It’s all about agave at Glasgow’s first Mezcal and Tequila Festival

Gabriela ‘Gaby Agave’ Moncado

AGAVE-BASED drinks are poised to be the next big artisanal spirits category – and the best and brightest of that emerging sector will be in Glasgow this weekend showcasing their wares.

The Copita Mezcal and Tequila Festival promises to bring ‘a celebration of exceptional spirit’ to the city’s Briggait market hall on Saturday, 29th April ­ but don’t expect shot glasses and salt, as the event is tilted towards authentic appreciation of agave drinks, rather than that old ‘tequila slammers’ stereotype.

Colin Campbell, of Sylvan restaurant in the west end’s Woodlands Rd, is one of Copita’s co-founders, and he explains that the festival’s title ‘Copita’ comes from the small clay cup traditionally used for agave spirit consumption, one of which every visitor to the event will be handed on entry, in contrast to the Glencairn glasses handed out at whisky tastings.

Colin Campbell and a copita

As SLTN went to press, there were due to by 27 stands at the festival, some showcasing just a couple of expressions, some bringing along five or six, with the result that there were to be around 80 different spirits on offer.

“Everything on the stands at the festival is already being imported into the UK,” stressed Colin.

“Copita is here to celebrate the craft of these important artisanal drinks. Agave spirits are to Mexico what whisky is to Scotland – not just a national drink, but a collection of wildly different spirits produced by traditional processes, entwined irrevocably with the folk history and culture of its nation.”

Mezcal and tequila both come from varieties of the agave plant,  which is native to arid and semiarid regions of the Americas, particularly Mexico. Tequila comes exclusively from blue agave, while mezcal can be made from a wider range of sub-species.

But the key difference between the two liquids is that, while tequila makers steam their blue agave to release its sugars for fermentation, mescaleros roast their raw materials in underground oven pits, usually for several days, a process which gives mezcal an altogether smokier character.

“It is not a perfect analogy, but you could say that mezcal and tequila are equivalent to peated and unpeated whisky,” said Colin.

“The interest in mezcal and tequila from the Scottish public is at an all-time high, with many curious to explore the drinks further than it is possible to at home, or at a bar, without a well-lined purse. We can’t wait to bring this great celebration of the spirits of Mexico to the people of Glasgow.”

This Saturday, over one of two three-and-a-half hour sessions, ticket holders will be invited to stroll the market floor exploring the festival’s tasting stands, whilst chatting with brand ambassadors who will be on hand to convey their expert knowledge in the field. There is no token system and no extra charge to sample any of the spirits on offer.

Among the brands confirmed are Tapatio, Ilegal, Ocho, Quiquiriqui, Los Siete Misterios, Ojo de Dios, La Higuera Sotol, Ojo de Tigre, El Sueno, and Nixta, while there will be in-depth masterclasses held in adjoining rooms, for those who wish to take an even deeper dive into the world of mezcal and tequila.

Gabriela Moncada, Agave spirits ambassador for importer Speciality Brands, will lead one of these, looking beyond mezcal and tequila into the even more exotic realms of desert plant spirits like raicilla and sotol.

Originally from Guadalajara in Mexico, Ms Moncada wields such enthusiasm for her native spirits on her rounds of tastings, trainings and talks that she’s often referred to as ‘Gaby Agave’.

“It’s fantastic to see that the world of agave is gaining momentum here in Scotland. Five years ago options were rather limited with bars maybe carrying one tequila and definitely no mezcals. Now the category is very much booming with plenty of brands and styles available and dedicated agave bars and restaurants opening up such as Basement in Edinburgh and Mezcal in Glasgow.

“The fact that Scotland now has its own agave-focused festival is a testament of the increasing interest for the category in a nation that has traditionally always been whisky, rum or anything sweet focused.”

A discounted bottle shop, operated in the venue for the day by Drinkmonger, will allow attendees to take home bottles of anything that particularly piques their interest on the tasting floor.

And if that all wasn’t enough, there will be spicy street food stalls, and a team of top bartenders from Glasgow’s best cocktail bars will be mixing exclusive and exciting drinks from a pop-up mezcal and tequila cocktail bar on the day. Each entry ticket will include one free cocktail or craft beer.