background is in engineering. I did a large scale machine and manufacturing design for various car plants in the United States. A couple of my machines are at a Tesla. A couple of my machines are in a few Nissan plants. I've got a widget that's pretty much in every Nissan plant in the world. Did a lot for GM and Ford. And so I, I was an engineer that just designed machines. And so one of the interesting parts about Mean Mule is I actually designed all of our equipment.
Interviewer (05:32):
I was about to say, you could probably do that.
Jeff (05:35):
Yeah. And at, you know, at one point it became such an obsession. One of my bosses walked into the shop where we were building machines at like 10 o'clock at night, and I told him I'm gonna work late. He didn't know that I was going to be building stills in the shop. And so he walks in and there's all this equipment laid out, I'm building all this stuff. And he was like, man, what are you doing? And I was like, Hey, look, side project, this is what I'm doing. And it was, it was some big stuff. And he was like fine. Just bring me a bottle. And I said, okay, done. Not a problem.
Interviewer (06:06):
Now, how, how do you go about this? I mean, are you importing agave from Mexico? Or are you, are there places in the states that actually grow agave naturally in the desert areas? How are you getting hold of the plants?
Jeff (06:25):
Right, so, so Mexico, oh gosh, man there's, there's two ecosystems for agave going on right now. Right? You have, you have the tequila manufacturers that are typically, they either have their own fields which is five years for one crop. That's, that's a lot of lead time, right? Yeah. Or they're, the, the tequila distilleries are buying from coyote that are selling agave from their own fields. And so if you've ever been to Jalisco, if you've ever been to Amatitan or the town of Tequila, like every inch of the entire place, whether it be on the side of the highway, the median's on the highway, everything's covered in agave, right? Yeah. Because there's such a agave boom right now. So that ecosystem becomes ripe for larger American and international companies to to abuse it. Right? So what's happened is you've had a lot of these celebrity brands move in.
And in order to get ahold of the quality, agave, the quality crop, they just pay more because they can't, right. They have a ton of investment behind them. So they're just like, Hey, instead of paying this typical like $5 a plant, $6 a plant, that has been typical for agave pinas in the past, they're like, tell you what, we're gonna spend 70 bucks a plant just to get the quality ingredients and to get this off the ground. Well, so then the, then the coyotes being obviously businessmen, they're like, well, if we can sell this for 70 bucks a plant, we're just gonna sell it for 70 bucks a plant. Yeah. So then they go to the the legacy brands in Mexico and they say, Hey, new price is 70 bucks of land. They're like, man, we can't afford that. Mm-Hmm. Right? So what we're actually seeing is a lot of American investment going into these celebrity brands going into tequila that are actually putting all of the legacy brands in a place where they have to make some pretty tough choices. Right. And so the crazy thing about agave is there's what, 3,600 brands in the states right now? Roughly.
Interviewer (08:20):
Wow. I didn't realize it was that much.
Jeff (08:22):
3,600 tequila brands, 105 distilleries. Wow. Right. So, yeah. So a lot of distilleries in Mexico now are just, they're just like money brands, right. They all they do is produce 30, 40 brands. It's all the same product for various brands here in the States. Yeah. And so I personally, I find that very dishonest, right. Being a producer of some sort of a, a product here in the United States. Because at the end of the day, like if, if you're not putting your heart and soul into what you're making and that's what you give to the world, then what's the point? Right? Yeah. You're, all you're doing is just buying a product, selling a product, and then you're putting everyone else out of business. That's a problem. Mm-Hmm. And so one of the things we decided very early on for me and Mule, is that we were not gonna be a part of that ecosystem.
We were not gonna be a part of the ecosystem where agave is grown for for distilleries, and then sold to distilleries. We were going to find agave that was not a part of that. So we found one manufacturer that typically manufactures like various nectar like nectar that you would get in a bottle in the United States, right? Yeah. And so we said, Hey we want to purchase agave from you. It's really hard to get the whole pinas across the border, so like, let's work on some sort of a processed raw organic that we can get across the border. And then cuz there's a lot of really weird import laws for what can cross the border, right. And something that is processed and organic at the same time can cross without a ton of stipulations Right. Without a ton of licenses.
