American Latino Magazine The Business of El Mariachi - Page 12

The Spirits of Mexico If one asks someone to name the spirits produced in Mexico, invariably “tequila” will be at or near the top of their list. Tequila is by far the spirit that enjoys the greatest production, consumption, exportation, and notoriety of all the Mexican spirits. There are, however, several other spirits produced in Mexico, many of which are beginning to gain a foothold in the highly competitive marketplace. They vary by type of agave, by method of production, and by region of origin. One of the spirits, sotol, is made from a plant that is actually not an agave. MEZCAL It is theorized that the indigenous peoples of Mexico developed distillation methods prior to the arrival of the European conquistadors. Large-scale distillation of spirits did, however, occur after the arrival of the Spaniards in Central Mexico. The Spanish stores of imported brandy were soon depleted, and they began to look for a suitable alternative. They discovered that the local populations drank a beverage called “octli”, or “pulque”, which was the fermented juice of the maguey plant (the agave plant native to the region). The Spaniards introduced the alembic still, which they used to distill the fermented agave juice into a high-proof spirit. This they called “vino de mescal”, which was later shortened to “mescal” or “mezcal”. As the industry evolved, the most well-known mezcal was produced in an area close to the town of Tequila in the state of Jalisco. This “mezcal de Tequila” later became known simply as “tequila”. Tequila as we know it today is produced only from a specific type of agave: Agave Azul Tequilana Weber, and can be grown and produced only in the state of Jalisco and certain municipalities in surrounding states and in the state of 12 Tamaulipas. Tequila itself has seen great demand and popularity the world over. Production of mezcal in other regions has continued over the years, but was seen mainly as a cottage industry. Recently, however, mezcal has become much better known and its demand as greatly increased. Mezcal now has a certification process similar to tequila, and its production is limited to certain states. The largest production is in the state of Oaxaca, but other states with certified agave growing areas with production facilities are Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas. The types of agave used vary by region, but the most widely used is the species known as “espadin”. Other varieties used include “tobala”, “madrecuixe”, “arroqueño”, and “agave verde”. One of the biggest differences between tequila and mezcal production is the way in which the agave is cooked prior to fermentation. The agave for mezcal is cooked in the traditional AMERICAN LATINO MAGAZINE • BRINGING PEOPLE, BUSINESS AND CULTURE TOGETHER Dr. Tequila a.k.a. Dr. Adolfo Murillo owner, Tequila Alquimia stone-lined pits. After burning hardwoods down to embers, the agave cores are placed in the pits, then covered for 2 to 3 days. This slow wood-fire roasting gives mezcal its characteristic smokey flavor and aroma. The juices are then fermented in wood or clay vats, and then distilled in copper stills. A double distillation yields a high-proof mezcal, whose alcohol content can then be adjusted by adding water. Not all bottles of mescal will contain a worm (the worm is actually the larva of a moth, Hypopta agavis, which infests agave plants). There are different stories as to why the worm is added to b