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Bosscal’s Nelson Nieves Talks Durango Mezcal Production, What Sets The Brand Apart And The Perfect Mezgarita

Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

While at Tales of the Cocktail 2023, we were fortunate to meet many of the makers in the cocktail industry. We attended events that featured all types of spirits and were thrilled to be invited to a brunch hosted by Bosscal for women in media during this year’s Tales.

Bosscal is a family run business, with the first mezcal released in 2015. Bosscal owns their distillery in Durango, Mexico with three Bosscal Mezcals being created – Joven Mezcal, Pechuga de Conejo Mezcal and Damiana Mezcal.

Mountain to Market is the core philosophy of Bosscal. Mountain to Market refers to the brand’s dedication to artisanal and traditional distillery practices. The agave is wild grown, free of pesticides and hand-picked at age. Each plant is strategically picked with preservation in mind, ensuring the sustainabiliity of each harvest and ensuring a minimal environmental footprint.

We caught up with Nelson Nieves, Founder and President of Bosscal to talk about what sets their brand apart from other mezcal brands, what drew him to the industry and some of the collaborations he’s working on. 

Can you tell me the history of the Bosscal brand and how you created it?

It’s kind of a small family business. Our careers were in finance, commercial lending and then we started a construction company in South Florida. When the economy really tanked, things became no fun and it was a really hard time in our lives. In 2010/2011, we decided we wanted to do something that we were passionate about, that we loved, and that we’d get up every morning to grind and enjoy what we’re doing. 

The essence of our brand is all that is good: friends, family, love, anti-ego. That’s a really big thing for me. 

With the crazy idea of going into mezcal, I decided to go down to Mexico. I didn’t want to go to Oaxaca because there are so many brands there already. As a kid, our dad always said, “It’s better to be the head of the rat than the tail of the lion.” Oaxaca is an amazing state, with all the blessings and liquid culture of Mexico. But Durango also had all of that.

Bosscal's Nelson Nieves Talks Durango Mezcal Production
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

So, you chose Durango.

Yes, I chose Durango. It was a state that was very interesting to me. It’s next to Hollywood, California; it’s where they filmed more movies than anywhere in the world. John Wayne lived there and left his ranch to his groundskeeper. It’s just been an amazing experience. And it’s a cenizo, the agave that we use. So it’s not another espadin. There are many amazing espadin brands and I just wanted to come out with something that was a little bit different. I really just fell in love with the cenizo taste profile. 

Did you find a partnership with a farm?

Yes. I had some connections with Durango through some of the guys that worked with us and just went down there and started talking. And the idea was just to buy the juice, like most brands do. But one of the things I saw early on was that it was going to be a supply and demand issue because the category was so tiny, it was 0.7% of what tequila sales were. Now that people are informed and conscious of what they’re consuming and who they’re consuming from, it is a cool opportunity to build this little brand in a category no one was really paying attention to in the spirit industry.

So, we were able to come in, set up shop in Durango. When I got down there, I was interviewing people, master distillers and Maestro Mescaleros. There are a bunch I met, 20 or 30, with all the history in the culture. But I was very fortunate to find a young man that was 19 years old and had been distilling since he was 11 with his grandmother and grandfather. He has a degree in agriculture. He lives off the land, can tell you what everything is and what it’s used for. 

What is cool about that is he was able to buy into the idea of what I wanted for the brand. I said, “I’m not here to tell you how to make mezcal. I’m here because you make amazing mezcal. The only thing I want is premiumization, to create a badass product.” I’m okay paying for it. I wanted a mezcal that isn’t overly smoked. I wanted something approachable. For me, the nose is one of the most important things.

Your brand is pretty mild and easy to drink. That’s very rare. 

Yes, I agree. Mezcal is like a kick in the shins if you haven’t ever had any. This is not like any category I’ve ever had. Tequila is like your spouse; mezcal is like your lover. A little more fun, a little more dangerous. You decide if you want to play. But it’s a spirit that has been around for over 400 years. It is very much a liquid culture in Mexico. It’s been a really cool project. 

