Tequila is made from blue agave and by law must be made in the state of Jalisco (and a few other limited regions) so the rest of the Mexico had to come up with another name for their spirit. Oaxaca is famous for its Mezcal, tequila's strong, smokey, badass older brother, which for the most part is made today exactly the same was it was made 200 years ago. It is distilled from the Maguey plant (a type of Agave plant). There are over 200 different species of Maguey used to make the spirit and over six million litres of the stuff is produced in Mexico annually.

We visited a local Mezcaleria last weekend who gave us the run down on how its made. It takes 7 years for the Maguey plant to mature to the stage where it  is ready to turn into Mezcal. The factory cuts off the leaves and the roots and uses the 'pina' (the heart) of the plant. To extract the juice the heart is cooked in a pit in the ground for up to 4 days, covered with earth and hay, kinda like an 'Umu' back home. After its cooked the skins are removed and the insides shredded. The shredded Agave is then mushed into a pulp by a donkey pulling a stone wheel (although the donkey we watched seemed like he might have taken a few too many tasters of the mashed substance, as his tongue was lolling drunkenly out of the side of his mouth!). Rumour has it that the old recipes for Mezcal required two chickens or turkey breasts to be placed in the mash during fermentation to add flavour, but I'm pretty sure that practice doesn't happen at the main factories today. After it has been left to ferment, the pulp is placed into a distiller and the final product is placed into American Oak barrels to start the ageing process.

The young Mezcal, basically straight from the distiller, is  called aguadiente (firewater) for a reason! As you place the shot glass to your lips the white lightening immediately starts to burn. Its that drink that you can smell from across the room, its aroma more like petrol, or moonshine, than the delicacy the locals speak of. However, the aged varieties are a different story. The 'Anejo' (aged for 8 years) goes down like a smooth whiskey, warming you on the inside. The typical way to drink Mezcal is to sip it, or shot it, followed by an orange slice dipped in worm salt (salt, chilli and the ground up worm from the bottom of the bottle). The fabricas (factories) also make creamy varieties these days - similar to kahlua and baileys - which are way too easy to drink! With flavours like chocolate, passionfruit, hazelnut, mango or pistachio and an alcohol content of up to 55% we were happily on our way by the time we had finished with our free samples!
Picture
The cooked agave
Picture
The shredded agave
Picture
Drunken donkey ready to roll!
Picture
The distilling process
Picture
The good stuff!
Picture
So many choices! (plus a pretty cheesy grin after 10 or 12 free samples!)
 





Leave a Reply.