Entertainment | July 2009
|Mescal and Beyond: The Lowdown on Semi-Illegal Mexican Spirits|
Richard Grant - Esquire
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July 24, 2009
In Mexico's backcountry, you seldom encounter tequila. Instead, you find bootlegged hooch and the firm belief that it will raise a man's soul to its true height. Mescal is the catchall term for these spirits distilled from varieties of the agave and usually sold in recycled plastic soda bottles.
In Oaxaca, they call it simply mescal, and the best of it is now sold in the U. S. It's overpriced at $60 or more but is smoky, complex, wonderful. In the mountains above Puerto Vallarta, bootleggers use the lechuguilla agave to make overproofed raicilla, the worst examples of which are terrifying.
In Chihuahua, bootleggers make sotol from the desert spoon agave, sometimes adding a rattlesnake to the jar to improve its healing properties. (Hours of foul burps is the most pronounced effect of two oily shots.)
In the cattle-ranching, marijuana-growing mountains of Sonora, they make bacanora, which is aged in oak and sometimes flavored with orange peel. It slides down exquisitely. There's now some legal bacanora in the U. S., but it tastes better in Sonora — best of all at a ranch wedding.
A hangover from any of these spirits elicits deep sympathy, with women proffering soup and men suggesting a traguito, a "little swallow," of the liquor in question. No one will blame you for overindulging. Mexicans have no Puritans in their history, and they understand that a hangover is a misfortune that can befall anyone.