Mezcál & Tequila

The word “mezcal” comes from the náhuatl language and the exact word mexcalli, coming from two words: metl and ixcalli. Metl signifies maguey (which is a type of agave) and ixcalli simply means cooked. Inhabitants of Mezoamerica used to use the cooked maguey as a meal. It has been proved that maguey is in use for over 9000 years. Maguey has diverse utilisation: serves as food, source of fibers for clothes and shoes, and a construction material to build light houses. Its spikes have been used as nails and needles for rituals and today maguey is used for the traditional medicine.

Because of its versatility, maguey was respected by ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica and they even assigned is a goddess, Mayahuel.

Sources from colonial time describe a wide variety of fermented beverage; which were produced before indigenous people entered in contact with Europeans. Beverages as pulque, tesgüino y pozol were part of important religious rituals, accessible to priests and noble people only.

There are 3 different theories about beginning of distilled beverages in Mesoamerica:

  1. First theory is that distillation started at the time of the Spanish Conquest in the XVI century. Spaniards brought copper, used by Arabs to obtain essences, and in Europe was used to produce distilled products. During their conquest, Spaniards met maguey and fermented beverages made from it, and simply decided to distill it to obtain beverages with more alcohol content.
  2. Second theory says that the process of distillation was brought to Mesoamerica by Filipino people during XVI century, coming from Manila. Firstly the sailors used to distill coconut water to obtain vodka. Filipino method employed cheap materials like wood and clay, thanks to that it was easy to adapt and develop the production on larger scale.
  3. The third theory says that the distillation process was known before Spaniards arrived to America (it is confirmed by archaeological remains). Distillation was known as early as 1500 BC and the local people used techniques different than the ones brought by Spaniards and Filipino.

Independently of its origin, the distillation process became very popular in the XVII century. Each city was producing its own distilled beverage using local maguey and wood, as well as clay and metal appliances. In such way every region of Mexico created their own unique brands of distilled beverages, with different instruments and methods of producing.

In that time mescal was known as a sort of vodka or plant wine. With time, the words vodka and wine disappeared, and the only word: mezcal remained.

In XVIII century production of mezcal became an industry.

During the New Spain and Spanish Colony consumption of mezcal has been prohibited as an abuse of public health and an act against royal interest, but in fact this prohibition supposed to boost import of alcoholic beverages from Europe.

Despite prohibition, mezcal was still widely produced in small farms and families.