Drinks Innovators of the Year: Graciela Ángeles Carreño

Fifth-generation mezcal producer Real Minero is the forefront of a group of grower-distillers who market their own products and who are never shy about trying a new direction or fighting for what they believe in.

Portrait of Graciela Ángeles Carreño
Photo: Anna Bruce

Graciela Ángeles Carreño of Real Minero is foremost a person of balance, meticulous and thoughtful, yet also adventurous. And though she will proudly say that her family has been making mezcal since before Prohibition — we had one in Mexico, too — she never blindly follows tradition. Instead, she questions, contemplates, and evolves her craft, all toward creating both the best mezcal and the best mezcal company.

The first time I visited Ángeles Carreño, I asked about Real Minero's extensive seed propagation and agave nursery project and why she'd gone to such effort with it. I vividly remember her response: "Because it's not only the way we learned to do things, but because it's also the best way to fully understand the product you're working with." The longstanding traditions of her family, she'd decided, were there for a reason; it was not only that the past could inform the future, but it should. On another visit, I saw the flip side of this process. When I asked why her team would sometimes use a mechanical grinder rather than work exclusively by hand, as her family had done for generations, she responded that the toll that hand-labor took on workers' bodies wasn't worth it.

See all of Food & Wine's 2022 Drinks Innovators of the Year

Recently, Ángeles Carreño made the decision to withdraw Real Minero from the Consejo Regulador del Mezcal (CRM), the gatekeeping agency that regulates mezcal. Diplomatically, she cited a difference in values. "We do things with a purpose," she says. "Being part of the CRM no longer contributed to that."

Graciela Ángeles Carreño

I need to think differently and challenge the status quo.

— Graciela Ángeles Carreño

Leaving means independence, but it also means removing the word "mezcal" from all of Real Minero's communications, even the labels on their bottles, and replacing it with "agave distillate." Now, Ángeles Carreño and her family will rely solely on Real Minero's five-generation reputation for quality. They're at the forefront of a group of grower-distillers who market their own products and who are never shy about trying a new direction or fighting for what they believe in.

Once again, Ángeles Carreño had considered tradition but had ultimately chosen a new path. Real Minero is the first brand of its size and importance to leave the Consejo; others may well follow. For lovers of mezcal or other agave distillates, this is the first big hint that the best products may be bottled in the future without the regulated, familiar names.

From seed propagation to promoting the work of women both on the Real Minero team and within the agave-distillate space as a whole, Ángeles Carreño recognizes that innovation and tradition are tied; neither should exist without the other. "What motivates me," she says, "is honoring and preserving my family's history and tradition. But for that, I need to think differently and question the status quo."

What to Try

Real Minero Espadín ($120)
This is an impeccable example of what espadín, the most commonly planted of agaves, can really produce—not to mention a brilliant introduction to the character of good-quality mezcal made in clay stills.

Real Minero Barril ($158)
Typical of the Santa Catarina Minas region, this mezcal lights up the palate with green herbaceous notes. When distilled in clay stills, as Real Minero does, barril always suggests the smell of rocks after the rain: green, mossy, wet, and mineral.

Real Minero Cuishe Tradicional ($165)
Cuishe mezcal is made out of the rare rhodacantha agave. With notes of ripe bananas and nuts, this lively mezcal is a beautiful pairing with salty food.

Real Minero Pechuga ($218)
Traditionally made only for special occasions, pechugas are triple-distilled with fruits, spices, and nuts. Every family has their recipe for this celebratory mezcal, but Real Minero's is one of the best: deep and rich with bright citrus notes.

Where to Find Real Minero

Website: realminero.com.mx
Instagram: @realminerooficial
TikTok: @realminero.oficial
YouTube: Agave: The Spirit of a Nation

Meet the 2022 Drinks Innovators of the Year

Fawn Weaver and Victoria Eady Butler | Bill Shufelt | Morgan McLachlan | Jason Haas | Graciela Ángeles Carreño | Jackie Summers

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