By: Jessica Hubble | LCA’s Digital Marketing Specialist
Part 1: the history behind tequila’s rustic brother
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “all bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are bourbons.” The same goes for mezcal and tequila. All tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequilas. Tequila is a type of mezcal, just like bourbon is a type of whiskey.
Mezcal is defined as any agave-based liquor that is made in nine specific regions in Mexico. These regions include Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Michoacán, Puebla, and Oaxaca. While these regions are approved by the Mexican Regulatory Council for Mezcal Quality, Oaxaca is the most plentiful region boasting 85 percent of mezcal production.
Mezcal is made from the harvested core of the agave plant, called the “piña”. The agave plant is a succulent, not a cactus as many confuse it to be, that is pollinated by lesser long-nosed bats in the Mexican desert. Mezcal is produced by cooking the piña underground in earthen pits that are lined with lava rocks, wood, and charcoal before being distilled in clay pots. Some large-scale distillers have adopted modern methods, but the artisanal mezcal makers continue to use this traditional method which gives mezcal its distinctive smoky profile. After distillation, the mezcal is aged inside oak barrels between two months and a year.
It is unclear if the native people of Mexico had distilled liquor prior to the Spanish Conquest. However, the agave plant was a very sacred plant to the native people, and it was used in religious rituals, mythology, and to make everyday goods. Legend has it that Mezcal was created when lightning struck an agave plant, cooked the plant, opened it up, and released the juice inside, which became mezcal. This is why mezcal is nicknamed “elixir of the gods.”
Other folklore says that during and after the Spanish conquest that Spaniards brought their own supply of liquor from Europe. The Spaniards depleted their resources and sought alternatives to alcohol. Mexican natives introduced them to the agave plant and thus mezcal was born.
Before the conquest, drinking alcohol was taboo but, after the conquest, drinking alcohol became commonplace, sometimes resulting in public disorder. The Mexican government prohibited and restricted mezcal because of tax revenue issues and the potential for public disorder. This sordid history has given mezcal the name of “the moonshine of Mexico.”
Today, mezcal is produced the same way it was made 200 years ago. It is exported all over the world but, predominantly to the United States and Japan. More recently, U.S. spirits producers have been purchasing stake in mezcal which has contributed to its popularity. Bacardi, Pernod Ricard, and George Clooney were some of the first large producers to invest in mezcal and distribute the spirit globally.
Las Colinas has two locations, Mesa Mezcal and Texican Court, that have specialty mezcal drinks and flights that are perfect for both the mezcal novice and aficionado. Dive into the mezcal mania with me in part two to be released on October 21st, which happens to be National Mezcal Day!