Mezcal (or mescal) ( // (
Agave is a genus of monocots native to the hot and arid regions of Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Some Agave species are also native to tropical areas of South America. The genus Agave is primarily known for its succulent and xerophytic species that typically form large rosettes of strong, fleshy leaves. Plants in this genus may be considered perennial, because they require several to many years to mature and flower. However, most Agave species are more accurately described as monocarpic rosettes or multiannuals, since each individual rosette flowers only once and then dies ; a small number of Agave species are polycarpic.
Nahuatl, known historically as Aztec, is a language or group of languages of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Varieties of Nahuatl are spoken by about 1.7 million Nahua peoples, most of whom live in central Mexico.
Agaves or magueys are found mainly in many parts of Mexico and all the way down to the equator, though most mezcal is made in Oaxaca.It can also be made in Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Michoacan and the recently approved Puebla. A saying attributed to Oaxaca regarding the drink is: "Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, también." ("For everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good as well.").
Oaxaca, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca, is one of the 31 states which, along with Mexico City, make up the 32 federative entities of Mexico. It is divided into 570 municipalities, of which 418 are governed by the system of usos y costumbres with recognized local forms of self-governance. Its capital city is Oaxaca de Juárez.
It is unclear whether distilled drinks were produced in Mexico before the Spanish Conquest.The Spaniards were introduced to native fermented drinks such as pulque, made from the maguey plant. Soon, the conquistadors began experimenting with the agave plant to find a way to make a distillable fermented mash. The result was mezcal.
The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, or the Spanish–Mexica War (1519–21), was the conquest of the Aztec Empire by the Spanish Empire within the context of the Spanish colonization of the Americas. There are multiple 16th-century narratives of the events by Spanish conquerors, their indigenous allies and the defeated Aztecs. It was not solely a contest between a small contingent of Spaniards defeating the Aztec Empire but rather the creation of a coalition of Spanish invaders with tributaries to the Aztecs, and most especially the Aztecs' indigenous enemies and rivals. They combined forces to defeat the Mexica of Tenochtitlan over a two-year period. For the Spanish, the expedition to Mexico was part of a project of Spanish colonization of the New World after twenty-five years of permanent Spanish settlement and further exploration in the Caribbean.
In brewing and distilling, mashing is the process of combining a mix of grains – typically malted barley with supplementary grains such as corn, sorghum, rye, or wheat – known as the "grain bill" with water and then heating the mixture. Mashing allows the enzymes in the malt to break down the starch in the grain into sugars, typically maltose to create a malty liquid called wort. The two main methods of mashing are infusion mashing, in which the grains are heated in one vessel, and decoction mashing, in which a proportion of the grains are boiled and then returned to the mash, raising the temperature. Mashing involves pauses at certain temperatures and takes place in a "mash tun" – an insulated brewing vessel with a false bottom.
Today, mezcal is still made from the heart of the agave plant, called the piña, in much the same way as it was 200 years ago.In Mexico, mezcal is generally consumed straight and has a strong smoky flavor. Though other types of mezcal are not as popular as tequila (made specifically from the blue agave in select regions of the country), Mexico does export the product, mostly to Japan and the United States, and exports are growing.
Tequila is a regional distilled beverage and type of alcoholic drink made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 65 km (40 mi) northwest of Guadalajara, and in the Jaliscan Highlands of the central western Mexican state of Jalisco. Aside from differences in region of origin, tequila is a type of mezcal. The distinction is that tequila must use only blue agave plants rather than any type of agave. Tequila is commonly served neat in Mexico and as a shot with salt and lime across the rest of the world.
Japan is an island country in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies off the eastern coast of the Asian continent and stretches from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea in the south.
The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.
Despite the similar name, mezcal does not contain mescaline or other psychedelic substances.
Mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine) is a naturally occurring psychedelic alkaloid of the phenethylamine class, known for its hallucinogenic effects comparable to those of LSD and psilocybin.
The agave was one of the most sacred plants in pre-Spanish Mexico, and had a privileged position in religious rituals, mythology and the economy. Cooking of the "piña" or heart of the agave and fermenting its juice was practiced. The origin of this drink has a myth. It is said that a lightning bolt struck an agave plant, cooking and opening it, releasing its juice. For this reason, the liquid is called the "elixir of the gods".However, it is not certain whether the native people of Mexico had any distilled liquors prior to the Spanish Conquest.
