Competing Theories of the Roots of Agave Distillation in Mexico

We all know that fermenting was practiced in Mexico relationship to a number of thousand years in the past with the extraction of aguamiel (honey water) from sure species of the majestic agave succulent, which when left to ferment turns into pulque. And that agave itself in any other case has a historical past of getting used as a supply of diet going again roughly 10,000 years. However there is a massive distinction between (1) permitting fruit, agave nectar or anything to ferment, inhibiting its decomposition and enabling its imbibers to turn into inebriated, and (2) deliberate advance planning and the use sure instruments, leading to distillation (i.e. the manufacturing of mezcal).

Maybe the story of distillation and the historical past of mezcal in Mexico begins with the arrival of the Spanish throughout The Conquest within the first quarter of the 1500s. Or with Filipino seamen within the Manila galleon commerce who reached the nation’s western shores that very same century. Or with indigenous cultures some 2,500 years in the past. Mezcal in fact is Mexico’s iconic agave distillate, typically regarded as a generic time period, one subset of which is tequila, its extra widespread cousin.

We additionally know with an inexpensive diploma of certainty many specifics concerning the international historical past of distillation and types of nonetheless manufacture, all of which aids us in our conjecture. Nevertheless it have to be saved in thoughts that the majority is scientific hypothesis typically based mostly on inference, no matter how adamant our historians, geographers, chemists, biologists and anthropologists is perhaps of their discourse (or me in mine).

The Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula about 711 AD. We’ve them to thank for the introduction of many meals merchandise together with rice and saffron, integral within the preparation of Spanish paella. Regardless of their Islamic beliefs along with a prohibition in opposition to imbibing spirits, Moorish affect in Spain is linked with the distillation of mezcal.

Throughout or concerning the ninth century, the trendy alembic, or nonetheless, made with a serpentine condenser alongside, arrived in what’s now Spain as a consequence of the invention by Arab alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan. Non-Muslims who had been already fermenting grapes rapidly realized that distillation, for no matter goal initially supposed, might end in manufacturing of a excessive alcohol content material spirit extraordinarily agreeable to the palate.

And so when The Conquest started, the Spanish armed with this data got here throughout indigenous populations which had been already consuming pulque, and sure baked candy agave piñas (pineapples, or fairly the hearts of the carbohydrate-rich agaves) which had been fermented. The bridge had been gapped. It’s this fashion of nonetheless, the 2 sided alembic, which is continuously utilized in mezcal manufacturing at this time. It has been instructed nevertheless, that the know-how had its first utility within the distillation of sugar cane which the Spanish imported for rum manufacturing.

However all through varied elements of Mexico there’s a completely different kind of nonetheless being employed to make agave spirits together with mezcal. It’s a single unit comprised of two or extra items stacked on prime of each other, made primarily of wooden, steel and/or clay. It’s continuously encountered in Oaxaca, Michoacán, and elsewhere all through Mexico together with tequila nation (i.e. Jalisco and thereabouts).

It has been instructed that this kind of nonetheless was launched to what at the moment are Colima, Guerrero and/or Jalisco, throughout the 16th century by immigrants from the Philippines and the Solomon Islands who established a neighborhood for the aim of creating coconut plantations. Native supplies used of their homelands for fashioning small but efficient gear for making their coconut distillate, principally clay (and sure reed), had been obtainable on this new North American atmosphere. Actually, to at the present time the time period tuba, the fermented coconut liquid which was thereafter distilled, is utilized in some elements of Mexico to explain fermented agave, regardless of its origin.

Varied sources affirm that the beginnings of and motivation for the prohibition period in Mexico (sure, we additionally had prohibition) had been to guard the pursuits of Spanish brandy importers and rum producers, and to guarantee tax income. Banning manufacturing, sale and consumption of pulque, tuba and coconut distillate began the motion which finally result in full-scale prohibition. Nevertheless it was the portability of those small single unit and simply usual predominantly clay stills which (along with beneath floor ovens and stone fermentation chambers) made detection of distillation, together with the manufacturing of mezcal, all however inconceivable by the “revenuers.”


The 2016 publication of El mezcal, una bebida prehispánica at minimal makes us rethink our understanding of the origins of agave distillation in Mexico. Authors Mari Carmen Serra Puche and Jesús Carlos Lazcano Arce along with their associates from varied disciplines spent in extra of a decade researching in Oaxaca and Tlaxcala. They’ve purportedly debunked all earlier theories, having uncovered ovens containing burned stones with runoff stains they concluded after evaluation had been created by baked agave piñas. However has actually a whole lot of years of analysis and umpteen publications been thrown to the wind? Actually not. The foregoing discovering in and of itself shouldn’t be determinative, because it suggests nothing greater than changing carbohydrates to sugars, and an inexpensive probability of fermentation thereafter. It is the unearthing of pre-Hispanic pottery fragments they recognized as elements of stills, which is most vital, suggesting pre-Hispanic distillation relationship to maybe 2,500 years in the past. Others have beforehand proposed comparable theories, however that of Serra Puche and Lazcano Arce is essentially the most complete and convincing to this point.

Because the guide’s publication there was a substantial quantity of chest beating, a renewed or further sense of satisfaction that the indigenous peoples of Mexico didn’t want the Spanish nor the Filipinos to distill mezcal. In fact there may be tutorial significance to the latest work. However no matter origins, one can by no means take away from our Mexican brethren of predominantly pre-Hispanic heritage, that mezcal, the pre-eminent agave spirit, owes its current and exponentially rising reputation to not international pursuits, however fairly to its devoted artisanal producers, starting with subsistence way of life agave growers, and concluding with knowledgeable distillers.

Agave is Mexican. It has been of such significance over millennia that it warranted its personal goddess, Mayahuel. Her husband, Patecatl, was the god of pulque. But curiously there is no such thing as a pre-Hispanic deity for an agave distillate. Meals for thought.

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