George Clooney and Randy Gerber might be on to the next big thing yet again. Critics were sceptical when the celebrity duo, along with developer Mike Meldman, began marketing their own tequila brand around 2013; Clooney and Gerber reportedly dreamt up the project at their adjacent vacation homes in Mexico. Casamigos – which means ‘house of friends’ – comes in Blanco and Reposado varieties, and has met with mixed reviews from tequila connoisseurs.
Some enthusiasts are satisfied with its smooth, oily consistency and smoky aftertaste, while others have complained that the tequila is artificially sweet-tasting, and unworthy of its hefty price tag. Nevertheless, Clooney, Gerber, and Meldman were clearly on to something, as they secured their place on the proverbial bandwagon at the most opportune time possible: in the last five years or so, tequila has managed to graduate from its collegiate pigeonhole. The agave-based distillation has been gaining traction as a spirit in its own right, something that can be enjoyed independently of its efficacy in a cocktail or shot glass.
Whatever your feelings about the quality of Clooney’s tequila, the Casamigos project clearly paid off: the brand was sold to industry giant Diageo – the same multinational responsible for Hennessy and Smirnoff –for a reported $1-billion last year. But we haven’t seen the last of Clooney’s alcohol-related passion projects; he’s just turning his (apparently lucrative) attention to mezcal.
Like tequila, mezcal is made from the heart of the agave plant, which is native to Mexico. But, whereas tequila is made exclusively from blue agave, mezcal can be made from at least 30 varieties of the resilient succulent. And, whereas the quality of mass-produced tequila is rapidly deteriorating, mezcal’s exclusion from the mainstream means that the (demanding) production process is still largely the exclusive domain of families in Oaxaca, who have mastered the art over generations.
The final product is intensely smoky, as the agave hearts are cooked in volcanic rock-pits, which are covered with earth to prevent the woody fumes from escaping. The singed remains are crushed and combined with water, then fermented in an open-air process: exposure to airborne yeast infuses the final product with a distinct flavour, which varies slightly from batch to batch.
Clooney’s mezcal will be launching in the US and UK in April. Its manufacture has been delegated to a reliable cohort of fourth-generation producers, but Clooney and Gerber have nevertheless undertaken to check every batch before approving it for bottling. Gerber is reportedly designing the bottles for their mezcal himself; and both intrepid businessmen seem convinced that their fruity, herbal iteration of this traditional spirit is going to take tequila’s place in the limelight.