Mezcal

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Mezcal, or mescal, is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant (a form of agave, Agave americana) native to Mexico. The word “mezcal” comes from Nahuatl “mexcalmetl,” meaning maguey.

The maguey grows in many parts of Mexico, though most mezcal is made in Oaxaca.[1] There is a saying attributed to Oaxaca regarding the drink: "para todo mal, mezcal y para todo bien también" (for everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good, too.)[2][3]

It is unclear whether distilled drinks were produced in Mexico before the Spanish Conquest.[4] The Spaniards were introduced to native fermented drinks such as pulque, also made from the maguey plant. Soon the conquistadors began experimenting with the maguey plant to find a way to make a distillable fermented mash. The result was mezcal.[5]

Today, mezcal is still made from the heart of the maguey plant, called the piña, much the same way it was 200 years ago in most places.[2][6] In Mexico, mezcal is generally drunk straight and has a strong smoky flavor.[6] Though not as popular as tequila (a mescal made specifically from the blue agave in select regions of the country), Mexico does export the product, mostly to Japan and the United States, and exports are growing.[7]

Despite the similar name, mezcal does not contain mescaline or other psychedelic substances.[8]

Contents

History of mezcal

The maguey was one of the most sacred plants in pre-Hispanic Mexico, and had a privileged position in religious rituals, mythology and the economy. Cooking of the “piña” or heart of the maguey and fermenting its juice was known. The origin of this drink has a myth. It is said that a lightning bolt struck an agave plant, cooking and opening it, releasing its juice. For this reason, the liquid is called the “elixir of the gods.”[9] However, it is not certain whether the native peoples of Mexico had any distilled liquors prior to the Spanish Conquest.[4]

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