Meet the Maker: Mezcal Amores

Join us to meet the makers of one of Mexico’s favourite mezcals, in which we meet with the co-founder of Mezcal Amores, Luis Niño de Rivera

With mezcal booming in today’s cocktail climate it might be hard to imagine that the category was once hardly known – not just in the UK, but even in Mexico! Today many bars curate fantastic selections of this complex Mexican spirit; ten years ago you’d be hard pushed to find bars that stocked more than a single bottle, often with a sorry-looking gusano bobbing about inside.

The meteoric rise of this indigenous spirit of Mexico should be no surprise. Modern-day palates have become more curious of adventurous flavours. With authenticity now a key driver in the choices made by spirits lovers, what could be more fascinating than a distillate that encapsulates the climate, terroir, and culture of a country that is richly diverse in all three?

Among the indigenous communities of Mexico mezcal has played a vital role in community gatherings for nigh on five hundred years. These precious drops that capture and compress the essence of the agave plant would have been shared with religious significance, as a distillate that would have been made by the local community over many weeks.

Mezcal’s transition from a spiritous punctuation to indigenous culture to becoming a globally appreciated spirit began ever so softly in the 1990s, with a slowly expanding awareness that took the spirit beyond the confines of rural Mexico. That whisper slowly became a boom, and a goldrush began, with brands and labels coming to export markets thick and fast. The difference between good and great was hard to ascertain, and in many ways, the situation soured. Wild agaves were being harvested faster than they could be replaced; local producers were being exploited for profits that were sucked away from the land of origin.

Thank heavens then for Mezcal Amores. Their origin story begins with a chance meeting at a cocktail competition between its founders, Santiago Suarez and Luis Niño de Rivera. Luis was then working for Pernod Ricard and had been working on a Strathisla competition that Santiago, then a young upstart bartender in Mexico City, was competing in. Santiago was impassioned about the artisanal mezcals he’d encountered and was full of enthusiasm for demonstrating their beauty beyond Mexico, with a plan to launch his own range. Though Luis was born and raised in Mexico he’d never heard about mezcal at the time, as he told me, “Santiago told me it was the most complex spirit in the world, with so many agave species. As he started explaining, I was like ‘wait, wait, wait, …wait!’ The previous year I’d been to Scotland and visited all these Scotch whisky distilleries and was like, ‘how can it be the most complex spirit?! It’s not even aged!’ and Santiago told me straight right then: ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about!’”

Their friendship slowly became a partnership, driven by Santiago who knew that he needed Luis’ understanding of the spirits industry. Luis knew how to build a brand plan, and how to market it, and Santiago’s palate and expertise meant he could source the mezcal. For two years they worked by night to build the brand, not yet daring to leave their day jobs.

Luis told me, “I had to learn about mezcal so I began by going to a bar and ordering one. The bartender asked me what I wanted and I said ‘I don’t care, just give methe best you got’. He poured me a veladora glass to the brim. ‘What is it?’ I said, and he told me, ‘This is tobalá!’ I sipped it. It must have been 60% abv or something. It was STRONG! I thought how the hell are we gonna get people to drink this?!”

“I knew we were going to need to think about how we presented this to people. My experience at Pernod Ricard meant I knew that we should position this as something for everybody, and so make sure it didn’t have this macho culture to its strength attached. So we experimented with the bottling strengths of the mezcals we had sourcesd until we found that when people tried it they thought, wow, this is floral, and citrussy, and a little bit smoky, we knew we could build the architecture of the brands around mezcals that people would love.”

“We had this moment where we had progressed to signing contracts with our mezcaleros. The mood was very happy and conversational. Finally one say to the other, ‘but what are we gonna call this brand?’ And the reply from the other was ‘Amores, no? Love for agave, love for Mexico, love for maestros Mezcaleros, love for heritage!’ And that word, and the concept is really built into everything we do. We can now verbalise our philosophy from sip to sip, but then, it was just the intention that we positive and impactful business model that can help through the whole chain of production, to be very balanced, and very caring. That is how we started, and we launched in December 2011 in the first stores in Mexico City. From there the brand just exploded in Mexico - we became number one mezcal in Mexico in just two years!”

