Diaz Brothers Agave Is Bringing Small-Batch Mezcal to Chicago
The brand launched with four expressions, including a collaboration with Dark Matter Coffee
For Rob Diaz, family is everything.
One of five kids, Diaz grew up in the Quad Cities that straddle the Mississippi River on the border between Illinois and Iowa, where his family had migrated from Aguas Calientes, Mexico, in the 1950s. By the time his parents started a family, they wanted them to fit in with other American kids, and thus decided not to teach them Spanish.
But after working in Chicago’s restaurant industry for the better part of 20 years, Diaz, whose brother Jesse is the founder of wildly popular Dark Matter Coffee, knew he wanted to reconnect to his roots. As a fan of agave spirits, he charted a course to launch a new business, where his brother would serve as a collaborator, but not a full partner. So, in July of 2019, he went through the process to get a federal license to start a liquor company, and soon after created Diaz Brothers Agave.
The line launched in March at 40 stores in Chicago, including Noble Grape in West Town, Liquor Park in Wicker Park, BottlesUp in East Lakeview and Moreno’s in Little Village, which has one of Chicago’s most extensive agave selections. While Diaz eventually wants to include tequila and other agave spirits like raicilla and bacanora in the lineup, he launched with four mezcal expressions: espadin, tobala and two pechugas, one of which is co-produced by Dark Matter.
“Mezcal speaks to my heart,” Diaz says. “There aren’t as many rules and there are so many more types of agave you can use where tequila you can only use Weber Blue agave. With mezcal, you can show all different types of expressions of different varietals.”
While mezcal officially can be distilled in nine states in Mexico, Diaz focused his attention on small independent farms in Oaxaca. As his connection to his family is strong, he sought to work with similarly passionate families producing mezcal. Lou Bank, a founder and executive director of Chicago-based non-profit SACRED (Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education and Development) helped connect Diaz with mezcaleros he felt meshed with his goals.
“Family is super important and that was what I looked for in the different people I met with,” Diaz admits. “For me it was all about the feel. The people I wanted to do business with were the people I had the most connection with. And, of course, their mezcal was really good.”
For the launch, Diaz produced 720 bottles of espadin and 240 bottles each of tobala (two types of agave), along the two pechugas, which means “breast” in Spanish and usually incorporates either turkey or chicken breast during the production process. The recipe for Estrella Negra Pechuga de Pavo was created by chef Otoniel Michel of Bucktown restaurant Estrella Negra. The formulation includes a variety of ingredients (including cayenne, mango, pistachio, tamarindo, poblano and anise) and offers a dominant flavor. The other pechuga is the one Diaz made with his brother: “Sangre de Unicornio,” inspired by Dark Matter Coffee’s cult-favorite Unicorn Blood roast. That mezcal offers a strong taste of coffee, cacao and cinnamon.
The espadin, or entry-level mezcal, will run you $45, while the other three range between $85 and $90 and are meant to be sipped. That said, using the tobala in a Oaxacan old fashioned, which I did, resulted in an absolutely delicious cocktail.
Watch for two new expressions to roll out mid-July, and Diaz says he expects to distribute in Texas, California, Florida, Wisconsin and Colorado by the third quarter of this year. While he’s excited to introduce his mezcals to agave drinkers, he’s also humbled to have a business that gives back.
“The Latino community in this country has broken their backs for us in the restaurant industry,” Diaz says. “Anything I can give back to help culturally, educationally and fiscally to help those I’ve worked with the last 20 years, that’s the ethos of the business. And the most important thing for me to do.”
To that we say: Salud.