Culture

Mexico’s Mezcal Is Taking Over The Globe And Here Are 17 Reasons Why

Mezcalalipus/ Instagram

As the traditional Mexican saying goes: “For everything bad, mezcal.  For everything good, mezcal”. The word mezcal comes from the Nahuatl mexcalli, which means “cooked agave”. This drink is one of the most popular spirits in the world. From the depths of Southwest Mexico, mezcal has conquered top shelves in the best bars in the planet, and has established itself as a Latin American alternative to whisky. Yes, Ashley Judd, we are with you!

Here are some facts you might not know about one of Mexico’s best gastronomic exports!

1. Mezcal is sort of like tequila, but not quite (it is kind of the classy, distinguished cousin!)

Credit: Instagram. @laperlamezcaleria

One of the biggest misconceptions about mezcal is that it is the same as tequila. They are not. The difference lays in three factors: the type of plant, the region that it comes from the production methods. Mezcal is made from up to 28 different varieties of agave, while tequila can only be produces using blue agave. Tequila comes from Jalisco, while mezcal comes traditionally from the state of Oaxaca and some regions of Guerrero and Michoacan. Last but not least: mezcal is produces using traditional methods, while tequila is now being mass manufactured. 

2. Mezcal is as “organic” as it gets.

Credit: Instagram. @mezcal.xaman

Mezcal was fully “organic” before the word started to be used as a marketing ploy. Most mezcal producers follow the traditional method of using in-ground pits. The agave hearts, or piñas, are slowly grilled over hot rocks in a cone-shaped pit. A fire burns for about 24 hours to heat the stones that line the pit. The piñas are put into the pit and then covered with moist agave fiber. The piñas are then cooked for two or three days. Wow.

We mean, just look at this. Can’t get more “organic” than that! 

3. Mezcal production requires tons of patience: each agave plant takes up to a decade to grow.

Credit: Instagram. @frijolitomezcalero

 These baby agaves (cute, right?) are being planted in the Gracias a Dios palenque (the term used for agave fields) in Oaxaca. It will take years of the proper irrigation, light conditions and care for them to grow into usable plants from the Tobala variety.

These ones took seven years to grow. That is 61,320 days. That is a long but worthy wait for an elixir that will take a few hours to be consumed! 

4. These are the types of mezcal you can enjoy.

Credit: Instagram. @elgrifotulum

Just like any complex spirit, mezcal comes in different varieties. When you buy mezcal, you have to look out for the following words in the bottle: 

  • Type I: The Mezcal is made with 100% agave as a base. Some bottles simply read 100% agave. 
  • Type II: It has 80% agave and some other ingredients like cane sugar. 
  • White: A clear spirit that was aged for 2 months or less.
  • Dorado: A white mezcal with added color. 
  • Reposado:  been aged between two and nine months in wooden barrels.
  • Añejo: indicates that it has been aged a minimum of 1 year, but usually as long as even 2 to 3 years.
  • Joven: a young Mezcal, aged just for a few months.

5. Mezcals have a personal signature: yes, each maestro mezcalero has his own style.

Credit: Instagram. @mezcalalipus

When traditional mezcal makers, maestros mezcaleros, were approached by new companies to develop their product into something more marketable, differences between production methods began to be notices. This is why each mezcal maker has a signature style: how long the agave heads burn for, how much coal they use, how long the agave rests for… all of this gives each bottle a unique taste. 

6. Mezcal is as complex as whisky.

Credit: Instagram. @mezcalalipus

Just like experts can identify whisky depending on the region where it is produced (some even claim to be able to taste the salty ocean waters of Scotland), mezcal provides overlapping layers of floral and smoky notes. The best way to discover these subtle bursts of flavor: let the mezcal cover your whole tongue. 

7. The best way to drink it: sipping it, with orange slices and sal de gusano on the side.

Credit: Instagram. @calbarran

Yes, the traditional and best way to enjoy it is with a side of sliced oranges and sal de gusano, which is a mix of salt, dry chili and crushed worms. Yes, it is heavenly. 

