Beverage Startups

Maguey Melate – The Story Behind Spirit of Agave

Maguey Melate - The Story Behind Spirit of AgaveMexico has a rich food and beverage history. The country has so many different traditional beverage products which are all worth a try. However, to many of us the first thing that comes to mind when we think about Mexico is spirits made from agave. Today, I have the pleasure of talking with Dalton Kreiss, who is the Founder & Team Lead at Maguey Melate

One of my favorite things about Mexico is a rich history whenever you turn. Can you tell us more about Maguey Melate? How did the whole story start?

My partner Hanna and I moved down to Oaxaca somewhat randomly. I originally went into an advanced automation career after college that is the polar opposite of everything artisanal mezcal. After leaving corporate and doing a good amount of travel everywhere but Latin America, we ended up in Oaxaca.

The experiences we had in Oaxaca began an obsessive journey into mezcal, and soon we wanted to taste new varieties from different mezcaleros and to consume more agave spirit knowledge as time went on. It wasn’t long before a mezcalito would permanently replace the evening glass of red wine.

As we became more aware of the mezcal landscape, we decided that we wanted to create a marketing and logistics company that would serve the mezcaleros that deserved to be the star of the show. The unique individuals who made the magic happen would be the brand.

Our mission was clear and simple: promote the mezcaleros and the artisanal process in the most entertaining and comprehensive way possible, allowing the rest of the world to fully appreciate agave spirits the way we had learned to down in Oaxaca. Our journey to bring Mexico’s palenques to the doorstep of international consumers had begun.

Maguey Melate has a handful of different agave spirits currently available for purchase on the website. Can you tell us more about each?

It’s a constantly rotating collection of premium spirits from limited micro-batches. As these leave the shelves, they will not be seen again and new expressions will replace them. We look for variety in terms of agave, ecosystems, and process variations and we look for mezcaleros that use the most artisanal of processes and preferably grow their own agave or at the very least buy agaves locally. 

The Tobaziche clay pot distillation from Felix has proven to be a favorite amongst newcomers into the agave spirits world as the clay pot distillation offers earthy flavors that mask some of the ethanol flavors that some do not enjoy as much. The Tepextate from Isaac & Marta is our only female mezcalera at the moment, but this will soon change as we have more on the way from female producers.

The Madre Cuixe is the clear favorite amongst mezcal enthusiasts who have a pallet that seeks strong bold flavors with a clear presence of complex ethanal notes. The reason for this great flavor is the intense care the mezcalero takes with his agaves over ten years and the fact that it is basically distilled only one time, which leaves a lot of the agave biology still intact. Then there is the Velato from Agustin, which is one of the rarest agaves in our current line up of spirits available for purchase. 

Maguey Melate - The Story Behind Spirit of AgaveBeyond the ability to purchase individual bottles from our website, we also have the Subscription Box that is part of our Mezcalero Of The Month Club. This highlights different mezcaleros each shipment and is sent out to subscribers every two months. Another popular option is our Signature Box which includes three bottles of diverse agave spirits and lots of amazing handmade gifts from Oaxaca.

All Maguey Melate products are handmade. Can you tell us how your products are made?

We seek various process variations as part of our value offering, so there are so many specific details that can’t be covered here. This includes how the agave is cut down, how it is cooked, what is used to crush the agaves, what the spirit fermented in and how long, what it is distilled in, and finally what methods are used to determine how to cut the heads and tails. It is not like baking a cake in which you have controlled consistent ingredients that are mixed precisely using a recipe, but rather like cooking an organic meal where each step depends on the previous step and using sight, smell, and taste to determine how to adapt to the next step. A beautifully complete video of our process can be seen here.

Three months ago I backpacked across Mexico. What I have noticed was a huge variety of local Tequila and Mezcal factories. Is it hard to compete in this market? What makes Maguey Melate differ in the market?

It’s very difficult to compete in this market, but there is also a huge gap in how people are going about it. The greatest part of our business model is that we don’t need to learn how to make the best mezcal in the world; we just have to find the people and families that have already mastered it. Secondly, we don’t need to create amazing brand commercialization with celebrities or catchy marketing gimmicks; we simply need to showcase the amazing people making this spirit and capture how they are making it. 

We differentiate ourselves on two main pillars. We work directly with a network of amazing independent producers making agave spirits in the most artisanal ways. This allows us to offer a tremendous level of diversity rather than focusing on one single producer. And second, we believe we offer the most experience-rich way to enjoy these spirits. Mezcal is not just a beverage, it’s an experience in and of itself. The level of content from the physical package and especially in terms of the digital media that comes with every single bottle through our QR codes and our social media is unparalleled in this space.

Maguey Melate - The Story Behind Spirit of AgaveOwning a beverage business is quite a challenge. What difficulties have you faced so far?

Some of the difficulties include finding a retailer that would work with us on a per-item basis and not on a per-dollar sale basis, finding a distributor, getting an export license as foreigners in Mexico which our business is revolved around, having our videographers apartment robbed one week before our Signature Box launch and losing all the edited videos we spent three months working on, keeping two sets of books with insanely confusing and different tax laws in two countries, and so much more!

What are the primary markets for your products? Are you planning to expand into other countries? Which ones?

Currently, we are just focused on the US. We would love to sell in Mexico and have taken steps towards this, but we are limited by some licensing hurdles and the amount of time to do all of our content in Spanish (it would be a bit of a slap in the face to offer our product in Mexico in English). 

We are very interested in taking our product to Europe including Germany and the UK, but are waiting to see how Brexit shakes out and finding a key partner there to help us import, distribute, and market.

What is the biggest milestone planned for 2020 and where do you see Maguey Melate in 5 years from now?

Our biggest focus for 2020 is expanding our business to business rollout, where we will offer bars and restaurants private label exclusive batches just for their establishment. I also see Maguey Melate continuing to becoming the leading mezcal of the month club, and in the future developing the most extensive and information-rich mezcaleropedia (map and index of independent producers) so that various tourists, local restaurants, and foreign mezcalerias or brands/importers can find these great producers and provide them with much-needed business, whether that’s through us or on their own means. 

Maguey Melate - The Story Behind Spirit of AgaveWhat advice would you have given yourself before you started out in the beverage business?

Honestly, there were two times where are backs were flat against the wall and completely bankrupt with just mountains of bureaucratic burdens piling up and sales trickling in at best when I thought to myself, “Why would I ever get involved in alcohol in the US and exporting in Mexico. It’s a terrible combination all the way through.” My advice to myself back then would have been to stay out of it. But the journey isn’t over and that assessment is certainly subject to change. 

Still, as a young entrepreneur with very limited access to financing and realistically one chance to give a startup a real go, stay away from business models and industries that involve a lot of bureaucratic oversight and tiptoeing. Or at least operate in those industries in a way that doesn’t burden you with so much of the licensing and bureaucracy of it all if possible. Selling alcohol in the US is so unbelievably painful due to the post-prohibition laws that do not serve the consumer in any way.

My more constructive advice to myself would be to hire legal and industry professionals to guide you through the bureaucracy of the beverage business or any business for that matter. It’s difficult for me to say that because I am a firm believer in staying lean, taking quick action, and fix mistakes later and ask for forgiveness. But when it comes to the legal stuff, I shift my perspective! 

For more information visit Maguey Melate’s website.

About Ugne Butkute

Ugnė Butkutė is a project manager at DrinkPreneur. Ugnė is responsible for attracting contributors, maintaining quality of content and keeping readers satisfied with DrinkPreneur

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