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Edgar Martinez and Gene Juarez give 'Zac' mezcal a stateside boost
El Zacatecano is one of the oldest and best-selling mezcal brands in Mexico, but few Americans recognize the name, let alone what type of liquor it is.
Hairstyling legend Gene Juarez and Mariner great Edgar Martinez are out to change that with a bit of their own widespread popularity.
The two Bellevue residents, both former all-stars in their respective professions, have brought the label stateside.
El Zacatecano – which turns 100 next June – is quickly turning heads among aficionados.
The brand racked up a series of medals at the 2010 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, winning the top award for its añejo, and gold medals for its reposado and blanco.
The label also took San Diego's Spirits of Mexico competition by storm, becoming the first brand in the history of the festival to earn medals in all three mezcal categories.
Despite it's success among experts, El Zacatecano is only available at Washington liquor stores and 13 restaurants in the state, as well as a handful of locations in California.
Juarez said the goal now is to expand nationwide without compromising the character of the historic label.
"The emphasis is on taste," he said. "We want to appeal to people who really care about that."
Mezcal, a stronger, smokier cousin of Tequila, is traditionally made from an agave plant known as maguey.
Production of the liquor starts with removing the heart of the agave.
"Edgar may have a future there," Juarez said. "You should see him hit that thing."
The production process continues with roasting and mashing the heart, followed by fermentation. Distillation generally takes place once, as opposed to twice with tequila.
Categories of mezcal denote the amount of aging for each variety. Blanco goes straight to the bottle, while reposado is aged for at least two months, and añejo for at least one year.
Worms, commonly associated with mezcal in popular culture, are a marketing gimmick. Few brands actually use them.
El Zacatecano – or "Zac," as Juarez and Martinez call it – is made with pure blue agave, no worms.
The brand gets its name from the Mexican state of Zacatecas, where the popular spirit has been produced by the same family for over three generations in the town of Huitzila – a small village tucked away in the Sierra Madre Mountains.
Juarez and Martinez visited the plantation and distillery before investing in the label.
"That little village is like going back somewhere in history," Martinez said. "Once I went there, I knew we had a high-quality product. That was the key for me."
Mezcal, like tequila, can be mixed or served straight.
Martinez said he likes to combine El Zacatecano with St. Germaine elderflower liquer, pomegranate juice, and a hint of lime – shaken like a martini with no salt on the rim.
The drink, called "Papi's Zaca-tini", is available at El Gaucho in Bellevue, where a bartender heard Martinez discussing the mixture during an interview with The Reporter.