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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 4th decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

You don't find Mezcal.... Mezcal finds You

The Traditional Drink of Oaxaca, Mexico

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

As you may already know, Billy is a trained French Chef and we owned our restaurant in the Monterey Bay area of California for a decade. We weren't far from Napa Valley, and made regular visits to taste and purchase wines for our business.

In general, we travel the world tasting foods in the local area and drinking their beers, wines or spirits.

Oaxaca, Mexico, is a gastronomic powerhouse now, known for its international cuisine and for its mezcal.

You will enjoy this little summary and insight into this ancestral drink of Oaxaca.

Bottles and bottles and bottles of  Mezcal for sale, Oaxaca, Mexico

Bottles and bottles and bottles of Mezcal for sale

While most North Americans don't know much about Tequila (how it's made, how to sip it, or the history of it), at least they have heard of the drink.

Mezcal is a whole other world and one would be hard pressed to find a native of the States or Canada who could describe it.

There is a saying that you don't find Mezcal.

Mezcal finds you.

While Tequila can only be made from the blue agave plant, Mezcal, tequila's rustic cousin is made from one of the other 150 species of agave native to Mexico.

Eleven different varieties of agave from which Mezcal can be made are native to the Oaxaca, Mexico region. This abundance delivers 80% of all Mezcals to be made here.

Mezcal Oro de Oaxaca, Mexico

Restaurant sign says: Mezcal, Gold of Oaxaca

 

 

 

 

Mezcal can best be understood by simply tasting it next to tequila.

It's a smoky flavor, like a campfire, but some Mezcals are more subtle and gentle.

The native inhabitants of the Oaxaca area began distilling spirits approximately 400 years ago. They took the techniques they’d learned from Spanish conquerors and utilized the available ingredients in their environment.

The Spanish themselves began creating Mezcal when the supplies of liquor they had brought over ran out. To avoid conflict with the Spanish Crown, they opted to use the agave plant instead of grapes or sugar cane.

Oro de Oaxaca Mezcal began in 1985 and is considered to be one of the “scorpion Mezcals”

Los Amantes Mezcaleria, Oaxaca, Mexico

Los Amantes Mezcaleria

 "The Lovers" is an artisan Mezcal, made from 100% Espadín agave the most prevalent agave variety found in Oaxaca.

Although there are corporate businesses making Mezcal, in artisanal Mezcal production the pinas are cooked in an underground, earthen pit.

The volcanic rock lined pit is usually about ten feet wide and ten feet deep, cone-shaped down to the bottom. A fire is started in the bottom with wood and burns to embers heating the volcanic rocks to extreme heat. The pinas are then piled into the pit and covered with about a foot of earth. This underground “oven” now smokes, cooks and caramelizes the pina over a multi-day cooking process, imparting that smoky flavor.

 Open air restaurant, Oaxaca, Mexico

Downstairs restaurant in a hotel

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Mezcal is available in even the most humble of restaurants.

As in California's Napa Valley, every restaurant offers wine by the glass and wine by the bottle, it's the same here in Oaxaca with Mezcal. It's a good way to taste a variety of them in case you want to purchase a bottle at a later time of something you enjoyed.

In the States, premium Mezcal can go for $50, $100, or even $200 a bottle, and some feel they are paying for a bottle of drinkable art made in the traditional manner since the 1600’s.

Mezcal tasting room, Oaxaca, Mexico

Mezcal tasting room

Mezcal is a spirit regulated by the Mexican government, and these rules went into effect in 2003.

This regulation has become controversial for several reasons. The smaller artisanal provider cannot afford the certification and they have been making this beverage for generations. Others feel that the term "Mezcal" should not be owned by the state.

Since these uncertified makers are prohibited from using "Mezcal" on their products, they might use a term like "destilados de agave" or "agave spirits."

Rows and rows of mezcal, Oaxaca, Mexico

Rows and rows of Mezcal for sale

Some Mezcals are bottled with a small larva and are referred to as Mezcals con gusano, meaning “with worm".

This tradition is also controversial for various reasons, as the gusano changes the taste of the Mezcal. But then there is another style of distillation that includes vapor running over animal meats such as a chicken breast or a piece of lamb. This too, changes the taste of the final product giving a hint of smoky BBQ.