Upon introduction, these liquors were called aguardiente (literally fire water). The Spanish had known distillation processes since the eighth century and had been used to drinking hard liquor. They brought a supply with them from Europe, but when this ran out, they began to look for a substitute. They had been introduced to pulque and other drinks based on the agave or agave plant, so they began experimenting to find a way to make a product with a higher alcohol content. The result is mezcal.
Sugarcane and grapes, key ingredients for beverage alcohol, were two of the earliest crops introduced into the New World, but their use as source stocks for distillation was opposed by the Spanish Crown, fearing unrest from producers at home. Still requiring a source of tax revenue, alcohol manufactured from local raw materials such as agave was encouraged instead.
The drinking of alcoholic beverages such as pulque was strongly restricted in the pre-Hispanic period. Taboos against drinking to excess fell away after the conquest, resulting in problems with public drunkenness and disorder. This conflicted with the government's need for the tax revenue generated by sales, leading to long intervals promoting manufacturing and consumption, punctuated by brief periods of severe restrictions and outright prohibition.
Travelers during the colonial period of Mexico frequently mention mezcal, usually with an admonition as to its potency. Alexander von Humboldt mentions it in his Political Treatise on the Kingdom of New Spain (1803), noting that a very strong version of mezcal was being manufactured clandestinely in the districts of Valladolid (Morelia), Mexico State, Durango and Nuevo León. He mistakenly observed that mezcal was obtained by distilling pulque, contributing to its myth and mystique. Spanish authorities, though, treated pulque and mezcal as separate products for regulatory purposes.
Edward S. Curtis described in his seminal work The North American Indian the preparation and consumption of mezcal by the Mescalero Apache Indians: "Another intoxicant, more effective than túlapai, is made from the mescal—not from the sap, according to the Mexican method, but from the cooked plant, which is placed in a heated pit and left until fermentation begins. It is then ground, mixed with water, roots added, and the whole boiled and set aside to complete fermentation. The Indians say its taste is sharp, like whiskey. A small quantity readily produces intoxication."This tradition has recently been revived in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Internationally, mezcal has been recognized as an Appellation of Origin (AO, DO) since 1994.There is also a Geographical Indication (GI), originally limited to the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosí, Puebla and Zacatecas. Similar products are made in Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas, but these have not been included in the mezcal DO.
Within Mexico, mezcal is regulated under Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM) regulations, originally NOM-070-SCFI-1994 (in 1994), by the industry body Consejo Mexicano Regulador de la Calidad del Mezcal A.C. (COMERCAM, the Mexican Regulatory Council for Mezcal Quality). This regulation became law in 2003, and certification began in 2005.
The regulations have been controversial, not only from small artisanal producers for whom the cost of certification is prohibitive, but also from traditional producers outside the chosen GI states. Not only are the latter prohibited from calling their product Mezcal, under the new regulation NOM 199 issued in late 2015, they must label it Komil, a little-known word for intoxicating drink from the Nahuatl language, and must not list the varieties of agave and maguey that are used.
In Canada, products that are labelled, packaged, sold or advertised as Mezcal must be manufactured in Mexico as Mezcal under the stipulated guidelines. However, Canadian laws also allow for local bottling and resale of imported Mezcal, after its alcohol percentage has been adjusted with the addition of distilled or purified water.
The agave plant is part of the Agavaceae family, which has almost 200 subspecies (see: list of Agave species).The mezcal agave has very large, thick leaves with points at the ends. When it is mature, it forms a "piña" or heart in the center from which juice is extracted to convert into mezcal. It takes between seven and fifteen years for the plant to mature, depending on the species and whether it is cultivated or wild. Agave fields are a common sight in the semi-desert areas of Oaxaca state and other parts of Mexico.
Mezcal is made from over 30 agave species, varieties, and subvarieties, in contrast with tequila, which is made only with blue agave.Of many agave species that can be used to make mezcal, seven are particularly notable. There is no exhaustive list, as the regulations allow any agaves, provided that they are not used as the primary material in other governmental Denominations of Origin. Notably, this regulation means that mezcal cannot be made from blue agave. The term silvestre "wild" is sometimes found, but simply means that the agaves are wild (foraged, not cultivated); it is not a separate variety.
