Mezcal: Savoring Mexico's Heritage Spirit

By Ivan PetrenkoApr 26, 2024 16:30 PMNews
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A bottle of mezcal riessanal sitting on a bed of gravel
A bottle of mezcal riessanal sitting on a bed of gravel. Source: unsplash

Mezcal, the robust cousin of tequila, offers a rich tapestry of flavor and tradition, deeply rooted in the culture of southern Mexico, particularly Oaxaca. This centuries-old spirit is crafted from various native agave plants, contrasting with tequila’s sole use of blue agave. Mezcal's production methods, unchanged since the 16th century, involve smoking the agave hearts underground and distilling the extract in handcrafted clay or copper pots.

Oaxaca, the heartland of mezcal, is home to numerous artisanal distilleries where this spirit is not just produced but celebrated. Graciela Ángeles Carreño, a fourth-generation mezcal producer at Real Minero, emphasizes the cultural significance of mezcal, stating, "Mezcal isn't just something we make; it's a part of who we are." Her family has nurtured their mezcal-making tradition for centuries, using local clay pots and employing ancient distillation methods that have been passed down through generations.

The unique preparation process of mezcal contributes to its distinctive smoky flavor, which can vary from 38% to 55% alcohol by volume. True connoisseurs recommend enjoying mezcal neat, accompanied traditionally by a slice of orange and sal de gusano—a savory mix of salt, chili, and ground agave worms.

For those wishing to delve deeper into the mezcal experience, Oaxaca offers palenque tours, such as those at Real Minero, where visitors can witness the intricate production process and sample the spirit amidst the landscapes that birth it. Here are three notable distilleries to explore in Oaxaca:

  1. Mezcal FaneKantsini: Led by master mezcalera Sosima Olivera Aguilar, this cooperative is part of the Tres Colibri group and stands out for its commitment to gender equality in the industry.
  2. La Candelaria: Run by Eduardo ‘Lalo’ Angeles, this distillery in Santa Catarina Minas is renowned for its use of traditional clay pots and offers unique varieties like pechuga, which includes a raw chicken breast in the distillation process.
  3. Gracias a Dios: Located in Santiago Matatlán, this palenque is focused on sustainability, using recycled materials and rainwater irrigation, while also contributing to local reforestation efforts.

Exploring these distilleries provides insight into the sustainable practices and deep cultural roots that define the mezcal production process—a true embodiment of Mexican heritage and craftsmanship.

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