Yeah. And so it's typical process for, like, if we were to go down and buy all the Pia and drive the PIAAs across, I would have to show up at one of the major import places for the the U S D A US Department of Agriculture have to drop off the truck with them for a week. They'd have to look at all the guys, they'd have to take a couple out and check for various microbes, these kinds of things, bugs that aren't allowed in the United States. And then a week later they would give it back to me and then I could drive it to wherever I'm going. Right. Well, for a pines, you just don't have that amount of time. Right. It sits in the back of the truck and the heat starts to rot. It's a problem. So so this company that was not in the tequila ecosystem whatsoever. Yeah. They said, yeah, okay, let's, let's work on a product together that we can sell you. And so we, we import that from them and then from, we take the fermentation process from there. So they, they break down the pins they pull the sugars side of the pins and then they, what they give us is a real, a roasted, liquified product, basically.
Interviewer (10:52):
And then give me an idea of your setup when you go into your barn, which, and presumably it's not under the floorboards like it was for your grandfather. Yeah. What are we looking at? What machines did you build?
Jeff (11:06):
Right. So we've got four stills that are always being . They're always being like remade in some way, shape or form. The reason I'm giggling is because, you know, we started off with three stripping stills and one spirit still mm-hmm. they're each 110 gallons. They operate the stripping stills operate 24 7. And so we went from three stripping stills and a spirit still to two stripping stills, and then a spirit and gin still. Right. And we'll talk about agave gin here in a second. Yes. But this is, this is kind of us leading into it. So then the two stripping stills had to do the work of three stripping stills. So then we built a continuous still right out of those two. So then we had two continuous stills that were running all the time for stripping. And so we, we created this really, I mean, mean this kind of design really hasn't been done before.
We just kind of developed our own continuous still for these two. And so then those started running 24 7 and then seven days a week. And then that gave us enough low wines for us to use the spirit still and the, the gin still. And it was a really interesting process. People are funny. They, they don't typically wanna work 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Yeah. Right. It's what's strange thing about people. They want they wanna work life balance. They want their own lives. I get it. That's fine. So distillation is a funny game in that you have basically eight hours to work with, right? Yeah. you have to be able to, to fill the stills, turn it on, let it heat up, make all your cuts, and turn it off by the time eight hours is done.
Yeah. so the system we developed, at least for the stripping portion was a system where, firstly, a lot of energy is lost in the system because what you're doing is you're boiling a lot of liquid. There's all that energy that goes into boiling the liquid, and then you have to cool the liquid. So it's energy and to boil it energy and to cool it. Well, I thought to myself, well, we have something that we wanna make hot. We have something we wanna make cold. Yeah. So what if we used the incoming liquid that's cold to cool, the stuff that's coming out that's making it hot, and then
Interviewer (13:08):
Visa versa
Jeff (13:09):
Right. So it converts itself so that way the energy in is and the energy out is, is saved. So we built this continuous setup where the incoming fermentation cools the outgoing spirit. Mm. And so then we're left with something that has like 40, 50% energy savings on that. Plus it runs 24 7. And so it's, it's a really cool system. Now. We've done, we've done some wild things and it's all just a weird brainchild that's always changing. And so it's, it's, it's pretty wild.
Interviewer (13:36):
It sounds like you had as much fun developing the stills as you have in actually distills
Jeff (13:43):
Yeah, that's true. Well, you know, one, one helps the other, right? So the ideas get bigger and bigger the more spirit you drink. And so , so that's just kind of the way we do things.
Interviewer (13:55):
Tequila and mezcal are runaway successes at the moment. How many people who are drinking those spirits actually realize they are agave spirits? So when you brand yourself as an agave spirit, do they connect it?
