Mezcal Carreño is a start-up led by two best friends who brought a 100-year-old family recipe for handcrafting the smoky, agave-based liquor mezcal from Oaxaca, Mexico to Arizona. Today, Abel Arriaga and Ivan Carreño are on a mission to create a new generation of artisanal mezcal fans in the Valley and beyond.
Ivan was born in Oaxaca and moved to Arizona when he was 5 years old, while Abel is a 3rd generation Arizona native, with roots in Guanajuato. After growing up in west Phoenix, the close friends now live on the edge of Arcadia and Biltmore, where they focus on growing the U.S. side of their family artisanal mezcal business.
The first shipment of Mezcal Carreño arrived in Phoenix in February 2019.
“We use rare agaves that take between 10-25 years to reach maturity in the wild before we begin the production of our mezcal,” Abel said. “Our passion for sharing our story and educating guests on the mezcal agaves, process and people behind it has been our key to our success so far.”
Their inspiration to embark on the next chapter of the family business came on a trip to Cancun, when they were eating and drinking Mezcal Carreño with family and friends at a local restaurant.
Enjoying the beachside cantina, Abel and Ivan were relishing the work of a mixologist who had just won a cocktail competition and insisted on making a special cocktail using Tobalá-brand mezcal.
In a moment he’ll never forget, Abel noticed a beam of light highlighting the cocktail atop the table.
“It just happened to be the table we were sitting at and the time of day as the sun was setting,” Abel said. “There was a tiny hole in the palm tree leaf roof across from us that was shooting this sun beam onto the cocktail. It was the sign we needed to bring this moment of family, friends, food and mezcal to Arizona.”
Despite Abel and Ivan’s dedication and business acumen, getting it off the ground wasn’t without its challenges.
“It was difficult because we didn’t have any industry experience or financial backing like the heavy hitters in the industry,” Abel said.
But the two men persevered and now their start-up alcohol brand is booming in Arcadia’s backyard with the support of the community.
Places in Arcadia to find Mezcal Carreño include Tarbell’s, CRUjiente Tacos, Buck & Rider, Bar Pesce and Pitch Pizzeria.
The spirits will also be offered in a mezcal dinner pairing planned for October with Head Chef Tandy Peterson from Mowry & Cotton at The Phoenician.
While the future looks bright for their business, Abel and Ivan say they’ll be happy so long as they continue to celebrate their heritage through their work in the hospitality industry.
“Our heritage goes back to 1904 when [my] grandfather started making mezcal at Hacienda Carreño. He would enjoy it three times a year; for the planting season, end of the harvest and his birthday,” Abel said. “We love that our mezcal is the family name so we can continue sharing the tradition and culture of Oaxaca with Arizona.”
Over the past few years Abel and Ivan have gained compas, or friends, who have diverse backgrounds and visions and are integral to the success of their company.
“Working side by side with some of the Valley’s top chefs and mixologists and hearing how they analyze and incorporate our mezcal is fascinating,” Abel said. “Building a brand is fun but building these friendships and relationships is fulfilling in itself.”
Abel and Ivan hope to clear up misconceptions surrounding mezcal in Arizona.
“Most people think of it as smoky tequila or the one with a worm in the bottle,” Abel said. “Mezcal is the ‘wine of spirits’ with each agave varietal having its own taste, smell and region of Mexico it’s made in, adding to that flavor profile just like wine.”
Abel and Ivan are looking to continue building their family business with “Mezcal Monday” education classes, as well as special mezcal dinner events in Phoenix.
“We value the importance of teaching how mezcal is made and what gives it so much depth and taste compared to its industrial counterparts,” Abel said.
“Luckily, we have tremendous local support treating us like a local product. Our mezcal may be made in Oaxaca, but our roots are here in Arizona, our love for this state and community is evident and people relate and want to support that.”
For more: mezcalcarrenous.com.