Most commonly used is espadín "smallsword" ( Agave angustifolia (Haw.), var. espadín),the predominant agave in Oaxaca. The next most important are arroqueño ( Agave americana (L.) var. oaxacensis, sub-variety arroqueño), cirial ( Agave karwinskii (Zucc.)), barril ( Agave rodacantha (Zucc.) var. barril), mexicano ( Agave macroacantha or Agave rhodacantha var. mexicano, also called dobadaan) and cincoañero ( Agave canatala Roxb). The most famous wild agave is tobalá ( Agave potatorum (Zucc.)). Others include madrecuixe, and tepeztate. Various other varieties of Agave karwinskii are also used, such as bicuixe and madrecuixe.
Traditionally, mezcal is handcrafted by small-scale producers.A village can contain dozens of production houses, called fábricas or palenques, each using methods that have been passed down from generation to generation, some using the same techniques practiced 200 years ago.
The process begins by harvesting the plants, which can weigh 40 kg each, extracting the piña, or heart, by cutting off the plant's leaves and roots. The piñas are then cooked for about three days, often in pit ovens, which are earthen mounds over pits of hot rocks. This underground roasting gives mezcal its intense and distinctive smoky flavor. They are then crushed and mashed (traditionally by a stone wheel turned by a horse) and then left to ferment in large vats or barrels with water added.
The mash is allowed to ferment, the resulting liquid collected and distilled in either clay or copper pots which will further modify the flavor of the final product.The distilled product is then bottled and sold. Unaged mezcal is referred to as joven, or young. Some of the distilled product is left to age in barrels between one month and four years, but some can be aged for as long as 12 years. Mezcal can reach an alcohol content of 55%. Like tequila, mezcal is distilled twice. The first distillation is known as ordinario, and comes out at around 75 proof (37.5% alcohol by volume). The liquid must then be distilled a second time to raise the alcohol percentage.
Mezcal is highly varied, depending on the species of agave used, the fruits and herbs added during fermentation and the distillation process employed, creating subtypes with names such as de gusano, tobalá, pechuga, blanco, minero, cedrón, de alacran, creme de café and more.A special recipe for a specific mezcal type known as pechuga uses cinnamon, apple, plums, cloves, and other spices that is then distilled through chicken, duck, or turkey breast. It is made when the specific fruits used in the recipe are available, usually during November or December. Other variations flavor the mash with cinnamon, pineapple slices, red bananas, and sugar, each imparting a particular character to the mezcal. Most mezcal, however, is left untouched, allowing the flavors of the agave used to come forward.
Not all bottles of mezcal contain a "worm" (actually the larva of a moth, Hypopta agavis , that can infest agave plants), but if added, it is added during the bottling process.There are conflicting stories as to why such would be added. Some state that it is a marketing ploy. Others state that it is there to prove that the mezcal is fit to drink, and still others state that the larva is there to impart flavor.
The two types of mezcal are those made of 100% agave and those mixed with other ingredients, with at least 80% agave. Both types have four categories. White mezcal is clear and hardly aged. Dorado (golden) is not aged but a coloring agent is added. This is more often done with a mixed mezcal. Reposado or añejado (aged) is placed in wood barrels from two to nine months. This can be done with 100% agave or mixed mezcals. Añejo is aged in barrels for a minimum of 12 months. The best of this type are generally aged from 18 months to three years. If the añejo is of 100% agave, it is usually aged for about four years.
Mexico has about 330,000 hectares cultivating agave for mezcal, owned by 9,000 producers.Over 6 million liters are produced in Mexico annually, with more than 150 brand names.
The industry generates about 29,000 jobs directly and indirectly. Certified production amounts to more than 2 million liters; 434,000 liters are exported, generating 21 million dollars in income. To truly be called mezcal, the liquor must come from certain areas. States that have certified mezcal agave growing areas with production facilities are Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, Puebla, Michoacan, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas. About 30 species of agave are certified for use in the production of mezcal.Oaxaca has 570 of the 625 mezcal production facilities in Mexico, but some in-demand mezcals come from Guerrero, as well. In Tamaulipas, 11 municipalities have received authorization to produce authentic mezcal with the hopes of competing for a piece of both the Mexican national and international markets. The agave used here is agave Americano, agave verde or maguey de la Sierra, which are native to the state.
