The mezcal tradition is deeply rooted in Mexican culture. The maguey distillate is the product of Asian, European, and American syncretism. But today, it is a symbol of identity. It is a beautiful oral tradition, as the Maestro Mezcalero (mezcal maker) is responsible for collecting and preserving the knowledge of many generations to create Mezcal.

However, of the 174 mezcal and tequila distilleries registered in Mexico, only 11 are run by women. One of them is the Maestra Mezcalera Diana Orozco Cruz. This pioneer and visionary force behind Mezcal Amarás has been working in the spirits industry for over five years.

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FIERCE had the pleasure of speaking with Diana about her journey from agro-industrial engineering to becoming a Maestra Mezcalera. And how revolutionary it is to have a woman at the helm of an industry led by men for centuries.

Image used with permission from Diana Orozco Cruz.

Combining science with ancestry

For Diana Orozco Cruz, crossing paths with Mezcal was not random. Her training as an agro-industrial engineer allowed her to understand the processes and the relationship with the land. However, as she delved into Mezcal, she understood that she had to use engineering to improve the technical principles.

“I consider that I am a combination of both worlds. Which undoubtedly had to be introspected to evolve,” she told FIERCE. “The learning the world of Mezcal left me is to seek a balance. I am perhaps a middle point between both things that will always be part of my essence.”

To achieve this, Diana has focused on making each stage of the process more efficient. She and her team use good-quality agave (with a high sugar concentration) and ensure their techniques help save water, firewood, and energy.

A Maestra Mezcalera like Diana is, simply put, the alchemist of Mezcal. She is the person who knows everything from where to source the wild agaves for production to the time to cook the piñas in the ovens. The Maestra Mezcalera’s interconnection with the process is such that just by tasting one of the cooked piñas, she knows which one to use for grinding and fermenting. 

Image used with permission from Diana Orozco Cruz.

However, for Diana, becoming a Maestra Mezcalera has been quite a challenge

The art of transforming the maguey stalk, or piña, into a delicious drink has centuries of history. Although indigenous communities have known about fermentation since pre-Hispanic times, the arrival of the Spanish alembic changed the process. What has never changed, however, has been the role of the Maestro Mezcalero.

For Diana Orozco Cruz, becoming a Maestra Mezcalera has given her “a lot of structure” and the opportunity to investigate.

“Tequila gave me a lot of structure. It taught me how to measure. The demands of such a large industry allow you to fill yourself with tools that help you be more efficient,” she said. “In Mezcal, they are of little use. We focus on preserving techniques we’ve inherited over time. But we must measure and analyze good practices, and we always try to improve them.”

Image used with permission from Mezcal Amarás.

The result was Mezcal Amarás

Diana and her team did research with eight different agave varieties at three different times of the year. They compared congeners, flavors, aromas, textures, and complexity in performance.

“The tests were decisive in our innovations. When it came time to make the Mezcal for launch, we knew what to expect and how to treat each one,” she said. “It was highly enriching for the team to be part of the study.”

Diana then understood that each agave is different. The same variety can differ depending on where it was planted and the time of year. “When I understood that each one had to be treated in a special way, I began to try different ways of grinding.” She then learned how to combine different techniques. Diana understood how to fill the fermentation with water, formulate, distill, test each liquid, and find out what changed in each variable.

Image used with permission from Mezcal Amarás.

Being a woman at the helm of a distillery is quite an achievement

When Diana started in the industry, some people were reluctant to accept that a young woman could run a distillery like Amarás. “However, as the days went by and seeing that Mezcal women are determined, curious, ingenious and that there is no distinction in skills between genders, acceptance arrived,” Diana remembered.

Still, the Maestra Mezcalera assures that it is necessary to build “a path for all women who are interested in training as mezcaleras.” She advocates “adding women to our team who share that passion, always integrating men into it.” For Diana, it is crucial to remember that “we are not enemies. We are humans working to share drops of happiness in bottles of mezcal.”

Image used with permission from Diana Orozco Cruz.

Diana dreams of the mezcal industry evolving into “a conjunction of magic with science” that allows us to use agave more efficiently, “without putting the quality and ancestry of our drink at risk.”

This means being more efficient with resources to avoid the disappearance of the maguey species. “We try to close the energy cycle of the agave with the use of all its components,” Diana explained. There are ancient techniques that we implement, and we look for ways to adapt them to our needs. Our task is to take advantage of all the energy transferred from the soil, water, wind, and sun to the agave and use it intelligently.”