Culture

5 Things You Should Know About The Iconic Mezcal Worm

Rodrigo Tejeda/Flickr

Whether you’re just old enough to drink or have been at it for years, chances are you’ve heard of the worm that lives at the bottom of mezcal bottles. These days, most premium mezcal doesn’t contain a worm, but the invertebrate remains something of a cultural icon. There are lots of conflicting reports on the actual purpose of the worm. Will you get high if you eat the gusano? Why are some red and some white? And is it even a worm? Let’s take a quick look at some of these questions.

Contrary to popular belief, the worm is not actually a worm.

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THE EDIBLE FLOWER / INSTAGRAM

Depending on the color of the critter lounging at the bottom of some mezcal bottles, the gusano is an edible caterpillar from either a moth or a butterfly. The red worm comes from larva from the Comadia redtenbacheri or Hypopta agavis moth. And the gusano blanco, the white caterpillar, transforms into the Aegiale hesperiaris butterfly — a.k.a the tequila giant skipper.



If you find yourself with snout weevil in your bottle of mezcal, you know you have a cheap product on your hands.

These worms were part of daily life for Aztecs and famers in Mexico.

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William Neuheisel/FLICKR

According to Latin American Insects and Entomology, Aztecs collecting sap from the agave were aware of the red and white varieties of the worms. They called the red variety chilocuiles and the white variety meocuili. Later, farmers and other natives began cultivating the worms for food, and even pickled a few to put in mezcal to give it a “special flavor.”

Including the worm in a mezcal bottle isn’t part of an ancient tradition.

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Melissa/FLICKR

The practice of bottling mezcal with a worm began in 1950, when art school student-turned-mezcal maker Jacobo Lozano Paez saw a potential marketing gimmick. While the worm plays an important role in the production and flavor of mezcal, Paez likely included worms in the bottling process as a way to distinguish his brand of mezcal from others available at the time.



Other than a simple marketing technique, some people believe the worm is a way to indicate whether or not a bottle of mezcal has a high enough alcohol content. If the worm rots, then there’s not enough alcohol. If the worm stays preserved, then the mezcal is probably quality stuff.

No, eating the mezcal worm won’t do all those things they say it will.


While Paez’s inclusion of the maguey worm might have seemed like an odd marketing choice, it’s hard to deny the near-legendary status the worm has acquired over the years. Depending on who you ask, the worm has the powers of an aphrodisiac, can make you hallucinate, or will make you look hella dope in front of your friends. That last one might be true, but eating the worm won’t really accomplish anything other than making you a little drunker thanks to the alcohol it has absorbed.

In 2005, Agave farmers had to fight the Mexican government to keep the worm in mezcal.

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Celso FLORES/FLICKR

Over a decade ago, Mexico’s government decided it wanted to increase domestic and foreign consumer confidence in the quality of mezcal coming out of their country. In order to attain certification from the government, distillers couldn’t use the maguey worm in future mezcal production. At that time, Graciela Angeles, part owner of Mezcal Real Minero, told the San Diego Tribune, “If there is no worm, there will be no sales.” Thankfully farmers proved that the worm didn’t diminish the quality of mezcal, and so they won the right to keep their worms in mezcal. So eat it with pride!



READ: They Couldn’t Find A Job Because Of Discrimination, So They Did The Next Best Thing

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

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.

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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.)

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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. 

Mezcal Demand Is Putting Mexican Farmers In Jeopardy

Culture

Mezcal Demand Is Putting Mexican Farmers In Jeopardy

CREDIT: DENVER AND LIELY / INSTAGRAM

Once upon a time, it seemed like mezcal was doomed to forever live in the shadow of tequila’s popularity. Mainstream consumers saw mezcal as a drink for the poor, working class farmers who occupied some of the more remote regions of Mexico. But trends are changing, Slate reports, and mezcal is slowly becoming the “it” drink for high end consumers; bottles for mezcal can easily top $100US or more.

As prices for high quality mezcal skyrocket, entrepreneurs are tapping Oaxacan farmers for a quick profit.

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CREDIT: DENVER AND LIELY / INSTAGRAM

Unfortunately, as Slate reports, mezcal’s production leans heavily on a limited number of farmers who have dedicated their lives to perfecting the distillation process, using techniques that have been handed down from generation to generation. But as the popularity of mezcal increases, companies in search of massive profits will be forced to take production out of the hands of farmers. We saw this happen with tequila production many years ago, and unless business practices change, mezcal may face the same fate. Read the whole story at Slate.

[H/T] Mezcal Could Be the Next Tequila

READ: 11 Reasons Why We Have A Love / Hate Relationship With Tequila

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