Zapotitlán: the magical drink experience in Mexico
When people talk about magical and ancient mexican drinks they usually refer to tequila. Yes, tequila is wonderful and a really interesting heritage of the mexican agricultural practices and culinary traditions of this country. But still, Tequila is more of a geographical designation, a brand, a popular knowledge reference of a commercial drink, and specially, more and more everytime it has become an industrialized product with lots of agro chemicals and loss of biodiversity involved in its process (not all of it, of course, but a big part is now anything but a craft produced beverage).
Mezcal or Tequila?
So what’s the difference? mainly the name of course; but even if it looks obvious, it is important to point it out because its name comes from the region where it is produced: Tequila, Jalisco. A small touristic town just an hour away from one of the most important cities in México: Guadalajara.
It is a beautiful place, full of activities and tequila oriented options to visit and learn form the production process and industry of this alcoholic beverage. In addition from the regional tag coming from the name, it is well known that tequila only can be made out of one agave plant varieties: the blue wever.
Mezcal, in the other hand, can be produced out of many other agave varieties, and in many other regions of the country; like Michoacán, Durango, Oaxaca and of course Jalisco; and here is where the topic gets interesting, so please, do not assume I am speaking bad about tequila, but instead, continue reading and discover why I believe in the magic of mezcal, way above of the tequila popular understanding and social branding.
The mexican saying
So, yes there’s this popular saying in México: “for all bad times, mezcal; for all good times, mezcal as well”; of course in spanish sounds greater; but the point is that for the culture and traditions this drink has its own mysticism and even healing powers. I can only talk about it from my own experience, and even though I am not a very trained drinker for straight high alcohol content beverages, the experience of the mezcal weekend at Zapotitlán de Vadillo had magic, and had healing properties too. If you have the chance to take this weekend road trip, please do, and re discorver these mexcian saying by your own experience.
Zapotitlán de Vadillo
Is a small village and municipality in the southern region of the Jalisco state of around six thousand inhabitans only. It is located among volcanos and big mountains; the main economical activities of the population depend on cattle raising and agriculture, specially corn, bean and agave production.
Theres is one of the most antique mezcal taverns in the area that belongs to “Don Macario Partida” and his family; an ancient practice that combines spanish, filipine and prehispanic technologies and has been a mezcal producer for over three generations.
This is where we went, this is where the magic happens; and here’s how we lived it.
The weekend road trip
We departed from Colima, the neighbour state of Jalisco; the distance is just around 70 – 80 kms to Zapotitlán de Vadillo, and even the the road was bumpy and dusty so it takes around two hours to get there, the area is beautiful and worth seeing. The road goes around the fire volcano and the sceneraies are magnificent, specially at evening right before the sunset.
You know this book? The burning plain and other stories from Juan Rulfo; well it was inspired in this corners of the world, and that phantasmagoric sense that you find along its short stories is also found at every kilomiter of the ride.
Once we got to the city it was already dark and we went to find the Partida family to ask for a tour the next day (sunday); we found them at home, getting ready for dinner and settled to meet back at 6:30 am in order to be able to complete all the activities they suggested.
Living like a local
So we went for quick a bite at a taco place downtown and afterwards to sleep in at the only small hotel in the village. As arranged we met the partida family at 6:30 am on sunday and first they took us to this countryside amazing tradition: the hot milk.
It is the experience of drinking milk that has been took straight from the cow, at the paddock, usually with a pinch of sugar, chocolate powder, instant coffee and cane alcohol over 43°. It is a champions breakfast and since the animals are so well fed, it is not a bomb for the stomach as a lot of people think and say; there’s nothing to be afraid of on having this drink as first thing in the morning. Moderately, of course.
After the hot milk, the tour continued to the tavern; there, Macario and his sons explained us the whole production process, from the sowing to the baking, fermentation and aging of the agave.
The agave plantation
They own an extended piece of ground where they have an impressive richness of the biodiversity of the mezcal production with different varieties of agave: telcruz, cenizo, limeño, for example. They are craft producers, all their product is absolutely natural and doesn’t contain any sort of chemicals in any stage of the process. But also, they are guardians of the natural heritage, because the conservation of all these varieties is a fantastic ecosystem preservation practice. And they are starting a new branch of the activity by having a seedbed of all the kinds, which is a completely new idea and project running in the region.
After such learning of the agave and the mezcal production, of course there is a time to try it and drink it. So right there, in the tavern, you can sample all the diferent varieties of the final result. After three of those short samples we were getting hungry and a bit drunken. So the family invited us to their house and the menu was a wonderful pairing for the weather (hot and dry) and the main drink (more mezcal). They told us that it is their typical sunday brunch: pork meat, mainly with no fat; and also Don Macario insisted in getting pork snout, which at first seem not appetizing at all, but after adding a good amount of regional sea salt and lemon was absolutely delicious and a fantastic pairing for the drinks.
Rice and beans are the obbligated compliments, also to counter act the alcoholic beverages, seasonal fresh fruit water is the other refreshing part of the meal.
Sharing this food with friends and the local family is probably the highlight of the trip; it is when you experience the magic of the agave turned into mezcal by witnessing how it turn foreigns into locals and all parts are happy and excited in conversation. The magic takes place in the interaction, talks and smiles around the table and is totally worth it.
The final tour
After a couple of hours of this sharing drinks and food momentum, we decided it was time to get back to Colima, so we picked up our stuff and before hitting the road we stopped by the downtown plaza to see the locals, the typical church as in every other town of México, the market, and all the pretty atraction where we walked, walked and walked.
When the weather make us tired again, we stopped by a canteen, apparently lost in time and space, and shared, for refreshing purposes of course, a familiar size beer popularly known as caguama.
If you ever stop by Zapotitlán de Vadillo, don’t miss the visit to the tavern of the Partida family, and specially do not skip the pork snout meal. Afterwards you can take home with you bottles of mezcal, and re create magical moments in other scenarios, but would never be the same as being there, at the very heart of the production space with all this mysticism around you. Magical.
¡Cheers, which means salud!