Jeff (14:10):
You know, I would say 80% of what we do as education a lot of people, a lot of people don't know what agave is. Right. they assume it's some sort of a cactus or if, if anything, right? So I would say probably 80% of what we do at, at my company is educating on people on what agave is. Right. And if you can make the connection saying, Hey, you know, we're sister spirits to tequila and mezcal, but we're not tequila and mezcal because what we do is a little bit different. Obviously the other side of that is, you know, we want to be respectful of the traditions that come outta Mexico. Those are not our traditions And so we wanna leave those where they're at. Right. It we're not these things, and we don't want to take, take credit for, for the amazing work that's going on there.
What we're trying to do do is define what agave spirits look like and tastes like in the United States. And so it's something that we can point to saying, you know, similar similar product Right. As you would, as you would say, like, you know, an Irish whiskey versus a bourbon. Right. You're like, okay, well they're both made with green. Yeah. Right. And if you had to make that designation nowadays, if, if we were the first people to make a whiskey Yeah. In the United States, but you couldn't use the word whiskey, you know, how do you, how do you, how do you make that designation. And so it's been a really interesting journey thus far. There's been some definite ways not to do it. You know, obviously do not take credit for for the culture that's not yours. be respectful. Yep. And then just define what it looks like here. So that's what we're doing.
Interviewer (15:31):
I imagine that not having the traditions of a lot of Mexican distillers behind you, that's actually given you a lot of leeway to experiment and play because you are not having to be constrained by the same rules that they work under.
Jeff (15:50):
So yeah. The NOM right? So the regulatory agency for tequila is called the NOM. And so they, they allow certain things in tequila, right? They, and the way the whole process goes is every agave get that gets harvested, gets tagged. You have to report on every tag of agave that goes into your batch, and then the whole system follows through. Right. So it's very heavily controlled in Mexico. Right. mescal is kind of the wild west because they're not necessarily doing that just yet, but it looks like they're going to try. So there's, there's no such thing as like a wild harvested or wild forage tequila. Like that just would never exist. But you can still get that in Mexico. Agave spirits in America are also a little bit of the wild west because no one knows what we're doing. The alcohol, tobacco and Trade bureau has no idea what like, at the end of the day, they, they really don't care.
Right. and for us, you know, we're, we're not big enough in any way, shape or form to turn the needle or, or, or, or bend the needle a little bit for them. Right. they're concerned with people like, you know, Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, you know, the very large distilleries. And so for us, they're just kinda like, oh yeah, whatever, you know, just say this on your label. I'm like, done. Yeah. You know, there's certain things that you can't fight against. Yeah. And so yeah, the, it it's, it's a weird process here. It does give us a lot of freedom to do some crazy things. We're doing a roasted poblano agave spirit that we're releasing in January. What we've done is we've taken a, a whole bunch of poblanos, 50, 60 pounds of poblanos roasted them, fire roasted them, like you would say, a pino for a mezcal. And then we grind 'em up and then add that to an agave fermentation. Right. And we find that the organic material, the roasted organic material the yeast plays with that, and then it creates a lot of what we'll call flavonoids inside the spirit. Okay. And so you get a little bit of that pepper, but then you get a lot of a lot of flavour compounds flavonoids that would taste similar to various mescals or various agaves that would be fire roasted coming out of
Interviewer (17:47):
Oh, that's interesting.
Jeff (17:48):
And we had a Mexican, yeah. So yeah, the yeast need that really, they need a lot of organic material to play with. And so then they create strange flavor notes. And so what we're seeing is something that is extremely complex and yeah, no one's done this before. I don't know why we keep doing things that no one's done before. We should have just made whiskey, would've made the world easier. .
Interviewer (18:08):
Oh no. It was much more fun to play around and experiment and, you know, be the first.
Jeff (18:13):
So yeah. It's hard to be the first, but, you know, we're having fun with it.
Interviewer (18:16):
Now, speaking of strange flavors, let's talk about the agave gin. Where did the idea come from?
