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Here’s to the Little Guy

Mezcal bottles

In a world dominated by multinational liquor conglomerates, celebrity endorsements, integrated branding campaigns and distribution monoliths, there is a tiny and intimate bar called Williams & Graham, where it’s 5:30 on a Friday evening, and a bartender named Jason is telling me about a brown, little known spirit.

Mezcal. Made in Chichicapa, two hours south of Oaxaca and two hours to the west on a dirt road, deep in the south of Mexico.

The story of mezcal, of the indigenous Zapotec people who make it, of Del Maguey’s mission to introduce the world to single-village distilled spirits, of pre-organic practices and fair trade micro-economies, of the heart of the maguey (agave), and of the skills of Faustino Garcia Vasquez, the mezcal maker of Chichicapa — these stories are not myths. They are not fairy tales spun by an ad guy.

This is real. And it’s because of stories like these — the stories of hundreds of producers and distillers across the Americas and beyond — that we get to sit in a bar and drink to the little guy.

So here’s to the craft spirits movement.

To the tiny and dedicated makers of whiskeys and moonshines, vodkas and gins and genevers, mezcals and tequilas, rums and cachacas, absinthes and brandies and liqueurs.

To bar and restaurant operators across the country who risk placing their virtually unknown labels on back bars and retail shelves, and to the patrons who reward them for doing so.

To the locals, one-upping the globals.

To mom and pop getting a piece of the action.

To independents and entrepreneurs and provocateurs.

To the hand-crafted, the farm-to-bottle, the organic, the sustainable, the responsible, the fair.

Last, but certainly not least, here’s to you, Jason. And the thousands of great bartenders who push unfamiliar spirits, new yet classic cocktails, and far-flung drinking experiences. It’s now 5:50 in the evening, and I’m ready for your next idea.

10 huge efforts, from the little guys. Check out their stories:

Bootlegger Vodka, New York: A 100% corn vodka that is smooth as silk.

Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey, Colorado: Made at 9,600 feet in the world’s highest distillery.

Copper Fox Rye Whiskey, Virginia: Smoked with apple wood and oak chips for a unique flavor.

Dancing Pines Spice Rum, Colorado: Bursting with all-natural, whole spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.

Death’s Door White Whiskey, Wisconsin: An un-aged wheat and barley whiskey that tastes like malt and vanilla.

Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal, Mexico: If you like smoky Scotch whiskey, you’ll love this smoky, briny mezcal.

High West Double Rye, Utah: A great balance of old and young rye made at the foot of the ski slopes.

Oola Grain to Glass Gin, Seattle: This New Western style gin backs off on juniper for a light, floral flavor.

Pueblo Viejo Anjeo Tequila, Mexico: One of Mexico’s best-kept secrets, this aged tequila is rich and sweet.

Ragged Mountain Rum, Massachusetts: An aged sipping rum made with clean Berkshire Mountain water.


The Hooch Life Guide to American Whiskey