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Rochester native Danny Doran uncorks “Sons of Mezcal”


  • Photo provided.
Danny Doran and his pal Stephan Werk were sitting at a table in Doran’s Brooklyn apartment when the idea came. As professionals working in New York City’s commercial and documentary film industry, any random moment might serve as inspiration. So they began speculating about the bottle sitting before them. Mezcal. A Mexico-bred alcohol that is something like tequila. But not really.

“I think there’s so much story,” Doran recalls saying at the time, “that goes into each bottle of mezcal.”

So much story, in fact, that they made a documentary. “Sons of Mezcal” will show at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 7 at The Little Theatre as part of the Rochester Cocktail Revival. Werk directed the film, and Doran edited it. Both Werk and Doran, a Rochester native and graduate of Pittsford Mendon High School, will be virtually present for a post-film talkback following The Little showing. (Which will be followed, of course, by a boozy after party at Lucky’s, 628 Winton Road.)

Doran and Werk got so worked up over that bottle of mezcal in Doran’s apartment that they decided to go to Mexico themselves to see how it works.

“We bought our tickets that night,” he said.

Shooting from the hip, even if it’s shooting a documentary, seems to be a Doran thing. He learned the basics of whitewater kayaking at Lock 32 on the Erie Canal.

“That’s sort of the genesis for all this really, filmmaking and everything,” he says.

A genesis that led him to a kayaking high school in Missoula, Mont., what Doran calls an “alternative education opportunity.” Which then led him to semesters studying in Chile and China. Which led him to the Adirondacks.

“You go to these cool places, andyou want to show your friends and your family what you’re doing, because they’re not with you,” he said. “Some of these places are in the wilderness. You’re deep in the Adirondacks. Places you can only get to by kayak. So we would bring our cameras, and that was how I started.”
Danny Doran, a Rochester native and editor of "Sons of Mezcal." - PHOTO BY CELESTE SLOMAN.
  • Photo by Celeste Sloman.
  • Danny Doran, a Rochester native and editor of "Sons of Mezcal."

His work is in advertising and short films, emphasizing the color of living life. Advertising that grabs the viewer’s attention through, as he called it, “outlandish examples of humanity.”

The other side of Doran’s work is documentaries.

“Anything can be a documentary,” he said, “if you dive deep enough into it.”

And dive they did. That trip to Mexico, to “research” mezcal, was “a crazy four days,” Doran said.

Upon returning home, they got down to business. An alternative work opportunity, if you will, that meant a return to Mexico. “Sons of Mezcal” explains what mezcal is, and how it’s made. But perhaps more importantly, the culture that creates the spirit.

“I think a lot of times, when you drink alcohol, you don’t necessarily think about where it comes from,” Doran says. “With wine you do. Once you start becoming interested in wine, I think that there’s a lot of ‘the story sells the bottle of wine,’ right? In a lot of ways. And I think that’s very similar in mezcal.

  • Photo provided.
For Doran, it was the first time he was thinking about the people who made mezcal and where it came from. Considering that, rather than just having a margarita.

The filmmakers explored what Doran calls the “generational connection to the land” shared by the people of the southern state of Oaxaca. And the process — the taste of mezcal differs by distilling styles, and from region to region.

“Each bottle tells a little story of where it comes from,” said Doran.

Every story begins with the agave plant. It is no short-term crop, with agaves typically growing from six to eight years – or maybe 25 in the wild – until they are larger than a basketball, then harvested and roasted in a pit for five days.

Tequila is made from the blue agave plant, “a narrow and distinct classification,” Doran said. Mezcal, however, is derived from a much wider sample of agave plants and their distillates. How wine is distilled, in oak or stainless-steel barrels, imparts a distinctive taste. The same is true of mezcal. Copper or clay barrels? The process lends itself to the mezcal’s spiciness, or perhaps adds a smoky taste.

“Each region does it a little differently,” Doran said.
  • Photo provided.

“Sons of Mezcal” also presents the human touch. The sons — and daughters — of  mezcal. Mezcal makers “learning from their fathers and grandfathers,” Doran said. One distilling wizard in his 80s, passing it on to “his sons, his sons’ sons, and their songs, making mezcal.”

In addition to the screening, “Sons of Mezcal” is available – as of late last year — on streaming services such as Amazon Prime, Apple TV and Google Play.

Doran will be streaming himself, as he’ll join the June 7 talkback virtually from Kansas, where he has a bike race.

But he’ll be there in spirit, literally and figuratively.

“I’ll have mezcal in hand,” he said, “we’ll still raise a glass together.”

Jeff Spevak is Senior Arts Writer for WXXI and CITY. He can be reached at [email protected].