We are in Mezcal country. Tequila is made with a specific plant, the blue agave, whereas mezcal is made from the maguey plant (a form of agave native to Mexico).
Like Tequila, the mezcal is made from the roasted heart of the maguey plant called the “piña” to create the mash for fermenting. Traditionally it is produced by small-scale producers. Think of the American Appalachian equivalent of moonshine, only legal.
Mezcal, like some other spirits, can be consumed young or aged for years. It can be flavored with fruits and spices or nothing at all. Stopping for tastings does not encourage a lot of riding. I’ve been extremely tempted to stop at the countless producers we’ve passed but have resisted the call of the “elixir of the gods”. This is out of practical reasons more than anything else, although not what you might suspect.
We are traveling in an extremely mountainous region, with a typical day including about 3000 to 5000+ feet of climbing (~900 to 1500 m) up steep grades. I do not feel like carrying a glass bottle full of alcohol up a hill. Immediate consumption is always an option but the combination of dulled reflexes and fast down hills with precipitous off-road drops make this a tour-shortening prospect.
I had every intention of buying honey (“miel” in spanish), as the sign offered, when I pulled into one local stand, only to discover this term is also used for the wort (the sweet liquid extracted from the mashing process that contains the sugars to be fermented).
I tasted the miel, which looked like and tasted like dark molasses. I decided not to purchase the miel, but instead, walked away with a golden version, “Dorado”, which I was assured was smooth and aged in oak barrels.
Toward the end of the day, we met Lee Yue Zhong, riding in the opposite direction. He recently had his bicycle and most of his kit stolen in Mexico. Undeterred, he bought a new bike and continued on his bicycle journey that he started in 1997 (over 16 years on the road, visiting more than 100+ countries).
I was impressed! He’s one of the few people I’ve met that has more miles under their belt than I do. I still would like to meet Heinz Stücke out on the road one day.
Down the hatch
Harsh, not aged