Jeff (18:24):
Oh gosh. Yeah. That's one of those late night jokes. Right. Really what it came from is it was a super late night at work. We were working real hard to get an order out and and you know, we're all sitting around the, the bar having a beer afterwards. And, and my head distiller goes, wouldn't it be funny if we made a Gin? And we laughed about it. Haha. Yeah, Jin. That's fine. That's fine. And then we just kind of stopped and we were like a gin. Hmm. And so we started just picking that apart. Right. you know, it kinda started as a joke and we, we got all the way here. So what we wanted to do is we wanted to create a gin that was kind of a throwback to the way the family used to make gin. Okay. back in the 1800s and early 1900s.
And so we used a lot of elements that you get on that you got on the family farm. Now there's some, obviously some elements that you don't. So Juniper berry is one of the one of the botanicals obviously coriander, cardamon, lemon zest, not a ton of lemon in Missouri in the in the 18 hundreds. But we want some lemon zest white peppercorn and then persimmon. There was a huge persimmon tree on the farm. They used it for persimmon brandy. They used it for Okay. A whole lot of things. Yeah. Persimmon jams, you know, it was, it was a source of income for the family. And so we decided that we were gonna use persimmon as one of our, as one of our botanicals. Nice. And so, if you know anything about persimmon, it kind of tastes a little bit like an apricot, a little bit like a peach. It has a stone fruit flavour, it has a honey flavour to it. And so the seed tends to be a little bit bigger and the fruit tends to be a little bit smaller around the seed. So it's hard to kind of industrialise that in fruit production because people want a big fruit and a small seed. Yeah. And so what it gave us the opportunity to do is to use stone fruit with a lot of honey and a lot of like peach pear, apricot flavour to it. And it makes the gin just wild.
Interviewer (20:12):
So what's the process? Is it just a case of putting those botanicals in the basket and letting it infuse and as you march with a normal gin
Jeff (20:23):
Or Right. So we've, we've tried that. So let's talk about gin a little bit. So a a lot of gin, well, I would say the majority of gin upon all the gin is made with grain spirits. Right. Grain spirits can be pretty harsh. Yeah. And so that's why barrel ageing becomes very necessary for, for grain spirits. You know, it kind of mellows everything out. Hmm. And so agave does not tend to be that way. Agave doesn't tend to be a very harsh spirit off the still. It tends to be pretty delicate. Okay. And so what we wanted to do is have a process that continues on with that cuz you, it, it would be very easy to overpower the flavours of agave, and then you would just get really strong botanicals and they were, you, you would miss the beauty of the spirit behind it.
Right. So what we do is a vapour distillation process through a cargo head. Okay. So all of the hot vapours obviously pass through a basket full of the botanicals. Right. Those essential oils are pulled off of the botanicals by the hot spirit, and then they continue through a condenser. So what you get is something that's infinitely more controllable much more delicate than say a maceration process would be. And so we find that that creates a very balanced product, and that's what we're looking for at the end of the day.
Interviewer (21:37):
Now, if somebody hasn't tasted that particular gin, how would you describe the flavour? I mean, what is more dominant? The agave or the juniper?
Jeff (21:47):
Definitely the agave. Yeah. I think most people come into the gin world thinking beef eater. Right. They're thinking a London dry gin, and it's it's supposed to be a kick in the teeth . And so when they try our gin, they're like, oh, well this is easy. Right? This is, I can just sip this. Like, this is an easy drinking gin. And which is strange, the majority of the products we make are just that way. Right. They lend themselves to drinking at room temperature nice and straight, or you can put 'em in a cocktail. And if you're, if you're coming from stronger gins of that style, that that type, you know, it's going to be, it's gonna be a much more delicate product than you're used to. And that's okay. I have, I've got a bottle of elephant gin sitting on the shelf here. I think it's running at like 57%, 58%. Yeah. Right. And, and shout out to them like they're doing awesome things. A lot of their profits go to like rehabilitating elephant habitats in Africa. But if you're coming from like that product, which is incredibly strong, very, very say abrupt in a way, it's a good product. Right. If you're coming from that Yeah, to ours, there, there's gonna be, there's gonna be a little bit of a difference. You're gonna notice. Right. It's gonna be right shock. Interviewer (22:57):
But if you were coming maybe from a Hendricks or something like that
Jeff (23:02):
Yeah, it would, it'd be closer to a Hendricks, I would say. Okay. For sure. All right. Yeah. Hendricks is still pretty bold and it's flavour profile just because they are working with a grain spirit. But when you're coming from agave spirit like this you know, what you're getting is all of the beautiful floral notes from, from all the botanicals all at once. And then you're getting the agave afterwards and the agave spirit itself is very sweet. We had no, we had no sugars, we had no finding processes. After it's all said and done, what comes out of the still either gets a barrel or gets water and that's it. Like we had, we had no no additives to our spirits whatsoever. And so it just naturally comes out very sweet. Right. Because it's a, it's a very pure and and refined product. And so you're gonna notice that with the gin, right? You're gonna get your, your botanicals, you're gonna get that beautiful agave sweetness. You're going to get all of the bold floral notes from all of the yeast. Hibiscus is typically one of the the, the notes that you get from say our silver which won a, won a gold medal in the World Spirits competition last year. Right. And so yeah, it's a, it's a beautiful product.
