“Ten cuidado de las cosas de la tierra; haz algo, corta leña, labra la tierra, planta nopales, planta magueyes. Tendrás qué beber, qué comer, qué vestir. Con eso estarás en pie, serás verdadero, con eso andarás. Con eso se hablará de ti. Se te alabará con eso te darás a conocer.”
-Huehuetlatolli Museo de Antropología e Historia. México
Mezcal is a traditional Mexican beverage that is obtained from the distillation of the fermented juices of the agave. This plant was brought to Europe to take advantage of the great quality thread that’s obtained from its leaves, and now it’s recognized as a part of the Mediterranean landscape. Agave has had a great cultural and economical importance, since a long time ago, to numerous Mexican indigenous villages. For centuries this noble plant has fed, dressed, sheltered, healed and elated the inhabitants of the territory known today as Mexico.The word “Mezcal” comes from the Nahuatl vocables meztl (agave) and ixcalli (to cook), therefore its literal meaning is “cooked agave”. There are 330 known agave species in the world, and Mexico has the largest concentration, with 220 endemic ones. From this extensive variety, it’s possible to distill more than 40 species to obtain Mezcal, both wild and cultivated, every one with many varieties and each one with unique characteristics and flavors. That’s why Mezcal can be considered one of the largest categories of spirits in the world.
There are several stories, inspired by Mezcal and the agave plant, that arise from the Mexican popular imagination and historic memory. In the Nahuatl mythology, the agave was considered the earthly representation of Mayahuel, goddess of fertility and abundance. It is said that this deity had forty thousand breasts that flowed with an exquisite juice she offered to her worshipers. Another popular legend, which seeks to explain the creation of Mezcal, says that a thunderbolt, falling on an agave, cooked the plant and produced this exquisite nectar. This is why Mezcal is considered to be heaven sent, the elixir of the gods.
It’s believed that the birth of Mezcal occurred when the Spanish conquistadors drained the reserves of alcohol they had brought from Europe. To face this scarcity, they started to search for alternative sources for its fabrication. That’s how they found some pre-Hispanic alcoholic beverages, like Pulque (fermented agave juice) which they refined, using a distillation process, to obtain what we know today as Mezcal. Consequently, this spirit was produced in the Spanish settlements were there existed the raw material for its fabrication. The State of Oaxaca, located in Southern Mexico, was one of the pioneers in the elaboration of this beverage, and it is nowadays, the State with more species of agave, and the territory that produces more than 90% of Mezcal nationwide.
Mezcal is a product of the syncretism of three cultures: Arab, European and Mesoamerican. After the con- quest, the Spaniards introduced in their new colony the distillation process that uses copper alembic stills, which they learned during the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. This method is still used nowadays in the small Mexican towns that produce artisanal Mezcal. Thus we can consider Mezcal a product of the mixture of civilizations.
In Mexico, Mezcal is considered one of the most repre- sentative beverages, since it takes part in the every- day life of its inhabitants. We can find it in different ce- remonies, which range from baptisms, serenades and festivals, to funerals, weddings and altars during Dia de los Muertos. It’s used to celebrate the victories and to comfort in times of distress. Always present, in joys and sorrows, from our birth to our death.
Nowadays there are Mezcalerías (tasting rooms spe- cialized in Mezcal) all around the world. We can find them in trendy cities such as: New York, Berlin, Paris, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Madrid and Barce- lona. This is how we know that the European market is ready to enjoy this unique and fascinating spirit called MEZCAL.