“We don’t talk enough about sustainability in drinks,” says chef Dana Rodriguez of Super Mega Bien and Work & Class. “I created my own line of mezcals and tequilas to educate people about how to drink the right way, with respect.” Honoring the Mexican families and traditions behind her new line of organic, small-batch spirits, called Doña Loca, is paramount to Rodriguez and her co-founding partners, Karen Ashworth-Macfarlane and Scott Kiere. But so is flavor.
The trio united around the delicate, smoky nuances of artisanal mezcal on a trip to the palenques, or mezcal distilleries, of Oaxaca three years ago. They traveled to take part in harvesting, roasting, and fermenting agave in order to truly understand the process—and get to know the mezcaleros (distillers) behind it all. “We wanted to work with people who make beautiful, organic, all-natural products,” says Ashworth-Macfarlane. “Most consumers don’t realize that the big names in mezcal—and tequila, especially—produce horrible products. They add sugars, caramel coloring, glycerine for a richer texture, lecithin to coat your throat, you name it.”
The Doña Loca team wanted none of that, instead partnering with fourth-generation family producer Mezcalería Ambulante, situated in the village of Santa María Quiegolani, about 140 miles southeast of Oaxaca. They adhere to a rigorous process, harvesting mature agave by hand; roasting the piñas, or agave hearts, in underground pits; crushing the caramelized piñas using a stone wheel pulled by a donkey that’s fed bananas while it works; double-distilling the fermented agave juice in alembics (traditional copper pot stills); and aging in oak barrels. Nothing goes to waste: The burnt piñas from the bottom of the roasting pits are sent to a female-run cooperative in Oaxaca and turned into the paper labels for Doña Loca’s bottles.
The results? The Espadín ($24 to $37), made from the eponymous agave variety most commonly used for mezcal, is citrusy and bright, with a gentle smoky character that is perfect in a cocktail. The Tepeztate ($59 to $100) is more herbaceous, with warm notes of wild lime leaves and eucalyptus; Rodriguez claims “it will cure your soul.” She laughingly warns against drinking the smooth, honeyed, floral Tobala ($50 to $85) with just anyone, though. “It’s an aphrodisiac,” she says. “You’ll end up in bed!”
All three mezcals will star at Rodriguez and Kiere’s forthcoming LoHi bar/restaurant, Cantina Loca, which will serve as a tasting room for Doña Loca’s spirits and a showcase for Mexico City–inspired street foods. It’s scheduled to open this spring, but in the meantime, you can find Rodriguez’s mezcals at her existing restaurants and at Marczyk Fine Wines and other retailers. Three Doña Loca tequilas will debut in March, too, produced by Destilería Las Americas in Amatitán, the Jalisco town known as the birthplace of the spirit. Rodriguez says it’s the best tequila in the world—and she’s proud to talk about it.