One of my first trips down there, we went out to the mountains to go find the agave. We chose the person. We go and get it. You have to go on horseback, take donkeys and you go to the extraction point. That’s where you set up shop. Then you trek for 4-5 days after getting the agave, depending how much you wanted. Which is usually 15-20 tons. And the labor itself is insane.

And you bring it back on donkeys?

Yes, on donkeys. The agaves grow on the side of mountains and you harvest them. It’s a lot of work, but I fell in love with that side of it. If you come and visit us – which I hope you do – you’ll experience what I fell in love with, too. 

We trademarked ‘mountain to market’. We say we bring it to you like Mother Nature intended. There’s not one drop of chemicals, yeast accelerator, additives, nothing. We even clean our bottles with the heads and tails of distillation. There’s not one foreign chemical that goes into our process. 

And your bottles are recycled, right?

Yes, recycled glass. They actually represent a volcanic rock. The concept was to find a platonic element, earth being one of them. Our earth ovens are lined with volcanic rock. It also serves as a good talking piece. Mezcal is smoky because we cook it underground. And we use about 50% more agave per liter. 

That’s probably why I like it. It’s sweeter. 

We call it puro corazon, it’s all heart. Not so smoky, right? I put my brand up against any brand because I know the love that goes into it. How pure and sincere we are with it. We don’t even touch the agave if it isn’t ready. Our maestro has a degree in agriculture. We’re not messing with that. 

Bosscal's Nelson Nieves Talks Durango Mezcal Production
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

How do you maintain the farm? I was told every time you pull a plant, you plant a new one. 

Yes, in order to sustain mountain to market. There are plenty of agave currently in Durango, enough for the next 5-10 years. But the pressure is growing as the market demand grows, so we plant. This year, we’ve planted 80,000-100,000 on our partner’s land. It’s an investment that we make in the people we are buying agave from. I’m all about building relationships and it’s all about synergies and we’re about making friendships and helping each other out. And that’s kind the essence of the brand. 

Can you tell us why you chose the logo you have?

Our logo is an Aztec story about the rabbit and the moon. There was an Aztec god who was bored being a god, so he came down to earth. After four or five days he was like, whoa, I’m in trouble. I don’t know how to navigate. I’m hungry. I don’t know how to hunt or gather. 

He sits down in the forest on a tree trunk and there’s a rabbit eating grass. He says to the rabbit, what are you eating? And the rabbit says, grass. Would you like some, friend? And he goes, I can’t eat grass. I’m human. And the rabbit says, what’s wrong, friend? You don’t look well. And he says, things are not good. I’m not in good shape. I haven’t eaten anything or drank anything. I’m probably going to die. And the rabbit says, don’t die, friend. I’m just a little rabbit. Why don’t you have me? 

The god reveals himself and says, your actions are greater than that of just a little rabbit. If the world would behave more like your actions, it would be a better place. So, on a full moon, if you look up you’ll see the rabbit silhouette he put there. We do cool full moon parties with rabbit masks and stuff like that to pay homage to it. That selflessness, that anti-ego is what we wanted as a brand. It’s this: communal, helping people out, helping each other out. 

Can you tell me about the word Mezgarita? 

Yes, we own it. We trademarked that word. My dream was always to become the mezcal of America. I love the craft cocktail world. So, to bring it to America, I knew I needed to do it in a way that was familiar. If you read the word mezcal and you don’t know anything about it, you’re not typically going to order it. But a mezgarita? That sounds familiar, like a margarita. 

You’ve got to mix with Filthy then to make the perfect Mezgarita.

We actually did! We are one of the four core cocktails at Buffalo Wild Wings. Ours is the Black Cherry mezgarita with Filthy cherries. It’s done really, really well. We are so blessed. 

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