One independent producer we’re excited to partner with, GEM&BOLT, is making a truly delicious and distinctive product. GEM&BOLT Mezcal is a traditional espadín mezcal distilled with damiana, an herb indigenous to Central America that is said to promote stamina, wellness, and even have aphrodisiac qualities. But GEM&BOLT isn’t just about the spirits. They’re also giving back to their communities through a unique combination of artistic expression, an emphasis on wellness, and charitable giving.
We sat down with Elliott Coon, one of the brand’s founders, to learn more about how she and her business partner AdrinAdrina got their company started, how they found their producer, and their fundraising efforts to help Oaxacans recover from the devastating earthquakes that struck central Mexico in the late summer of 2017.
Taster’s Club: How did GEM&BOLT Mezcal get started?
Elliott Coon: AdrinAdrina and I were born and raised together in a radical artist community in the mountains of Virginia. As adults, we both became artists and eventually came together as an artist duo around 2007. After a few years partnering on many projects, we consciously sidestepped out of the art world with the intention of co-creating a more full-scale project aligned with greater interests. We wanted to bring people together around plants and celebration.
First, we opened a speakeasy in Oakland, California, called GEM&BOLT, where we served herb-infused mezcal cocktails and threw extravagant out-of-the-box parties. Sufficiently enamored with mezcal, we journeyed to Oaxaca to learn more and fell in love with its celebratory culture, enticingly hospitable people, and of course, the ample world of Oaxacan food and mezcal.
We went straight back to Oakland, closed down shop, and relocated to Oaxaca where we continued to throw art events. When we discovered the origin myth of Mezcal, which tells of a lightning bolt striking an agave plant (which, once prepared for roasting, looks remarkably like a gem), it was a moment of reckoning in which we decided to launch our own brand. The alignment of this story and our pre-existing duo-brand name GEM&BOLT seemed written in the stars.
What is it about the damiana/agave combination that speaks to you?
Damiana is indigenous to Mexico and Central America and thrives in the same climate as agave itself. Agave spirits have naturally stimulating qualities, as does damiana. Not unlike agave, damiana has been used and revered for thousands of years by cultures like the Maya, Aztec, and Zapotec, and is believed to have myriad health benefits. You could say it imparts an overall sense of wellbeing. Together, it’s a match made in heaven.
How did you pick your producer? What do you like about their work?
Adrina and I lived in Oaxaca for 1.5 years before we chose a final producer. During that time, we immersed ourselves heavily in the culture and community of mezcal, learning all we could. We chose our producer ultimately through a combination of established trust over time, terroir, and water quality where his production was based and the general quality of his juice.
He was profoundly enthused at the prospect of incorporating damiana in a commercial product. There’s a long history of herbal infusions in mezcal as old as mezcal itself, but few commercial products honoring this tradition. This created an additional chemistry of exploration and camaraderie between all of us.
It’s been a great partnership. Our producer is staunchly traditional and dedicated to the production of true artisanal mezcal. He’s a stickler about correct form, such as harvesting the agave at exactly the perfect moment of ripeness, which has a great influence on the final product.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from being part of the spirits industry?
We always had a vision of being a spirit brand that spoke to the health sector. People laughed early on, for the obvious reason that it sounds like a contradiction in terms. But healthy people LOVE to drink and celebrate as much as the next – it’s just a matter of having options. The health sector has gone wild for GEM&BOLT in the most wonderful way. The growing interest in farm-to-table, artisanal food items also applies to drink, and it seems people are really changing their approach to how they consume in general. There’s a movement towards more conscientious consumption, which we’re big proponents of.
It’s also been great to get closer to the hospitality industry, which is really built around making people as extravagantly happy as possible. There are so many creative and eccentric visionaries emerging in the hospitality world and we’ve had a great time collaborating in this realm.
Tell us about your Warrior Generation initiative?
We’ve thrown an annual Day of the Dead party in Oaxaca for the past five years, and this year, the earthquake struck the month prior. It was disastrous, and particularly poignant for us, who have benefited so much from Mexico and specifically the state of Oaxaca.
We saw so many people overseas wanting to donate but not trusting where to put their funds. As a close part of the Oaxacan community, we saw an opportunity to serve as a bridge and so we crafted a transparent alliance with a US-based 501c3 and two reputable Oaxacan beneficiaries invested in rebuild efforts. Both groups we know personally. In this way, we could guarantee exactly where the money was going and the myriad ways the communities benefited from the funds. So, instead of throwing our party, we decided to redirect our efforts in the form of a fundraiser in New York City towards the cause.
So far we’ve raised over $50,000, and we’re still receiving. The funds are already being used to build libraries, cultural centers, and a large number of houses. More interesting yet is that the initiative includes teaching locals new building methods and facilitating the restructuring of broken economies. The work is more sustainable in that way. It isn’t only focused on replacing structure, but it’s also focused on economic and communal longevity.