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Beyond Tequila and Mezcal: More Boozy Wonders of the Agave Plant

By AFAR Traveler

Mar 16, 2015

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Photo by Ricky Montalvo/Flickr

These three spirts also come from the agave plant.

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You’ve heard of tequila and mezcal. But Mexico’s agave plant yields much more than these usual suspects. Much of it comes down to location: Mexican regulations have defined what can be called mezcal and what can be called tequila.

The lesson here? You can’t stop someone from pit-roasting and fermenting agave hearts. They’ll just call it something else. Next time you’re south of the border, try some of the lesser-known stars.

1. Bacanora

Where bacanora is made: Sonora, just over the border from Arizona

What it tastes like: Earthy herbs, with a little smoke. Why? As with mezcal, distillers pit-roast the hearts of agave pacifica, a spiky plant that takes five years to mature.

One to try: Cielo Rojo Bacanora

2. Raicilla

Where raicilla is made: Southwestern Jalisco near Puerto Vallarta

What it tastes like: Flowers. Raicilla is surprisingly light considering that it’s made, like mezcal, from the hearts of the agave plant. Locals called it raicilla, or little root, and described it as a medicinal drink so as to dodge taxes from the Spaniards in the colonial era. It was considered moonshine for a long time, but has recently been revived as a way to brand the local mezcal.

One to try: Raicilla La Venenosa

3. Pulque

Where pulque is made: Throughout central Mexico, especially in the highlands around Mexico City and Puebla.

What it tastes like: An alcoholic milk shake. Some are even flavored with fruit. Found nearly exclusively in Mexico, it gets its foamy thickness from fermented agave sap.


One to try: Any at the traditional pulque bars in Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi

Bonus non-agave Mexican booze: Sotol

This one’s an outlier, because it’s made from a plant called the sotol, or desert spoon, which is related to the yucca plant. It’s not made from agave.

Where it’s made: The northern states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Durango

What it tastes like: Grassy and earthy, without the smokiness of mezcal, because the plant isn’t pit-roasted.

One to try: Hacienda de Chihuahua

>>Next: The Rise of Mezcal: Great for Cocktails, Better for Oaxaca

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