“Every bartender always ends up having a speciality. I don’t think you choose it, I believe it chooses you. Tequila chose me and we’ve had a long relationship and still going strong.”
A few years back I ran in to a very strong character. A loud-mouth australian with a laugh to wake half the block he is in. You ought a love this guy for his at times extremely innovative energy and very big heart. It just so happened that on new years eve 2006 we were working together for the first time. Working together with Merlin Jerebine is an experience. He is the only bartender i have ever worked with that does nothing but talk to guests all night, and still ends up with more sale than your good self busting your ass all night, an incredible skill. That night was the start of a good friendship and many hours of working together. Merlin has since moved back to Melbourne, but keeps popping up in Copenhagen every summer for a few Tequilas and some quality time in the beautiful but short Danish summer. Last time he was here we spoke about Melbourne Agave Society, and lately i have seen a lot of action on the internet, so i took the liberty to have a chat with Merlin about MAS.
Merlin: The Melbourne Agave Society is a monthly club that meets on the third Monday of every month, to present a different Mexican spirit. It is about educating people and bartenders in different agave spirits available on the market.
We just had our monthly get together. Herradura was presented this month and it is definitely growing, at the moment I am making sure that there is a different tequila to present every month. I have a few ideas how to shake things up next year but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
The fundamental idea of MAS is to change the general idea that Tequila is a shot to drink when you want to get wankered and to change the old line of “I don’t drink Tequila I had a bad experience on it once”. It is always Tequila that gets blamed, not the dozen beers that were consumed before the shot of Tequila. I want to create new, fun and awesome memories involving Tequila.
Since I arrived in Melbourne every month I was going to The Melbourne Rum Club, it was a great way to meet up with other bartenders around town, and was always a good fun evening. Towards the end of one of them I made a joke about starting a Tequila club, well I talked about it and looked at doing it, but it took another 8 months for me to put my money where my mouth is.
I guess I really got my start in Green and Red, which until very recently was situated in Bethnal Green. One of my favorite bars to work in. I was living in London semi-unemployed at the time, I’d jumped across to Dublin to visit some friends for christmas and while I was there I got a phone call from Myles Davis, the Bar Manager at the time. He was in need of staff for new years eve. So I flew back did a rock star shift that turned into full-time employment for the next year and what was to start my education on Tequila.
Blondie: But you interest in Tequila didn’t start there, as i understand it goes way back and it is actually quite the romantic tale.
M) I actually didn’t start with tequila I started on Mezcal. My dad loves the stuff so as I was growing up there was always a bottle with this worm in it, Monte Alban, hanging around the house. Many great memories of sitting around camp fires as Dad and his mates would drink and play guitars and sing, so starting there I had a very positive attitude towards the Mexican spirits. As I grew older Dad would let me take a sip every now and then and I always had the funniest nights out camping with a few sips of Mezcal in my belly. From there, as I was able to drink in bars, I started by asking for Mezcal but finding out very quickly that it was virtually unavailable but every bar had Tequila. Lip, sip, suck all the way. Every party I went to I’d take a bottle of Tequila or Mezcal when I could get hold of one, and we’d jump fences looking for the lemon tree in someones back yard. So I guess I’ve always been in love with Tequila.
B) From one thing to another, how do you see the tequila industry in Australia developing?
M) In the last year there has been a massive trend towards Tequila. More quality Tequilas are available on the market, and in Melbourne there are Tequila bars and Mexican Cantinas opening up all over the place. I predict that in the next 12 months Mezcal will start to become very trendy and more will become available. The other thing that is happening is customers are becoming more educated about alcohol, so they are willing to pay a little extra to sip on premium spirits.
B) Speaking of premium spirits, what are you sipping at the moment?
M) Anyone who knows me will know that whenever I get the chance I’ll be found with a bottle of Los Abuelos Blanco, but at the moment what I’m really enjoying is Ocho 2010 Los Corrales. I love what Tomas Estes and Felipe Camarena has created. I really love the idea of single state vintage Tequilas, it is absolute genius. Keep up the awesome work guys!
B) Last but not least, considering we are both bartenders, what are you stirring up for your good self?
Tomas Estes is one of the most influential persons in the Tequila industry, apart from the distillers themselves. Tomas was chosen by the Mexican government to be the face of Tequila in Europe. Awarded with a life time achievement award from Theme Magazine, he is still putting in work, paying the dues, by talking to me on the phone.
