The 15 of us are slapping tequila onto our hands and rubbing it in as it remarkably leaves no trace and a refreshing scent builds in the room. We’re in the the bright interior of Mestizo market enjoying our first Mexican themed activity of the night as part of our Level 2 Spanish course final social lesson - a mezcal tasting workshop. We are told with confidence by our expert guide Ollie that this is what Jalisco, the local town where tequila was born, smells like 24/7.
Ollie, the educator from Tequila José Cuervo, is a resorvoir of incredible facts about tequila and its related cousin mezcal which is now growing in popularity in the UK.
Did you know? (16 Fun facts about mezcal)
1. Mezcal has its origin 3,000 years ago with the Aztecs.
2. Agua miel is a gorgeous nectar from the agave plant (we tried some) which was originally made into a weaker beer called pulque.
3. The cactus agave was so revered by the Aztecs that the peasants could not touch it - they were only allowed to eat the insects and creatures that lived on the agave plant. To this day in the south of Mexico mezcal is served with a salt made with crushed worms and chilli.
4. It was only after the Spanish conquest of the region briging distillation techniques (which they the Egyptians had previously introduced to Europe) that the modern mezcal was born.
5. Mezcal is the oldest liquor in Latin America.
6. Mezcal is made from the heart of the agave plant which it is called the piña (pineapple) becuase of its appearance.
7. The heart of the agave plant is used to produce a sticky sweet substance called agua miel.
8. The piña is cooked in wood-burning ovens in the ground which is where the smoky flavour comes from.
9. Tequila is a type of mezcal which originated in the town of Jalisco in the Tequila state.
10. Tequila comes from the Aztec word tequila which comes from the abundant local rock of the same name in that region and means (good for cutting).
11. Oaxaca in the south is the home of traditional mezcal.
12. The prohibition of mezcal in the 1600s arose as people were dying from this new spirit. It pushed mezcal underground for over a hundred years.
13. Don José Cuervo arrived in Jalisco determined to bring the traditional spirit to the light. He refined the production method of mezcal creating the unique tequila strand. He was finally given royal recognition and permission in 1758 and was alloted plots of land to produce tequila.
14. The tequila brand is highly protected and of the nine states in Mexico that make mezcal today only five of them are authorised to produce tequila.
15. The processing of the mezcal can actually produce a substance that is irritating to the skin but the same plant amazingly produces a special cream has also been made from the agave nectar which protects the skin from this irritation.
16. To this day the harvesting and production of tequila is led by families of experts that pass the knowledge down through the generations.
It was a session of vivid experiences and a fun exploration of Mexican tradition. Ollie wrapped up by sharing a quote guiding the work in Jalisco today: “from the agave I will draw my strength and invest into the land”.
Spanish words linked to mezcal
El agua miel - the honey water
El horno - the oven
La leña - the firewood
El guisante - the worm
La piedra - the stone
El mito - the myth
El sol - the sun
El jimador - the harvestor
El machete - the machete
Ahumado - smokey
Reposado - resting
La prohibición - prohibition
Los añejos - aged mezcal
La piña - the pinneapple (and name for the heart of the agave cactus)
La sal - the salt
- By Carla