Interviewer (24:03):
How much experimentation did you need to do with it to get it to where it is now? Were you tinkering quite a bit?
Jeff (24:11):
Yeah, we tinkered quite a bit. We, so we had originally taken probably four or five ounces of of agave spirits and we had macerated individual components of the gin and each one of these little containers. And so we had tried crazy things from early on, like corn silk. Right. Cause we wanted to add a little bit of body, right. We wanted it to be more round. We added things obviously like cinnamon. Well, that was, that was pretty abrupt. Right. That was pretty strong. So we knew early on we had like 30 or 40 things we had tried and we knew pretty early on what we didn't want. Right. Right. So we just kind of weeded those out. Yeah. And what we were left with was kind of the things that we liked. And so we at that point had kind of like mixed and matched a little bit with what, what we had in there.
And we had built something that was close to what we wanted. Right. We knew, well we wanted, you know, double the juniper as the coriander or cardamon we wanted, you know, so, so we had, we had tinkered that way and that process took probably three or four weeks mm-hmm. and then we kind of had an idea for what we wanted and we ran it the first time and it was just, it was fantastic. Right. There's obviously been improvements that have happened from there. Right. Because the first time's never perfect. So the second time you, you change some things and you run it and then you add that to the first run and then you're like, okay, is this, is this what we want? You know, we had some really strong components here. We had some really strong components here. So, so what do we get after this? And eventually we just kind of dialed in the recipe and that's what it is.
Interviewer (25:32):
If people are buying a bottle of that, how should they use it? Should they use it as a tequila? Should they use it as a gin? What sort of cocktails or drinks are you suggesting?
Jeff (25:44):
Yeah. So, gosh, that's the funny world we're in, right? Cuz it can be one or the other or both. Which is never the right answer for people cuz what they're looking for is definition. Right? Yeah. I love a last word. I love a bee's knees. I love good just gin and tonic. You know, we decided a few years ago, so we've got a tasting room Okay. At our distillery. All right. And so we decided a few years ago that part of defining agave spears in the United States was defining what you could do with it. And so, you know, you go into our tasting room and yeah, you can get a margarita Right. Or a Paloma or a gin and tonic. But then from there everything is just a, a wild, wild cocktail. And we actually won, I think second best bar in Kansas City last year. \For a cocktail program using only spirits that we make. So the sky is the limit with, with the products that we make. Right. they're all very versatile for gin. You know, obviously start with your Gin & tonic. Right. Start with it straight, then go with your gin and tonic. Yeah. Then go with your more creative cocktails out there. I, yeah. I love a last word. I love a bee's knees with it tends to be really good. Those are probably my favourites.
Interviewer (26:51):
What has the reaction been, I suppose, both from consumers and bartenders to the liquid?