I got the idea to write about some of Tomas work when i spent yet another night sleepless on the computer searching for answers of everything and nothing. I have for a while felt i a bit stuck professionally, and been trying to figure out where to go from here. And Tomas came to mind, the times we have met he always seemed like a very down to earth guy, and i really do admire all the work he put in for Tequila.
I sent a email asking if he was interested in answering a few simple questions, and a few emails later we figured out that no matter how good email is today, nothing beats a good ol’ conversation. The following day Tomas called me, and the conversation flowed from beginning to end and before we knew it almost an hour had passed, Tomas ran out of battery and i completely forgot to ask most of my questions. So taking it from there it just came quite natural to kind of sum up the conversation, so it goes a little something like this.
B) When did you fall in love with Tequila?
T) I fell in love with tequila early on , when i was about 19. I used to go to Ensenada in Baja California and dig Mexico . I loved [and still do] Mexico because it is immediate and real, there is a sense of life there that gets to me.
B) So it started out as a good time, the surroundings, but it is quite a big step from there to where you are today, what was it that gave you the urge to spread the word about Teuila?
T) I got the urge to spread the word when I realized how important Tequila was to my restaurant/bar business. This was about 1996. At this point I got focused and serious about studying and developing my relationship with Tequila. Tequila at the time did not have the recognition it deserved and I had a feeling inside me that i could do this. I could help change people’s wiev on Tequila.
To change the thought to action, I realized that if i wanted to really be involved with tequila [and be a person central to all things tequila] i would need to ‘pay my dues’, do the research, visit tequileros, take notes , be there, listen, ask questions, write, talk, be tequila. From there I tought my bartenders first of all, made sure that they knew a lot about the brands they were serving, and the differences between them, so that they could sell them to the public in a very responsable way, personalise their choice of tequila, by asking questions around the customers prefered flavours. Explaining what tequila is, and the difference between them. To do this every way possible from face to face in bars, media or via blogs. I organised tastings where the guests got to play a bit with Tequila. I got them a little bit drunk, I let it have some life, energy and passion and not at all like a school. I was trying to get people to write about Tequila, but that seemed impossible at the time, so i did it myself. The problem now was to get i published. I called in all favours i could to get it out there.
B) Being out there living the Tequila life sounds like a great amount of time invested, a lot of good times i am sure. You must have an endless amount of stories to tell about this time, but what is it that makes Mexico and Tequila so different?
T) My first trip to Old Mexico was in 1966 to Mazatlan. After that I was to make numerous trips to Baja and Old Mexico, living there during the summer months, camping on the beach, digging just about everything Mexico had to offer, its food, drink, people and especially its way of life. I was feeding my fantasy, giving myself into my inspiration.
What Mexico is, its romance, its edgy adventure, its otherworldlyness are all embodied in its national drink, tequila. Tequila is Mexico. The energy of so many days, years under the powerful Mexican sun accumulates in the agave and transmits this and its earthly struggle through the fermentation and distillation processes into the glass and into the heart, the psyche of the drinker. In tequila remains the sorrows, the joys, the dark longings of Mexican existence. In tequila is life, your life, tequila will show you your inner state.
B) When you look back at your accomplishments today, what do you see?
T) I am proud of my accomplishments. I have dared to go out in the wildlands in front and explore. This I have done for my personal challenges, for my own growth [the same reasons why I went to mexico]. My goals were to follow my creativity and inner independent stirrings and not to gain money.
B) Last but not least Tomas, what does the crystal ball of the future say?
T) More and more Mexican owned companies will sell to foreign giants. This has and will continue to have profound effects on all aspects of Tequila production, marketing, sales and consumption. think about what this means. the tequila industry would do well to work more closely together for world-wide pan-category promotion. This means individual brands working together to promote tequila as an entire category, to gain market share from other spirits categories such as vodka, gin, rum etc.
B) Thanks a lot for your time Tomas!
T) Carl, all the best to you and the bar family there with you in Copenhagen, Tomas.
We got to talk about a lot more than this, but it was kind of the idea i had for this in the first place. Tomas is at the time writing a book with the working name ”Tequila – The Drinkers Guide” which will be a book from a Tequila drinkers point of wiev. ”Kind of a scrap-book full of Tequila related stories, experiences, recipes etc.” The book will be slightly different to most books written about alcohol, it will be controversial and a bit ballsy, ”What would a book be if we couldnt write what we wanted in it?”. This is all in collaboration with Simon Difford, and a release is thought to be in spring 2011.
Buenas Tardes Amigos y Amigas!