8. The glorious state of Oaxaca is mezcal heaven.

Credit: Instagram. @mezcalalipus

Rural communities have been producing mezcal for decades. You can now book tours that take you to different regions of the state. You can really taste the terroir in every sip. 

9. Oaxacan biodiversity sustains mezcal production.

Credit: Instagram. @banhezmezcalartesanal

Guess what? Mezcal is the product of a carefully balanced ecosystem. Mess with it, and we will have no more mezcal. 

10. Mezcal producers fight against mass, mechanized methods.

Credit: Instagram. @graciasadiosmezcal

Everything is artisanal when it comes to mezcal production. Look at these two gorgeous ladies bottling mezcal by hand. Producers argue that mechanization would only mean low quality. Here, here!  

11. Not so long ago people bought mezcal by the gallon! (and some still do.)

Credit: Instagram. @bandita_chilanga

For years, mezcal was considered a poor alternative to tequila. It was considered a cheap drink and it took decades for it to be introduced into urban nightlife and high end hospitality. People would buy it in bulk. 

12. Mezcal can be good for your health (in moderation, of course.)

Credit: Instagram. @grubnwhereabouts

Mezcal helps with digestion (it is a great way to end a big meal) and helps regulate blood sugars. Of course, you have to drink it in moderation, no more that two drinks per day. 

13. Mezcal made a huge comeback in the late 2000s, when it became a hipster thing in Mexico City.

Credit: Instagram. @madremezca

Mexico City hipster culture is in big part responsible for the resurgence of mezcal. A big element of hipster life is finding more natural products, and mezcal is as natural as it gets. Mezcal has become a culinary cult with a following that has embellished it with amazing visuals. 

And of course hipster cocktail masters all throughout the globe have made mezcal a staple of innovation. 

14. The mezcal industry is a multimillion dollar affair.

Credit: Instagram. @laperlamezcaleria

Mezcal has expanded into the European and Asian markets at a fast pace. There are now 1,000 mezcal brands and Oaxaca just won a court case that determined that the spirit has appellation of origin rights, which means that it can only be produced in the region. Things are looking up!  

15. Top chefs are just IN LOVE with mezcal.

Credit: Instagram. @laperlamezcaleria

This is what superstar Mexican chef Enrique Olvera told The Latin Times he would have as a last meal: “Either quesadillas, avocado tacos or a combination of both, a cold beer and some good mezcal”. The sweet kiss of death with a hint of smoky mezcal? We’ll that that! 

16. The Breaking Bad duo is teaming up again to open a boutique mezcal label: Dos Hombres.

Credit: Instagram. @aaronpaul

Yes. Brian Cranston and Aaron Paul had Breaking Bad fans hyperventilating at the possibility of an onscreen reunion, but they are doing something better (at least in our books): they are traveling Oaxaca in search of the perfect mezcal master to open their own label. Hell to the yes. 

17. Not a drinker? Have a chocolate then!

Credit: Instagram. @kollarchocolates

Mezcal is now being used in creative ways by chefs and chocolatiers. These little bocaditos of sweetness look just amazing. 

What You Need To Know About The Magic Mushroom Tourism Craze In Oaxaca

Culture

What You Need To Know About The Magic Mushroom Tourism Craze In Oaxaca

For almost 70 years, since Maria Sabina, also known as Santa Sabina, spread the culture around the ritualistic consumption of magic mushrooms in the Oaxaca highlands, the world has been fascinated by these special fungi. The region near Huautla de Jimenez, particularly places like San Jose del Pacifico, has since been swarmed with tourists in the months between July and October, both from inner Mexico and from overseas, who want to experienced the altered states of consciousness brought by one of nature’s most powerful secrets. 

So any story about Oaxacan magic mushrooms has to start with the legendary Maria Sabina, the godmother of all things trippy.

Credit: Giphy. @Hamiltons

Maria Sabina was a Mazatec curandera, or witchdoctor. She was well versed in the ancient arts of magic mushrooms and introduced the Western world to their consumption. She soon became a magnet for the rich and powerful who wanted to taste her psilocybin mushrooms. She was born in 1894 and died in 1985, so she saw the world change dramatically during her lifetime. 