Jeff (26:59):
So as is with all new things, the first time you step out with something, the first question they ask is why Yeah. Why are you doing Right? That's the question. Yeah. Which is where the education part comes in, right? And so so what would normally take, I don't know, maybe a three or four minute sale with a with a cold call turns into a 40 minute discussion on who we are and what we do, right? Yeah. You may have noticed some of those elements here in this interview, cuz this is, this is 90% of my job just talking to people like this. So the first question they always have is why? And then you kind of explain yourself a little bit, and then once they try the spirits, they're like, well, this is fantastic. Like this is, this is some of the best we've ever had. Yeah. Right. And so that's the second reaction they have. Mm-Hmm. for gin, it's an easier question because there's some context to it. You talk to people about an American agave spirit and they're like, Ugh, what does that even mean? Right. It's not in my lexicon. But you talk to people about gin, well, gin's, something they understand. You're like, Hey, we're making this gin fantastic. What makes it different? It uses agave as a base, and they're like, oh, wow, okay. Y'all take it. So it's an easier conversation.
Interviewer (27:58):
I'm surprised with the number of tequila and mezcal brands in the states that there is still so much need for education. Are those brands not educating?
Jeff (28:10):
Well, there's no need, you know, tequila. Like what's to explain? Right. One thing I always tell people and this is a big deal. If you, if you wanna purchase from a legacy tequila brand, the first thing I would always do before you buy a bottle of tequila is I would get on a little website called Tequila Matchmaker. Okay. And then on the bottle, there's gonna be a four digit number called a nam. You enter that four digit number into the search bar and it'll bring it up. And that will tell you how many brands are made by that distillery. So if you pick up that bottle and there's 50 other brands made by that distillery, well odds are that's not a a legacy brand. But say if you are, if you pick up a bottle, say Fortaleza or Teor and you enter in the NOM and it says, oh, two brands, right?
In Mexico, they sell the brothers. And then in the States they sell Fortaleza. Okay, well there you have it, there's a legacy brand. Right? Right. Yes. And so I always tell people, consumers to educate themselves that way. Because at the end of the day, you know, if we lose the legacy brands in Mexico that have been doing this for hundreds of years, then we've really lost something special. And so yeah, you can buy Duane the Rock Johnson's tequila, but at the end of the day, like, Duane doesn't need your money. Who needs your money? The guys that have been doing this for a hundred years.
Interviewer (29:30):
Yeah. You are releasing a limited edition, but yearly heritage expression. Tell us a little bit about that.
Jeff (29:41):
Right. So Heritage is a second use number three charm Missouri White Oak Barrel. The first use of the use of the barrel is gold, right? So we let that sit for eight weeks. And so that pulls out a ton of butterscotch out of the barrel, beautiful product. The product goes in for heritage sits for a full year, and then at that point we pull it out, it's a little bit hotter at 45%. And so that for some reason picks up a lot of those second use barrel characteristics. So there's some characteristics of agave and rye whiskey at the same time really. Okay. And so even though there's no been no whiskey in the barrel whatsoever, okay. There's been no rye whiskey in the barrel. Some of the, some of the attributes of the barrel carryover that you would get from, from those products. And so it makes something that is really similar in some strange ways, but also has the agave sweetness to it has the agave flavours to it. And so yeah, really complicated, really wild product there. It's great for old fashions, great for Manhattans. I, I love an old fashioned with it, it, it's absolutely fantastic.
Interviewer (30:42):
And where, when in the year does it normally get released?
Jeff (30:47):
Yeah, we normally release that in the winter, obviously, you know with, with little heavier little darker spirits. Winter's good for us for releases. So somewhere between December and February is typically where we release that. We did another release in October of a spirit called Double Barrel that was 50% used dry barrel and then 50% French oak. Okay. And so what you get is a lot of the butter characteristics from the French Oak gives it a very strong mouth feel that that really creamy mouth feel. And then you get a lot of the vanilla aspects from American white oak rye, rye barrels. Mm. And so these barrels have been like, recharged by us and then filled Yeah. It's best of both worlds came out of that one. Plus with the agave sweetness, I think that's probably the best product we've ever made. And it sold out, I mean, nearly instantly. Wow. Yeah. It was fantastic. So we'll do that again this year. Yeah, we've got, we've got a couple things coming up.