In Mexico, mezcal is generally drunk straight, rather than mixed in a cocktail.Mezcal is generally not mixed with any other liquids, but is often accompanied with sliced oranges, lemon or lime sprinkled with a mixture of ground fried larvae, ground chili peppers, and salt called sal de gusano, which literally translates as "worm salt".
In the US, mezcal has increasingly become a prominent ingredient on many craft cocktail menus. Often mezcal is swapped for a more traditional spirit, in cocktails such as the "Mezcal Old Fashioned" and the "Mezcal Negroni".
In the last decade or so, mezcal, especially from Oaxaca, has been exported.Exportation has been on the increase and government agencies have been helping smaller-scale producers obtain the equipment and techniques needed to produce higher quantities and qualities for export. The National Program of Certification of the Quality of Mezcal certifies places of origin for export products. Mezcal is sold in 27 countries on three continents. The two countries that import the most are the United States and Japan. In the United States, a number of entrepreneurs have teamed up with Mexican producers to sell their products in the country, by promoting its handcrafted quality, as well as the Oaxacan culture strongly associated with it.
The state of Oaxaca sponsors the International Mezcal Festival every year in the capital city, Oaxaca de Juárez. There, locals and tourists can sample and buy a large variety of mezcals made in the state. Mezcals from other states, such as Guerrero, Guanajuato, and Zacatecas also participate. This festival was started in 1997 to accompany the yearly Guelaguetza festival. In 2009, the festival had over 50,000 visitors, and brought in 4 million pesos to the economy.
Agave americana, common names sentry plant, century plant, maguey or American aloe, is a species of flowering plant in the family Asparagaceae, native to Mexico, and the United States in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. Today, it is cultivated worldwide as an ornamental plant. It has become naturalized in many regions, including the West Indies, parts of South America, the southern Mediterranean Basin, and parts of Africa, India, China, Thailand, and Australia.
Agave tequilana, commonly called blue agave or tequila agave, is an agave plant that is an important economic product of Jalisco, Mexico, due to its role as the base ingredient of tequila, a popular distilled beverage. The high production of sugars named agavins, mostly fructose, in the core of the plant is the main characteristic that makes it suitable for the preparation of alcoholic beverages.
Santiago de Tequila is a Mexican town and municipality located in the state of Jalisco about 60 km from the city of Guadalajara. Tequila is best known as being the birthplace of the drink that bears its name, “tequila,” which is made from the blue agave plant, native to this area. The heart of the plant contains sugars and had been used by native peoples here to make a fermented drink. After the Spanish arrived, they took this fermented beverage and distilled it, producing the tequila known today. The popularity of the drink and the history behind it has made the town and the area surrounding it a World Heritage Site. It was also named a "Pueblo Mágico" in 2003 by the Mexican federal government. Tequila has also been famous for being the prime setting in the successful Televisa telenovela Destilando Amor, starring Angélica Rivera and Eduardo Yáñez.
San Pablo de Mitla is a town and municipality in Mexico which is most famous for being the site of the Mitla archeological ruins. It is part of the Tlacolula District in the east of the Valles Centrales Region. The town is also known for its handcrafted textiles, especially embroidered pieces and mezcal. The town also contains a museum which was closed without explanation in 1995, since when its entire collection of Zapotec and Mixtec cultural items has disappeared. The name “San Pablo” is in honor of Saint Paul, and “Mitla” is a hispanization of the Nahuatl name “Mictlán.” This is the name the Aztecs gave the old pre-Hispanic city before the Spanish arrived and means “land of the dead.” It is located in the Central Valleys regions of Oaxaca, 46 km from the city of Oaxaca, in the District of Tlacolula.
Sotol is a distilled spirit sourced from Dasylirion wheeleri, Asparagaceae, a plant that grows in northern Mexico, New Mexico, west Texas, and the Texas Hill Country. It is known as the state drink of Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila, and is also currently produced in Central Texas. There are few commercial examples available. It is produced in a manner similar to the more common artisanal mezcals of central Mexico. The flowering stem of sotol is one of the best materials for making a friction fire, as it is straight, light in weight, and strong. As it is straight, the stem requiring little to no straightening prior to use, it was commonly used as a lance and spear, the latter with an attached stone or metal point.