As they grew, the challenge became how to continue to source high quality mezcal. When made in the traditional way the batches are very small, and almost impossible to do at large scale. The next wave of their journey came with a push from one of their mezcaleros who saw they needed to grow: “Don Enrique Jimenez used to distill and bottle for us, but also for his own brand, and since we were growing quickly he couldn’t make as much as we needed. He told us, ‘you need to look for more maestros mezcaleros, I can’t make you more mezcal than this,’ so that started the next step of the journey. We had been having some struggles with consistent supply so he told us we could take control better if we bottled our mezcal for ourselves, and so, okay, we set up a bottling plant in 2013, and that was when we started to both buy and bottle mezcal for ourselves. Over ten years we had been adding more and more maestros de mezcaleros as we kept growing. We had a label per maestro mezcalero, and so we thought ok we’ll decide on having one maestro in each market, so one mezcal source for each country, but we knew then that we had to take a decision because not one maestro could fill the demand for a whole market. We had to decide whether we continue with single origin Espadín from each palenque, or if we should blend mezcal from producers in the same region, and be more regional in our approach. Enrique had also told us we needed to start planting our own agave, so I was looking for suitable land as well. And I’m just a marketing guy at that point ok so it was a lot to learn, very quickly! But, you know, my family is from Chichihuahua, I love farming and horses – I’m not just a city guy!“

“In that searching for mezcal and trying mezcal straight from the still, tasting puntas from the first distillation, and from the second distillation, you gain that understanding of the complexity of artisanal production and seeing how it works, the physical work and attention that it requires, how the slightest differences in production can change the spirit. In that six to eight months I became completely convinced. Finally I said, Santiago, you were right! This is the most complex spirit in the world! And each year since then I learn something new.”

Building a distillery with the hope of making great mezcal must have been a daunting task. The obvious choice would have to install either large column stills or huge pot stills in order to make the volumes they needed, but it would have been harder to guarantee the quality than using small copper pots. The decision to pursue quality won out, as Luis explained: “In building the distillery we decided to go for a cookie cutter approach, where we installed small stills, and would add more as we need them so that we could keep the quality really high. We decided that we would produce up to 50% of our mezcal, and that the rest would have to come from our maestros mezcaleros. And I say ‘have to’ because in our philosophy of maintaining the heritage and regeneration of mezcal, and its folklore and traditions, we must continue to support the producers. We have been working with so far twenty mezcaleros, but we keep growing so it’s a whole department in itself to manage the relationships with them! The process of choosing the maestros mezcaleros can take four to eight months because we have to gain their trust first before we start working together, and in that time of gaining their trust, we learn how they work, explain how we work, and make sure they are comfortable with it. The idea is that we work with them for a long time so the foundation of the relationship is very important!”

With the distillery in place, Santiago and Luis didn’t sit back. In 2021 they began an ambitious project they named ‘Plant Your Future’, working closely with indigenous communities to upskill them to farm agave, offering rural communities who usually survive by subsistence farming, the possibility of sharing in their growth. They were careful and considerate in their ambitions. Luis outlined the rules they set themselves, “the land had to be already have been cleared. We tested the soil to make sure it had the right qualities, and we started to plant agave in collaboration with communities, making sure that we could guarantee them a good income from the agave, by educating them on how to keep the plants healthy and how to organically care for the soil with organic nutrients and compost. The relationship with the grower is going to be a long one – you won’t be getting the agave for another ten or twelve years, so you have to build a good communication with them! We’ve been doing this in areas that haven’t been planting agave, and that don’t have the resources to grow other crops. Together with them we have planted more than two hundred hectares so far, around half of them espadín and another eleven, twelve types of agave as well. We now have sixteen communities working with us in this way, and there are positives to teaching communities how to do this as we can teach them the best practices for higher quality, as well as teach them how to plant companion crops like beans and crops for subsistence.”

With such an inspiring story behind the brand, Mezcal Amores makes a convincing choice for your back bar. It’s not just delicious, it’s also one of a handful of brands ensuring that the growth of mezcal benefits local communities, as well as offering future generations a way to thrive by producing these agave spirits that are so rich in Mexican heritage.


Mezcal Amores was the headline brand at our August Speciality Session. We were proud to show a spirit that is so deeply conscientious in its approach to sourcing agave and mezcal. You’ll find their deliciously fruity Oaxacan Espadín as both Blanco & Reposado, and a verdant Cupreata from Guerrero available through Speciality Drinks.

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