Melbourne’s Mezcal Maestro

08 August, 2017 by Tallenby

Nick Peters is co-owner of Mamasita and Hotel Jesus in Melbourne, and is a certified Mezcalier. In our May/June issue, he shared with us his strategies for introducing customers to the wonderful world of agave distillates. The following is the first half of that feature – we’ll publish part two next week. 

When Mamasita opened in 2010, selling 100% agave spirits was tough. People were scared of tequila, and as for mezcal, forget about it. There weren’t that many great products around – Jo Crow still ruled the roost (and still does to a degree) – and the good stuff that was available was, comparatively, too expensive.

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Thankfully, the last 7 years has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of people interested in agave distillates and the amount of hooch they’re imbibing, which is a great thing.

Suppliers and importers are also on board and what’s on offer in Australia now is fantastic. The majority of importers are passionate about the industry, and are more than willing to work with venues to provide support through training, incentives, marketing and events.

OPENING EYES TO AGAVE DISTILLATES

When I’m asked to give talks about agave distillates I always start off by asking participants to raise their hand if they’ve had a bad experience with tequila. You guessed it, 99% of people shoot their hands up straight away – I figure the other one percent just drank too much tequila that night and have blocked it out of their memory!

Back then in 2010, and still today, the question we ask ourselves is: “If everyone has had a bad experience with tequila, how can we get past that?” Initially we relied on our beverage list to do the talking by simply listing our tequilas and mezcals and hoping people would bite, which was pretty slow going.

Then we added in some more details: aging processes, legalities, oak treatments etc., but we went too far. It was too confusing for those trying to get into it for the first, second or even third time.

Through the bev list we were trying to educate people about spirits that, comparatively, are only aged for 5 minutes, but demand a similar price to a 21-year old whisky. People couldn’t justify the cost, regardless of the fact that the plant takes 8 years to mature (and in cases such as Tepextate, up to 35 years). We still needed to offer more.

STAFF TRAINING

Matt Lane (my business partner), our amazing staff at both venues and myself all love agave distillates, and we want the customer to enjoy them too – so what’s the most effective way to get people to try them?

We’ve always pushed staff training, and were happy that the staff loved the product. Some of our staff were confident and able to pass on their knowledge and talk about their favourite products with customers, but no matter how much training we did, others just couldn’t get across the line. What were we doing wrong? Again, we came back to training.

We attached a sales component to each and every tasting or training session; mezcal-focused or otherwise (when I say mezcal, this encompassed all agave distillates). Our emphasis was on trying to provide the customer with the best possible experience, every time, rather than just trying to get them to buy things they didn’t want.

We pared back the information in the bev list – not an easy task with around 150 mezcals – to make it easily decipherable. We want customers to have good time, not to have to pore over an encyclopaedia just to order a bevvy.

We started to see some progress, but we knew that we needed something to really drive this thing. Read: Agave sommeliers, aka Mezcaliers.

Continued next week…