Mezcal is a drink that has become fashionable in Mexican restaurants and bars. Although its national and international fame is relatively recent, this distillate of the agave plant is an ancient beverage.
Mezcal is made out of the agave plant, an evergreen plant, whose leaves do not fall and which has an 8 to 14 years life cycle. The base of the plant matures shortly before blooming. According to Gustavo Munoz, a mezcal entrepreneur who has three restaurants and a distillery, the artisan process of the mezcal begins with knowing exactly when it is the right time to cut the plant, more or less about ten years after it was planted.
Once the plant has been harvested, it is stripped of its leaves, leaving it in the form of a pineapple, baked underground, over wood, for approximately four days, crushed with a stone mill pulled by a horse, donkey or mule; allowed the remains of the crushed agave, or mosto (concentrate) to ferment during approximately eight days and distilled in copper stills until it reaches, after a second distillation, slightly over 40 degrees of alcohol. There are variations such as breast, to which chicken or turkey pieces are added during distillation; or the one with the worm, which includes this insect living in the agave plant.
Depending on its sugars and the time it sits in wooden or oak containers, a mezcal can be young, enriched, reposado or aged. Some archaeological studies have shown that ancient pre-Hispanic cultures already prepared mezcal in 400 BC. Even the word mescal comes from the Nahuatl word mexcalli, meaning cooked maguey (agave), and an important Aztec goddess, Mayahuel, is the deity associated with the maguey and fertility. Although in the pre-Hispanic world the maguey was cultivated for medicinal and religious purposes, it was until the arrival of the Spaniards when the technique of distillates was introduced.
According to Gustavo Munoz, 29 of the 32 states in the country have, or have had, the agave tradition, but the designation of origin, obtained in 1997, recognizes that the name mezcal can only be used for the mezcal produced in Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas and Oaxaca. This latter state is especially famous throughout all of Mexico, due to its mezcal tradition. If you get a chance, visit the area called Region of the Mezcal, comprising the Municipalities of Sola de Vega Miahuatlan, Yautepec, Santiago Matatlan Talcolula, Ejutla, Ocotlan and Zimatlan. You should also try the different varieties of mezcal produced in the other Mexican states: the comiteco mezcal of Chiapas, the bacanora mezcal of Sonora, the sotol mezcal of Chihuahua, the raicilla and barranca mezcal of Jalisco and Nayarit, the tuxca or quitupan mexcal of Colima, and even the tequila, made exclusively from blue agave.
According to Gustavo Munoz, due to its tradition and history, the agave is to Mexico what the grape is to France; and due to its artisanal process, every year it is completely different and unique. To enjoy this delicious beverage, we suggest the restaurants of Gustavo, in Coyoacan, and the city of Oaxaca, as well as many bars in the main cities of Mexico.