She allowed foreigners into her healing evenings, known as veladas.

Credit: YouTube / Vice

She became legendary, as City A.M. reported in 2018: “It was here that, in 1955, R Gordon Wasson, a vice-president of JP Morgan and amateur ethnomycologist, consumed psilocybin mushrooms in a ceremony presided over by the healer Maria Sabina. The article Wasson subsequently wrote up for Life magazine – ‘Seeking the Magic Mushroom’ – transformed Sabina into a reluctant icon and caught the attention of scientists including Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary”. What followed is an enduring cult following of the plant. 

Mushroom tourism got a boost in the 1960s due to the high profile of some of Sabina’s visitors, who included The Beatles.

As EFE News Service reported back in 2007: “In the 1960s, the ‘high priestess of the mushrooms’ popularized this corner of Mexico located between the capital and Oaxaca city, a place visited by the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan at the height of the psychedelic era”. We mean, the place has basically been a Hall of Fame! 

Consuming magic mushrooms is an ancient, ritualistic indigenous tradition that remains officially illegal.

Credit: High Times

Spanish friars first reported the use of psychedelic mushrooms in the region. Though magic mushrooms are illegal today, the authorities tend to turn a blind eye. This is due to the centrality to the customs and traditions of the Zapotecs, the area’s dominant indigenous group. Children as young as six participate in the ritualistic ingestion of shrooms.

However, tourism disrupts this long lasting understanding and ritual has turned into business.

Credit: YouTube. Vice

If you decide to try them for yourself, beware as the region is now swarmed with fake magic mushrooms offered by scammers. Anyway, San Jose del Pacifico is a natural joyita in itself, and you might get high just by taking in the landscape!

The state induced by the mushrooms is supposed to get you in touch with nature: with the soil below your feet and the celestial bodies above your head.

Credit: Giphy. Anonymous. 

According to man named Andres Garcia, he was introduced to the ritual ingestion of mushrooms by his grandfather. Just outside of Huautla, the man experienced mushrooms several times. He told High Times: “The first time I tried mushrooms I was 7 years old. And each time after that was different; each time there were messages and messages. Communication with the earth, the universe, the moon, especially the energy of the moon. The mushroom shows you everything—about your errors, your problems, all the good you’ve done, all the bad you’ve done. It’s something personal.”

Even though mushrooms are widely available in Oaxaca they are not for everyone, specially not for those who disrespect the ritual and want to do mushrooms just for some mindless fun.

Credit: Musrooms-in-Oaxaca. Digital image. Own Mexico

The magic mushroom tourism industry has brought an steady income to Huautla de Jimenez, the original stomping grounds of Maria Sabina. As reported by Juan Ramon Peña in EFE News Services, “visitors are greeted when they get off the bus by boys who offer to help them found the hallucinogenic fungi”. The wide availability of mushrooms is un secreto a voces. However, each person’s brain chemistry is different and you need to have an experienced guide to help you on a mushroom-induced trip. 

And tourism has put the sustainability of the species at stake.

Credit: User comment on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_XnzIYmUYw

The lack of regulation translates into indiscriminate picking. Of course, traditional owners of the land are affected and that is just not fair. 

Magic mushrooms have a good rep, but they are also unpredictable.

Credit: 2037. Digital image. The Guardian.

Several recent studies indicate that magic mushrooms could have medical benefits in people suffering from mental health issues. As reported by The Guardian earlier this year in relation to a study conducted at Imperial College London: “Magic mushrooms may effectively ‘reset’ the activity of key brain circuits known to play a role in depression, the latest study to highlight the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics suggests”. However, this study was done in a controlled environment. Doing mushrooms can have unpredictable effects that some people have described as a “bad trip”

Note: the consumptions of magic mushrooms is illegal throughout Mexico and only specific Indigenous groups can consume them for spiritual purposes. We do not condone the consumption of illegal substances. This article is for informational purposes only.

