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.