So you see, there is not just one way a Mezcal is made or preferred.

Probably most of these "arguments" are had after a few copitas of mezcal have been imbibed!

The best Mezcal is the one you like, and for the reasons you like it.

Crema de Agave Mezcal

Cream liqueurs have been popular for decades. The most well known is Irish Cream, and in the Caribbean rum creams are the rage. 

In Oaxaca, there are a wide variety of Mezcal-based cream liqueurs. Flavors run from mocha, cappuccino, pina colada, banana, guanabana, nut to sweet purple grape.

Mescal creams are generally low-proof, averaging between 12 and 18 percent alcohol. Their sweet pleasing flavor make them a perfect after-dinner treat. Some folks like to enjoy them over ice cream for dessert. Mezcal creams are not widely sold in the USA.

Many flavors  of crema de mezcal, Oaxaca, Mexico

Lots of crema de agave

 

 

 

 

Here you see more bottles of agave cream with pistachio mint, strawberry, nopale fruit, coconut and other tropical combinations.

400 conejos mezcal, Oaxaca, Mexico

400 Conejos Mezcal

Since this is a long-standing traditional drink of the inhabitants of Oaxaca, Mescal comes with a few wild stories.

In the olden days, the priests or shamans of the villages would use Mezcal to communicate with their spirit guides. Such drinks were exclusively for religious ceremonies and for the spiritual elite.

There is an ancestral belief that agave spirits were occupied by 400 rabbits. Those who ingested this distilled agave would be controlled by one of the 400 rabbits, but no one ever knew which rabbit you'd get with each Mezcal.

Each rabbit had a different personality and way of making you think and act.

So I guess if one misbehaved, they wouldn't say "The devil made me do it" - they would blame a rabbit!

400 Conejos is considered to be a rare Mezcal, made in Matatlan, Oaxaca and not exported.

This Mezcal is sipped and served with slices of orange and sal de gusano. I have had it in this way, and it is simply delicious. Most worth the experience.

aging barrels for mezcal, Oaxaca, Mexico

Aging barrels for Mezcal

The aging of spirits go back a long way. Scotch, brandy, tequila, bourbon - even wine and some beers are aged in barrels.

This imparts another flavor to the spirit, depending on if the barrels are smoked or if they held wine or sherry previously.

Mezcal purists seem to think that aging disqualifies this agave drink from being considered a quality sipping spirit. Their reasoning goes along the lines of aging in barrels masks the natural flavors of the agave itself. 

These sorts of arguments remind me of my childhood when scholars used to get all heated up over the question "How many angels are there on the head of a pin?"

But apparently, to some, this aging of Mezcal business is a big deal.

Back in the olden days, the distilled liquid was stored and transported in clay pots called "cantaros." But the cantaros were limited in size and were very vulnerable to breaking, hence the desire for barrels.

hand painted bottles of mezcal, Oaxaca, Mexico

Specialty bottles of Mezcal

On the right hand side of this photo you will see Gracias a Dios Agave Gin. Now to be a true gin, it must be grain-based, and this one is made from agave. I'm sure the purists don't like this idea either, but "Thanks to God Agave Gin" is agave and with 32 botanicals.

Some of the botanicals listed are corn, basil, epazote, chamomile, lime peel, orange peel, chaya, cinnamon, huizache, lemon balm, hoja santa, eucalyptus, cilantro, and alligator juniper tree.

On the left hand side are Quiereme Mucho Mezcals. These are painted by local artists using ancient techniques to create magical figures called Alebrijes. Their Mezcal is 100% organic and because each bottle is hand-painted, they all look slightly different.

El Sabio, in the center, means wise man. This must go back to the spiritually elite idea to communicate with the gods.

So I hope you enjoyed this little tour of Mezcals. Perhaps you'll give them a try the next time you see them on a drink menu.

I do recommend tiny sips, with a slice of orange on the side. It brings out a whole different quality to your experience.

 

For more photos and stories of Oaxaca, CLICK HERE

For more photos and stories on Mexico, CLICK HERE

For photos, fincas, stories, history and more about Tequila, CLICK HERE

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About the Authors

 
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on Amazon.com.

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