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Mezcal: Drinkable Gold of Oaxaca

Look closer into the picture, notice how a new leaf is forming out. Only the edges are visible at that point but it will eventually separate. Someday, another leaf will form out of the new one. I think it is amazing and I celebrate the fact that this is visible to the eye.

But not only the eye gets to be delighted by Agave, also your taste buds can experience this joy through Mezcal in Oaxaca. Mezcal is an alcoholic beverage produced from the distillation of Agave. The name comes from from Nahuatl mexcalli [meʃˈkalːi] metl [met͡ɬ] and ixcalli [iʃˈkalːi] which means "oven-cooked agave".

The production of mezcal only started after the Spanish conquest, since they introduced the distillation process. Before that, the natives in Oaxaca drank simply fermented agave sap called Pulque. This is where Oaxaca is:

I took the following image at a Mezcaleria (shop where they show you the process of Mezcal, different plants, you get to taste them and possibly purchase your favourite).

Types of Mezcal

Each sort of mezcal depends on two variables: the sort agave it comes from and the time it has been aged. There are about 75 recognised sorts of agave so mezcal discovery can be a long term hobby or passion, just like wine. A very common one, often cheap and not really my favourite is the white mezcal. It is fresh and it has no gusano in it. Then there is the golden version, which is somewhat matured but not really aged. If often does have a gusano in it. Reposado has been left in barrels for a while. Personally, I would only recommend the two last ones.

Maguey or Agave?

If you go to Oaxaca, specially in the small towns they will tell you that mezcal is made of Maguey. Which is true, but Maguey is just a name for any of various types of fleshy-leaved agaves. Agave is the correct, specific category where mezcal and tequila can be made of. There are about 75 recognised species of Agave, of which 30 are most often used to make some 200 different types of Mezcal, the most common variety being Espadín.

Tequila VS Mezcal

There are 4 key reasons why mezcal is different from tequila:

  1. The production process for mezcal is different from tequila which leads to a distinctly different flavor profile for mezcal. Yes, both come from the same plant but the main difference is that tequila is distilled once and mezcal is distilled twice.

  2. Tequila can only be made, by law, with one variety of agave: the Blue Agave. Mezcal can be made with upwards of 30 varieties of agave, though most are made with the Espadin variety of Agave angustifolia (Haw).

  3. Tequila and mezcal are produced in different states of Mexico (though there is overlap). There is a town actually called Tequila, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. This is close to the famous city of Guadalajara. Mezcal is produced in many towns in the state of Oaxaca in the South of Mexico, by the pacific Ocean.

  4. Also, there is no such thing as "Tequila with a worm in it". Mezcal does often have a larva inside, which is an agave plague that is added to the bottle to enrich the taste and colour over time. Though often referred to as a worm, it is in fact the larval stage of a butterfly, in other words, a caterpillar. Tequila is sometimes drank in company of lemon and salt, while mezcal comes with "sal de gusano" which is a mix of salt, dry chilli and pulverized dry larvae, and sometimes, a slice of orange.

Mezcal not to be confused with Mescaline

Mezcal is produced from Agave. On the other side, Mescaline is a substance that occurs naturally in the peyote cactus. Mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine) is a naturally occurring psychedelic alkaloid of the phenethylamine class, known for its hallucinogenic effects comparable to those of LSD and psilocybin.

So, with mezcal you may get a little drunk but mescaline is in peyote and will make you hallucinate.

Para todo mal, mezcal (For all adversity, mezcal)

Para todo bien, también (For all good, too)


Mezcal del bueno, (Good mezcal,

mezcal a punto de veneno. (Mezcal about to be poisonous)

Coloquial sayings in the state of Mezcal, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Remember you can purchase a print of the cover image at

Thank you for reading!

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