The folks behind DC’s first mezcal may be experts in the solar industry, but their lightbulb moment came when creating this ancient spirit.
Henry Gentenaar and John Ravis toast Maximo sips at Circa in Clarendon, Va., where it is carried.
Solar energy entrepreneurs Henry Gentenaar and Lamberto Camacho found their way into the mezcal-making business by chance. They spent much time in Mexico developing solar projects and often sampled rums, tequilas and mezcals in their downtime. And the latter spirit—made from any one of more than 40 variations of agave—piqued their palates with its history and uniqueness. “We quickly developed an opinion of what our own mezcal should taste like,” says Gentenaar. “The entrepreneurial thing kicked in, so we decided to take the leap.” They tapped friend John Ravis to be their third partner and, Maximo (750ml bottle for $40, maximomezcal.com), the first DC-based mezcal brand, was born. The fellas are dedicated to the craft: They’ve teamed with an Oaxacan mezcalero family with a 100-year history to make their trio of products (joven, a young, unaged drink; reposado, aged in oak casks for at least three months; and añejo, aged between one and three years) and are obsessive about its final outcome.
The joven goes straight from the still into the bottle.
It’s a very subjective process, they note. “It’s a taste that’s based on a feeling,” says Gentenaar, adding that they went through dozens of recipes to come up with the flavors they all agreed upon. “It’s been fun learning about how to get Maximo from field to bottle,” says Ravis. “I thought I knew what it was about, but like most things, the more you know the more you realize you didn’t. … We’ve actually become experts. I’m proud of that.” Pros or not, they know what they like: Gentenaar prefers it chilled or on the rocks, while Ravis uses it as a substitute in libations (think for gin in the Last Word cocktail). (What they don’t? Tequila: The smoky layers of mezcal are more appealing, they say. “[Though] it has its place,” quips Ravis.) Oh, and if you’re curious, the mezcal and solar industries have nothing in common. “It’s more about the differences between the two,” says Gentenaar. “In solar, you never really see your final product. … But mezcal is... time and place in a bottle.”