Interviewer (31:48):
I was about to ask, what sort of experiments are you going to be doing over the next year?
Jeff (31:53):
You tell me? Yeah. Well, so the big experiment for us is we wanna be able to remove ourselves from the agave ecosystem Totally. In Mexico. So, so last year we had purchased farmland in Arizona and we're establishing the very first large scale agave farm in the United States.
Interviewer (32:10):
Jeff (32:11):
There are a couple outfits. Yeah. Another first for us, we should have just made whiskey. What's wrong with us? So we're working with working on some grants for that here in the States with US Department of Agriculture the state of Arizona mm-hmm. there's a couple outfits in the states that do grow agave.
Interviewer (32:34):
But I assume not for distilling purposes.
Jeff (32:36):
Yeah. There's one particular farm Southern California that I contacted earlier this year and just said, Hey, you know, we want to move to a Agave Pius as a product for us. You know, this is basically how many tons a year I need. And I told 'em, I said, I need blank 'em out. They said, there's, there's no outfit in the United States. I could do that. Yeah. I said, I I couldn't even supply a 10th of that order. Wow. I was like, okay, well there you go. You know, this, this guy has an agave farm. It's maybe three or four acres. Okay. you know, and he's really trying to establish what that looks like. And that's that's fantastic. You know, at the end of the day what we need is we need some big scale. Right. That's where we're at now.
Interviewer (33:15):
So how many acres of land in Arizona did you purchase to be able to actually meet your own demand?
Jeff (33:22):
First plant's gonna be 40 acres in Arizona, and then we have access to roughly 3,600 acres in that area. And so agave is a, a funny plant in that as it grows, it has a tap root that comes comes out the bottom and every time it hits the surface, it makes a baby called an qualo. Mm-Hmm. So over the course of, say, seven years for the agave to grow, it'll actually produce 20 other agaves. Right. That's what you do, is you just take those agaves and you replant them. And so then, you know, one acre becomes 20 acres over the course of seven years. Right. So we're looking to do that sort of propagation system on our own. And so we're gonna start with that first 40 acres and then, you know, that'll become 200 acres here in seven years. Right. And we'll just go from there.
Interviewer (34:09):
Are you actually going to keep it just as a farm or are you gonna move some of your distilling down there and incorporate it as one big, I suppose, almost destination?
Jeff (34:24):
Excellent question. So I, I tend to dream big. So you know, moving a distillery and creating an a agri agri-tourism business obviously these are, these are things that I've thought about and, and pitched to the rest of our team. And gosh, my poor team, they're about done with big ideas. I think , you know, they're like, not another one, please, for God's sake. So yeah, these are things that we're definitely considering we would love to do, and I think that we probably will do them, we'll probably establish a distillery outside as well. Right. these, this is aga farm and it's in a beautiful, beautiful area. Right. and there's, there's nothing out there. It's roughly halfway in between Phoenix and Las Vegas.
And so, yeah, so right smack dab in the middle. So yeah, we're really looking forward to to the future there. You know, I'm looking forward to planning our own agaves and getting our hands on those. I currently have, gosh, five fire, I would say 200 agave ceilings in my basement that are that are all growing. I'm sure my, my neighbors think I'm growing something else down there, . I'm telling you, it's not that, it's not that I'm growing agave in my basement. Right. Yes. So yeah, we're, we're gonna start with that first 200 we're and and go from there.
Interviewer (35:39):
That's very exciting. And what about the liquid? What sort of experiments will you be doing with that over the next,
Jeff (35:47):
For the liquid? Right. So we're doing the roasted Spirit with agave that we've got all of our approvals for that. So that release is probably mid-January. Okay. And then we're doing a cactus pad agave spirit, so we're roasting cactus pads. Yeah. And like per pair cactus pads, and then grinding those up and then adding that to fermentation. And in the experiments that we've done that tastes very similar. Okay. so another one of those very similar mescal products and and so beautiful, beautiful flavour. We're really looking forward to that one. My head distiller has a series of ageing protocols that we're gonna do. We're gonna do the double barreled again just because of the, the amount of like fanfare we received from that. Good. we're doing a, we're doing a barrel strength port, barrel, agave spirit, and that one is current.
