After arriving in Mexico, one of the first things you will be exposed to, beside the sun, noise and colour, will be Tequila. It’s the absolutely favourite drink there, served anywhere and everywhere and it’s of fabulous quality. You can get a superb margarita pretty much anywhere you go – it’s their national cocktail and they make it the best in the world. As a margarita lover, I was gorging on it throughout my holiday and you know what? I think it was the best I ever had. You don’t get tired of it.
There are hundreds of types of Tequila, every state has their own brand and they all swear theirs is the best in the country. However, the best one of all, treated almost with the same veneration as the Saints, is the Oaxacan Mezcal. All spirits made of cactus qualify as Tequila however to be called “Mezcal” they need to be made only from the heart of Agave and can come only from certain areas: Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas. Although Oaxaca holds 570 of 625 Mezcal producing facilities in Mexico. Most Oaxacan distilleries are situated within and around beautiful Mitla Valley a home to the Unesco World Heritage Site of Milta with ruins of Zapotec town and absolutely amazing petrified waterfalls of Hierve el Agua and beautiful crystal clear shallow pools. Hundreds of small native villages whose populations are direct descendants of Zapotecs, who still use Nahuatl (Aztek) as their first language- they produce the best Mexican Mezcal making it the traditional way.
The best Mezcal done traditionally has a typical smoky taste achieved from baking the heart of Agave in the earth oven, covered with wood. It takes up to 12 hours to bake the heart. After it’s done, the flesh of the Agave’s heart turns really sweet; full of a thick sugary juice similar to a molasses, out of which after the fermentation pure Mezcal is distilled. Before the fermentation the juice needs to be extracted from the cactus flesh, which is really fibrous and tough so the chunks of cooked heart are put through a huge press –in old times powered by donkeys. You can see the whole process if you make a trip to one of the community distilleries, as I did. Its really great fun and you can taste dozens types of authentic Mezcal.
There are dozens if not hundreds of types of Mezcal and amazing Mezcal based liqueurs. They run from really potent to lighter more refined types, from younger brighter types to lovely smooth and smoky aged Tequila – my favourite style. If we are talking about the Mezcal liquors though, well there is only two requirements: firstly, they contain Mezcal and, secondly, they are low in alcohol- about 20%, besides that there are no rules. The producers don’t lack imagination still inventing new flavours, mixing the tequila with any type of fruit juice or herb they can get their hands on – coffee, candy, mint, chocolate, mango, papaya, toffee, tamarind, sweet potato, you name it they have it! They come in all flavours and colours of the rainbow.
Traditionally you should drink Mezcal straight (very traditionally from a bamboo shot glass) with a bit of chilli powder, salt and pinch of dried and grounded Agave worm, and a slice of blood orange. If you still fancy something to bite you may try a handful of deep fried crickets. Apparently, good Mezcal is only available in central Mexico, mainly in Oaxaca and its difficult to get the real stuff anywhere else so if you are there, stock up and don’t allow yourself to be cheated at the airport!