Tequila’s grown-up cousin is a smokier, richer spirit that — in its best iterations — is reminiscent of Islay whisky. It’s made from the roasted hearts of agave plants and has ‘appellation d’origine contrôlée’ status: real mezcal only comes from the nine mountain states around Mexico City. And you only have to deal with the infamous mezcal worm in Oaxaca.
Forget margaritas, this lethally refreshing cocktail is every bit as good, and has the added benefit of being a local, rather than a tourist, favourite. Tequila, lime juice and grapefruit soda — the favoured Mexican brand is Squirt — are poured into an ice-cold, salt-rimmed glass, sometimes with a drizzle of orange juice.
‘The drink of the gods’ is a pre-Hispanic concoction made from corn dough mixed with water and brown sugar that’s left to ferment until slightly alcoholic. That may not sound appetising, but the results are; particularly fresh from street markets in Jalisco state, where it’s usually served with lime juice and salt.
A kind of rudimentary wine made in Puebla state since pre-Hispanic times, acachul is a strong cane liquor made from the small, wild cherries that grow in the mountainous region around Mexico City. It’s very sweet, and often made even sweeter by being mixed with honey and fruit.
The ancestral tipple of the Mexican people, pulque arouses more national pride than any other drink. Made from the fermented sap of agave plants, it’s an acquired taste: natural pulque is slimy and slightly sour, although it’s frequently sold flavoured with pineapple or guava. Somewhat mysteriously, pulque is enjoying a resurgence among hipsters.
Intensely smoky, this ancient, mezcal-like spirit which comes from Chihuahua is another Mexican classic that’s enjoying a modern renaissance in the cocktail bars of Mexico City. Made from sotol, a desert plant, it’s often infused with herbs and spices like liqueur; wilder varieties include rattlesnake and raw beef.
Like mezcal and tequila, bacanora is made from the agave plant. A sweet spirit, it’s named after the town where it originated, in the state of Sonora, northwest Mexico, and is relatively hard to find now — production was banned by a religious governor in the early 1900s and didn’t resume until 1992.
As featured in Issue 3 of National Geographic Traveller Food.