Amelio Robles Ávila Was Mexico’s First Trans Soldier And A Revolutionary Hero, More Than 100 Years Ago

Culture

Amelio Robles Ávila Was Mexico’s First Trans Soldier And A Revolutionary Hero, More Than 100 Years Ago

Today is Mexico’s Independence Day! After a war that lasted over 11 years, Mexico achieved independence from Spanish rule and would begin a path toward self-determination. On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest, launched the Mexican War of Independence. Yes, decolonize! 

To celebrate Mexican history, we’ll be focusing on one hero today, not of the Mexican War of Independence but of the Mexican Revolution. Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila is recognized as the first trans soldier in the Mexican military’s history. A decorated colonel, Ávila lived as a man from the age of roughly 22 or 24 until the day he died at 95 years old. 

While some believe it was Ávila’s wealthy family that allowed him to live life as his truest self, it certainly may have helped, but his courage in battle and in life must be honored and celebrated. Ávila’s identity was not always met with kindness, but the soldier was well-equipped to deal with challenges to his gender. The pistol-whipping colonel was a ladies man, skilled marksmen, and hero. This is the story of Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila. 

Amelio Robles Ávila

Amelio Robles Ávila was born to a wealthy family on November 3, 1889, in Xochipala, Guerrero. In his youth, Ávila attended a Catholic school for little girls where he was taught to cook, clean, and sew. However, at a young age, he began to express his gender identity. He showed an aptitude for things that were, at the time perceived to be, masculine like handling weapons, taming horses, and marksmanship. 

Perhaps, it was a natural response, if not the only response, to being pressured to conform to a gender identity that isn’t yours —  Ávila was perceived as stubborn, rebellious, and too much to handle for the school nuns. But it would be his tenacity and obstinance that served him in the long run. 

In 1911, when Ávila was arranged to be married to a man, he enlisted as a revolutionary instead. 

Not a woman dressed as a man, just a man.

To force the resignation of President Porfirio Dîaz and later, to ensure a social justice-centered government, Mexico needed to engage much of its population in warfare. This meant that eventually women were welcomed with many limitations. Soldaderas were able to tend to wounded soldiers or provide food for the militia but were prohibited from combat and could not have official titles. 

Ávila legally changed his first name from Amelia to Amelio, cut his hair, and became one of Mexico’s most valuable and regarded revolutionaries. 

“To appear physically male, Robles Ávila deliberately chose shirts with large chest pockets, common in rural areas, and assumed the mannerisms common among men at the time,” according to History.com

While he was not the only person assigned female to adopt a male persona to join the war, unlike many others Ávila kept his name and lived as a man until the day he died. 

“After the war was over, their part in it was dissolved along with whatever rank they held during the fight, and they were expected to return to subservient roles. Some did,” writes Alex Velasquez of Into. “Others, like Amelio Robles Ávila, lived the rest of their lives under the male identities they had adopted during the war.”

You come at the king, you best not miss.

Ávila fought courageously in the war until its end. Becoming a Colonel with his own command, he was decorated with three stars by revolutionary general Emiliano Zapata. He led and won multiple pivotal battles where his identity and contributions were respected. 

However, that respect was sometimes earned through empathy other times through the whip of his pistol. Ávila was a man and anyone who chose to ignore this fact would be taught by force. On one occasion, when a group of men tried to “expose” him by tearing off his clothes, Ávila shot and killed two of the men in self-defense. 

Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila

Unsurprisingly, Ávila was a bit of a ladies man, though he finally settled down with Angela Torres and together they adopted their daughter Regula Robles Torres. In 1970, he was recognized by the Mexican Secretary of National Defense as a veterano as opposed to a veterana of the Mexican Revolution, thus Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila is considered the first trans soldier documented in Mexican military history. The swag is infinite! 

After the war, Ávila was able to live comfortably as a man where he devoted his life to agriculture. He lived a life, that still for so many trans people around the world seems unfathomable. Colonel Ávila lived to be 95 years old and the rest  — no all of it — is history.