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A drink to right every wrong: mezcal

For all evil, mezcal, for all good, too. Mezcal is a Mexican drink that has gained popularity in recent years. Although Mexico is much better known for tequila, in fact this is a type of mezcal. Learn more about this original drink and try it.

It is a very popular saying among Mexicans: “For all evil, mezcal, for all good, too,” because there are few things we like more than grabbing the party in the company of one of these drinks. Mezcal is a gift from Mexico to the world for its great flavor and rich culture. Discover the spirits that inhabit this drink and dare to try it.

What is mezcal


Image by Mwinocur

Mezcal is a Mexican distilled drink. It is obtained from the plant maguey or agave. There are different varieties of maguey to obtain mezcal, it is estimated that there are about 100 different. The most used is the Sprat, which gives a distinctive flavor to this drink.

Although tequila is much more popular worldwide, it is a variety of mescal. Tequila is made with blue agave exclusively and is different in taste. Mezcal is usually distinguished by a much more smoky flavor, in addition to being between 35 and 50 degrees of alcohol, while tequila reaches 40 degrees.

It was originally known as “aguardiente” or “mezcal wine”. The latter name became only mezcal.

Mezcal bottle.

Image by Serafín Juan Juan

The origins of mezcal

Mezcal is a drink from Mexico. In recent years, research has been conducted that points to the pre-Hispanic production of this drink. Before, the most accepted theory involved the arrival of the Spaniards and with them the techniques with which mezcal is distilled.

There are multiple texts (from codices to relationship letters), in which the important place of pulque is told as a ritual drink. This fermented drink was reserved for priests and nobles on special occasions. There are also stories involving mead. However, little is known about mezcal.

It was the Arabs who produced the alquitaras in which the liquors were traditionally distilled. They arrived in Europe and produced multiple beverages. The Spaniards brought the alquitaras to America and used them for the same purposes. This is the most accepted theory around the origin of mezcal.

However, more recent archaeological discoveries point to the use of other instruments to achieve distillate. If less efficient than the current ones, but equally capable of producing mezcal.

Two shoots of mezcal with lime.

Image by Alejandra Mendoza Santillan

Legends of the mezcal

There are many stories around mezcal. To begin with, magueys were extremely important plants for the Mesoamerican peoples. From maguey they obtained fibers to make ropes and were also a source of food. Therefore many myths attributed a divine origin to him.

An Aztec myth tells that Mayaguel was a very beautiful woman, niece of the deity of the night sky. One night Mayaguel came down to earth to meet Quetzalcoatl and love each other. When her aunt realized she was gone, she searched the land for her and when she found her tangled with the feathered serpent, she rode in anger and destroyed her niece.

Quetzalcoatl, saddened, buried the bones of Mayahuel. From them began to grow the magueyes that would bring so much prosperity to men.

In turn, there were myths surrounding the very feeling of drunkenness. It was called Centzon-Totochtin, in Spanish 400 rabbits. The number 400 was synonymous with countless, so it was used instead of saying: “many”. It was believed that alcoholic beverages contained the spirits of these 400 rabbits and when someone drank from them was possessed by one. That’s why when people get drunk they react so differently, whether with laughter, crying, talking too much, or sleeping.

On the concrete origin of the mezcal, some say that it was lightning that burned the pineapples of the maguey giving that characteristic smoky flavor to the mezcal.

The production process of the mezcal

Person producing mezcal.

Image by Gérard Janot

Mezcal can be made with different processes. Generally, three types of mezcal are recognized according to their processes:

Simply Mezcal: this process uses industrial machinery, such as furnaces or steel stills.

Artisanal Mezcal: usually for the smoking of this type of mezcal traditional masonry ovens or the same type are used for the barbecue, that is an underground hole.

Mezcal Ancestral: this process does not allow any use of industrial machinery, that is, all processes are those that have been used for hundreds of years. For smoking traditional ovens are used, also to distill copper or clay stills are used and even to grind a donkey with a wheel that grinds in circles maguey.

All this gives variables in the flavor of each mezcal. In turn, each mezcalero master has his processes that give character to the drink. Without going into details of which instruments are used or which ingredients are added, this is the usual technique for making mezcal:

Maguey must be harvested when it is ripe. Maguey Espadín takes between 6 and 8 years to mature. To concentrate the sugar in the pineapple the flower is cut before it grows and 6-12 months later it can be harvested.

Then the pineapples are brought to cook. Cooking helps to obtain simple sugars that will later become alcohol. This process is what is done in ovens and what gives the smoked taste to the drink.

Then pass the cooked pineapples to grind. The purpose of this is to extract the fibers, juices, and sugars that will be fermented.

Then it goes into fermentation, in which the sugar is transformed into alcohol. This process can take about 30 days.

The next thing is distillation. In this process what is done is to wait for the water of the alcohol to take advantage of its two different boiling points. Usually 2 or 3 distillates are made.

Types of mezcal

Mezcal has different classifications depending on how it has been made, how it is composed, and whether it has spent some time in the barrel. In the previous section, we saw the classification according to the process. However, the remaining two classifications also influence the taste.

The composition of a mezcal depends on the mezcalero master. That is, the person faced with thinking about the “recipe” of mezcal. That is, what type of maguey will be used if you are going to include some fruit flavor, some seeds, or some animal or insect inside the bottle (such as maguey worms). These are the classifications difficult to know, because there are many variables and one does not exclude the other.

Finally, the classification that has to do with barrels is simpler:

Mezcales jóvenes: this means that this is a mezcal that was bottled directly after distillation. Mezcal enthusiasts say this is the real mezcal.

Mezcales reposados: they are those that have gone through a period in barrels of 2-12 months.

Mezcales añejos: these mezcales spend at least 12 months in the barrel.

Taste mezcal from Oaxaca

In 1994, the Mexican government gave mezcal its appellation of origin. The following states can produce mezcal under that name:

  • Guanajuato
  • Guerrero
  • Durango
  • Michoacán
  • Oaxaca
  • Puebla
  • San Luis Potosí
  • Tamaulipas
  • Zacatecas

Oaxaca is considered the capital of mezcal because it has excellent mezcal that put very high the nobility of this drink.

If you are planning a trip to Oaxaca I recommend that you continue reading:

Disfruta las raíces del mezcal, la bebida espiritual más antigua de México desde Quiegolani.

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