Jose Cuervo is a brand of tequila. It is the best-selling tequila in the world, with a 35.1% market share of the tequila sector worldwide and a 33.66% share of the US tequila sector as of July 2013. As of 2012, Jose Cuervo sells 3.5 million cases of tequila in the US annually, and a fifth of the world's tequila by volume.
A mezcal worm is an insect larva found in some types of mezcal produced in Oaxaca, Mexico. The larva is usually either a gusano rojo or a chinicuil, the caterpillar of the Comadia redtenbacheri moth. The red worm is typically considered tastier.
A jimador is a type of Mexican farmer who harvests agave plants, which are harvested primarily for the production of mezcal, sotol and tequila. This task requires the skill of identifying ripe agave, which ripens in between 8 and 12 years. Unripe agave can have a bitter or overly sweet taste, ruining the distilled spirits made from them. The primary tool of a jimador is the coa de jima or simply coa. This is a flat-bladed knife at the end of a long pole that resembles a hoe. The coa is used to first remove the flower from the agave, which causes the central pineapple to swell. Later, the piña is harvested, using the same tool to cut off all of the external leaves of the plant, leaving only the pulpy center which is then chopped and cooked in preparation for the mezcal or tequila production.
Raicilla is a distilled spirit, originating in the south western portion of the Mexican state of Jalisco. Like tequila and mezcal, it is a product of the agave plant.
Don Julio is a brand of tequila produced in Mexico. It is the largest brand in value and eighth largest in volume. It is distilled, manufactured, bottled, sold, and distributed by Tequila Don Julio, S.A. de C.V. from its corporate facility in the Colonia El Chichimeco district, in the city of Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco, Mexico. It is distributed in the United States by Diageo, under licensing from its patent holder, Tequila Don Julio, Sociedad Anónima de Capital Variable, Jalisco, Mexico, but it is sold worldwide.
Voodoo Tiki is a brand of tequila, produced by Voodoo Tiki Tequila Corporation, made of 100% blue agave, and available in the US other several other Countries including, Canada, The Caribbean, Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Oaxacan cuisine is a regional cuisine of Mexico, centered on the city of Oaxaca, the capital of the state of the same name located in southern Mexico. Oaxaca is one of Mexico's major gastronomic, historical, and gastro-historical centers whose cuisine is known internationally. Like the rest of Mexican cuisine, Oaxacan food is based on staples such as corn, beans and chile peppers, but there is a great variety of other ingredients and food preparations due to the influence of the state's varied geography and indigenous cultures. Corn and many beans were first cultivated in Oaxaca. Well known features of the cuisine include ingredients such as chocolate, Oaxaca cheese, mezcal and grasshoppers (chapulines) with dishes such as tlayudas, Oaxacan style tamales and seven notable varieties of mole sauce. The cuisine has been praised and promoted by food experts such as Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless and is part of the state's appeal for tourists.
Pulquerías are a type of tavern in Mexico that specialize in serving an alcoholic beverage known as pulque. Established during early colonial rule, pulquerías remained popular venues for Mexican socializing until the mid-20th century. They were associated with extravagant decorations and names, social drinking, music, dancing, gambling, fighting, crime, and sexual promiscuity. Central to daily life and culture in Mexico, government authorities throughout history generally saw them as threats to the social order and the progress of the nation. Numerous restrictions were later put on pulquerías and the sale of pulque. Today, there are very few pulquerías left operating in Mexico.
The Cocuy Liquor or Cocuy is an alcoholic beverage from the fermented juices of the head, body or leaves of Agave cocui, autochthonous plant from the American tropic, extracted by the artisans in the regions of Falcón and Lara, in Venezuela. Both the plant and their products have been declared by government decree as a cultural and natural heritage of the Falcon State (October 2000), cultural heritage of the Lara State (November 2001)1 and cultural and ancestral heritage of Venezuela (July 2006).
Maguey worms, are one of two species of edible caterpillars that infest maguey and Agave tequilana plants.
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