It's currently purple, so I don't know what we're gonna do with it. Yeah. So that's gonna be really wild. All of the beautiful refined sugars from, from port that are in, in the system right now. And then a lot of the, a lot of the grape as well. Yeah. Just beautiful, beautiful flavours there. And so that one's gonna be a ton of fun. And then beyond that, you know, we're, we're growing and then we're expanding, and so that takes up probably the majority of our time right now is just the growing and expansion.
Interviewer (37:12):
Now, if people want to get their hands on a bottle, where are you available?
Jeff (37:18):
Yeah, so we're currently distributed in New York and New Jersey through Red Garden Imports. We are in Kansas and Nebraska through a company called Handcrafted. Right. wines and Spirits. We're also available in in Oregon and Oklahoma through Handcrafted Wines and Spirits. We are available obviously in the state of Missouri. And then any state that allows online sales for alcohol we also ship to those states as well. Okay. And so there's obviously some no GOs for for shipping and in the United States, shipping alcohol, those would be controlled states and felony states. So yeah, no, go for those. My apologies. I I won't ship a bottle to New York. You'll just have to find one. Yeah. So we're, we're available either online or, or through those places.
Interviewer (38:08):
And do you have any plans to export and start sending your products? Maybe even back to Mexico
Jeff (38:17):
? Oh gosh, yeah. What a, what a poke in the eye. That would be, huh? They, they'd be pretty good sports actually. You know, it's funny, I was in funny story here. I was in Tulum and I was at a wonderful, wonderful restaurant there. And as I've started this conversation, the name of the restaurant has escaped me. But I was speaking to one of the bartenders there, and she is probably the, probably one of the best bartenders in Mexico. I mean, absolutely fantastic aircraft. And I was telling her about Agave Gin, what we do, and she was like, I need it, send it to me right now. Which, you know, call a vindication. Yeah. I don't know. You know, I'm gonna send her a bottle. But she was, she was so excited about the product. It may, it gave me a little bit of hope, right. Maybe what we're making is something that's world class. And so that, that felt good.
Interviewer (39:04):
I suppose you almost feel a little bit like the early American whiskey distillers where it was a very, very small thing. Nobody understood what it was. What do you mean it's not bourbon and it's taken them a decade or so of education and banding together to,
Jeff (39:23):
You know, it's the, the world's a funny place now. You know, I, I think it's, I think it's really beautiful. You have some of the best bourbons on the planet coming out of Japan. You have the best gin in the world, I think last year or two years ago, coming outta South Africa. You have, and I'm sure the English are just mad about that, right. , you have some of the most popular vodka brands coming out of Texas. So, so the world is quickly moving to a place where it's, it's no longer region specific. Right. The, the creativity of people is growing worldwide. And so you're gonna see some just incredible spirits coming out of everywhere. I mean, there's agave spirits that are coming out of India. There's agave spirits that are coming out of, out of Italy, right? I mean, they're, they're, Australia has new agave spirits industry. They're making some fantastic products there. And so the beauty of this world is that everything's expanding in this way. And then the only thing standing in people's way is their own creativity and their own dreams. Right. And so I, I think that's beautiful.
Interviewer (40:21):
Now, if people want more information about Mean meal, they can of course go to your website, which is mean meal or connect with the brand on your socials.
Jeff (40:35):
That's right. So we're on Instagram, that's where we do the majority of our stuff is on Instagram, it’s Mean Mule distilling co Yeah. Reach out to us there. My, my wife runs all of the social media. She does an absolutely fantastic job and shout out to her. She's the X-factor for us and she's the one that keeps us all sane. Nice. And so, and then obviously my brother-in-law is the head distiller, so it's, it's a family operation and we don't take ourselves too seriously. But yeah, feel free to reach out to us there, you know, either on our website or or on Instagram.
Interviewer (41:06):
Alright, Jeff thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.
Jeff (41:10):
Absolutely. Tiff, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.

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