A drink with… Lou Bank, Sacred

16th April, 2021 by Melita Kiely

When he’s not co‐hosting podcast Agave Road Trip, the founder of non‐profit Sacred is working hard to support rural Mexican communities.

Lou Bank

Lou Bank, founder of non-profit Sacred

What is Sacred?

Sacred is a US‐based not‐for‐profit that helps improve quality of life in the rural Mexican communities where heritage agave spirits are made. I started fundraising informally in 2013 to help build a library in Oaxaca. As contributions grew, it became clear that I needed to formalise the process, so we registered Sacred in 2017.

Why did you establish Sacred? 

There’s a different world view in some of these communities where heritage agave spirits (like mezcal, raicilla, bacanora, and destilado de agave) are made. The multi‐generational wisdom that makes many of these spirits so unique and delicious is the result of a world view that favours results over efficiency.

The men and women who make these spirits will often use pre‐industrial methods to cook, ferment, and distil their agave, even though they have access to the industrial tools that make each of those stages significantly easier. That world view can be applied to things like water insecurity, food insecurity, and climate change.

Maestro palenquero Eduardo Angeles, of Lalocura in Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca, resolved water insecurity in his drought‐prone community, using a method that the state of California said wasn’t possible. Sacred is an attempt to help these families continue their multi‐generational traditions.

How does Sacred relate to the agave-based spirits industry?

Sacred relies on donors to make our projects a reality. Two spirits brands – Arquitecto Tequila and Vamonos Riendo – have become significant donors in the past year. Maguey Melate and Sin Gusano – two mail‐order clubs that specialise in agave spirits – have been ongoing supporters.

We also receive significant support from agave‐centric restaurants, bars and liquor stores. But the majority of our funds come from the people who drink these spirits.

Can you tell me about your agave-replanting projects?

We buy agave seedlings from a middle school in Zaachila, a community located on a waste‐dump site. The school redirected their agriculture class to growing agave from seeds when they ran out of water because the majority of the community is squatting on that land. Most things you grow from seed require a lot of water – agave less so.

We bought these seedlings for US$1 each, which is two to three times the going rate. That helps support the school and the community. Then we gift those seedlings in lots of 500 to 750 to the families who are making agave spirits in a traditional way.

We are now in our third year of this programme, with more than US$30,000 directed to it. That was bolstered this last year by a commitment from Arquitecto Tequila, which is underwriting most of our annual expense of US$10,000.

What impact has Covid-19 had on agave spirits producers and farmers?

The most significant impact the pandemic has had on the rural Mexican communities is that they’ve been hit financially. So many of these communities have become accustomed to tourists. Those dollars disappeared immediately in March. The producers had distilled agave spirits in anticipation of crowds that never showed.

Last May we launched a ‘futures’ programme to help these communities. People can go to our website and buy spirits directly from the men and women who make them.

The money goes into the Paypal account of a community member, who disperses it to the people whose spirits were sold. Then once the virus is under control the buyers can go to Mexico and pick up their bottles.

What do you find most exciting about agave-based spirits?

The ancient element of it. In a world that is increasingly digital, to see this analogue element not only still in existence but thriving is remarkable, and is a connection to a past that can help provide for a better future.

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