MayaJules mezcal: redefining agave spirits

MayaJules mezcal: redefining agave spirits

MayaJules mezcal: redefining agave spirits

by Great British Chefs15 May 2024

Think you know mezcal? Think again. We get to know MayaJules, an artisanal brand hoping to change our perceptions around Mexico’s lesser-known agave spirit. Photo: Marck Hudson

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MayaJules mezcal: redefining agave spirits

Think you know mezcal? Think again. We get to know MayaJules, an artisanal brand hoping to change our perceptions around Mexico’s lesser-known agave spirit. Photo: Marck Hudson

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

Having quietly gained popularity over the last few years, now feels like mezcal’s time to shine. The agave spirit is certainly breaking into the mainstream, popping up on cocktail and restaurant menus around the country, but it’s still not always fully appreciated in its own right. Instead, mezcal is usually introduced in the context of its better-known cousin tequila, meaning it’s often bundled in with stereotypes around worms in bottles and labelled simply as a smoky alternative. The reality of mezcal, though, is far more complex. Able to be made from thirty different varieties of mostly wild agave, it’s one of the world’s most diverse spirits, with a flavour profile shaped by everything from agave growing conditions to the numerous blends possible. That all means mezcal is packed with aromas and notes which range from spiced and sweet to smooth and, yes, smoky. Thankfully, with a generation of modern distillers now at the helm, mezcal is fast stepping out of tequila’s shadow.
 
Few people know that better than the team at MayaJules, an artisan and award-winning mezcal brand which is redefining our understanding of premium mezcal. MayaJules was founded by Katina Aziz and Jules Marohl, who met at a crossroads in life and swiftly bonded over both a shared love of agave spirits and what they felt was a gap in the market for women. ‘We felt left out of the market,’ Katina nods. ‘We found that a lot of the mezcals available were very earthy or smoky and we didn't connect with them – we wanted to create something smooth and approachable.’ Deciding to put words into action, they combined their backgrounds in hospitality and finance and brought MayaJules to life. Its name is inspired by Mayahuel, the Aztec goddess of agave, who is seen as a symbol of transformation – that feminine energy, Katina and Jules say, is at the heart of MayaJules; their goal is to become the world’s number one female-led mezcal brand. ‘That’s what MayaJules is – it’s the emergence of the goddess into the modern world,’ Katina explains. ‘That’s the duality of it. We pay homage to where we and the brand have come from, but also reflect luxury and modernity.’

Mezcal can be made from thirty different varieties of mostly wild agave
The agave is roasted in a pit or stone oven for days and then fermented

With their ethos clear, Katina and Jules travelled to Mexico’s Oaxaca region – where the vast majority of mezcal is produced – to make the spirit itself. There, they met producer Carlos Moreno, who oversees over fifty-two family-run, sustainable palenques, or distilleries, all over the region. They forged connections with predominantly female distillers, including Licha Hernandez from the respected Velasco distilling family, and Victoria Bautista, who learned her craft from her grandfather, and quickly fell in love with wider Oaxacan culture. This is something they take pride in sharing today. ‘Katina and I find so much beauty in Oaxacan culture, people and mezcal, and we want to bring that to the world,’ Jules says. ‘That’s what we are doing through this vessel. We want people to not only experience the mezcal, but also celebrate the culture and everything that’s behind it – that’s what inspires and drives us.’

While tequila can only be made with the weber azul agave, mezcal production is far more open and mezcaleros can take their pick from the many wild varietals which grow in various regions of Mexico. It’s a diversity which is similar to that of wine; where a particular variety is grown, at what altitude, in which soil type and in what climate all affect the finished flavour. While that choice might seem daunting, Katina and Jules were guided by their own tastes, ruling out what they didn’t like at tastings and continuing to return to their original blend. The end result is a mixture of three agaves: Espadín, the most popular kind for mezcal, which has a deep sweetness (so much so that it attracts honeybees as it grows), the floral and green fruit notes of Tobalá (Jules’ top pick) and the fresh minerality of Tobasiche (Katina’s favourite). Although smokiness is at the root of many mezcals (a key part of the process is roasting the agave in a pit or stone oven for days), Katina and Jules were keen to distil a smooth, nuanced mezcal; their blend results in a balanced spirit which takes drinkers on a journey through warm, caramel notes, tropical and green fruits and a clean freshness to finish.

While mezcal is often sipped and savoured neat, it’s also perfect in cocktails. Why not try MayaJules' El Loco (created by Alexandra Pucaru at Selva Oaxaca, in Mexico) – add 37.5ml of the mezcal, 15ml of Cynar and Vermouth Dolin Dry, 7.5ml of Pedro Ximenez and two dashes of Scrappy's Bitters to a mixing glass with ice and stir, before straining into a chilled glass and topping with a cacao bean. Or, you could enhance our orange and cardamon mezcal margarita above using MayaJules. It is also great paired with menus which stretch far beyond Mexican cuisine. ‘It’s really important that people don’t pigeonhole mezcal as just being great with Mexican food,’ Jules says. ‘Chefs are excited to work with it because they are inspired by the flavour profile and can do so much with it.'

Katina and Jules recently proved that during a Firebird & Friends series of events at Soho restaurant Firebird. At these dinners, MayaJules mezcal was served in and alongside Mexican, South American, Malaysian and Scandinavian menus, providing a beautiful counterpoint to the freshness of raw fish and seafood, grilled meats and south east Asian spice and shining as a star ingredient in a chocolate bitters and banana cocktail. The team has also worked with chocolatier Paul A Young to create custom dark chocolate truffles flavoured with cardamom, cinnamon and orange oils, with their mezcal infused in the ganache, another way of paying tribute Oaxacan flavours and love of chocolate. With so much untapped potential, it’s no wonder we’ll soon be seeing MayaJules in more bars and restaurants across London, which is fast proving to be its perfect home – you can already find it on the cocktail menus of The Churchill Bar and Terrace by Hyatt, The Maine Mayfair and Artesian at The Langham. While mezcal is better established in the States (where Katina and Jules originally hail from), so too are misconceptions around it, they say – its blossoming popularity here provides something of a clean slate.

MayaJules is not your typical mezcal. From its uniquely balanced profile to its drive to highlight Oaxacan women, their communities and Oaxacan culture, it goes beyond what we might expect. And though it was designed with a female market in mind, it has become the mezcal of choice for enthusiasts and experts around the world. Ultimately, MayaJules is a fantastic way to develop an appreciation of an artisanal mezcal, while celebrating a brand that both honours its roots and embraces modernity.