Where to begin.
That’s always the problem.
We could talk deeply about the Song and Jin dynasties of China, which were around during the 10th and 11th centuries AD, and how they may have been some of the first to distill alcohol in the East. Stills dating back to the 12th century have been found outside of modern day Beijing.
But we won’t.
We also could have a long talk about how that distillation process spread to the other countries and island in that region, like India, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Which lead to all sorts of alcoholic beverages, from various sources, including rice, sorghum, plums, coconuts, and last but not least: horse milk. That’s right, there’s a distillate in China that dates back to just before the mongols, called Kumiss, that is made by distilling the milk of a mare. Honestly, I want to try it.
We aren’t going to talk long about that, or the fact that after King “McJowly Face” Charles I of Spain sent Ferdinand “McBeard Face” Magellan to find the “Spice Islands”, and he did (which is also where he died in battle by the way), that Spain decided it would be a very lucrative idea to conquer and colonize what would later become the Phillippines. That strategic location, allowed them to sail from the capital city of Manila, along the the North Pacific Current to the “New World”, landing in Acapulco, Mexico. There, they sold spices, cotton, jade, ivory, silk, and indigo (hey, remember when we talked about that?), in exchange for silver that was being mined in Mexico.
Nope that’s not what we really want to talk about.
We want to talk about how the spice trade, also brought with it some cultural exchange. Specifically, how the exchange of the “Filippino Still” (as some archaeological anthropologists call it) was brought to Mexico and perhaps allowed them to distill spirits for the first time.
What native plant of Mexico might go well in an earthen, brick-lined, simple, no-nonsense and no-copper required still? You guessed it!
Mexico had been roasting and eating agave for a VERY long time. It was placed in an earthen oven and then covered with palm leaves and allowed to smolder for several days. Imagine a slow roasted artichoke heart, but enormous, and somehow even more delicious.
Once the still arrived, they may have tried to do what you do with other fermentables, like grapes, which is to allow the juice to ferment and then distill that into your desired spirit. Agave isn’t great for that though. It does produce a juice or sap, that can be fermented into a beverage known as “pulque”, but pulque does not distill very well. Apparently, when you try to boil pulque, it starts to smell like sulphur and burning tires. Basically it smells like Cleveland, Ohio.
Instead of boiling the sap, they took that roasted agave core, called the “piña”, and after roasting, they would ferment it, and distill that. This was a much, much, much, much better idea, because it gave rise to what we would now refer to as Mezcal.
Modern day mezcal is typically known for its smoky flavor, which comes from the traditional method of roasting the agave. Overtime though, as ovens which produce less smoke were developed, the flavors of some mezcals lost some of that smokiness. Eventually, some methods of steaming the agave in an autoclave were developed, which removed all the smoke, and instead, left them with pure, subtle, sweet, potent… tequila.
We could go on and on and on about tequila and mezcal, chatting about how the growing regulation of tequila production has lead to a monoculture of the Agave Tequilana variety, and because of a lack of genetic variety, the plant is becoming less resilient against diseases and parasites. Or we could look at how some agave plants take 35 years to mature before they can be harvested and how agave for tequila must be harvest before it flowers, which has had an impact on the wild bat populations of Mexico, which historically pollinated the agave plants. We also could discuss the differences between blanco, joven, and reposado tequila, the difference between 100% agave and mixtos, amongst various other tidbits.
BUT, we really need to get to fucking point already.
Seriously, y’all need to quit making these articles so long.
This week, you need to drink a…
We have talked about margaritas before. In the wise words of Sterling Archer, a margarita needs only 5 ingredients. FIVE. They are as follows (sing along if you know the words)
Do not. Ever. Use. Sour mix. Ever. Ever. Ever.
Ok. That said, I think that there is room for one other ingredient, which is this: Agave Syrup.
This is only if you just have a sweet tooth, and really need something to cut the sourness. That said, the recipe is as follows:
2 oz Tequila
1 oz Cointreau
1 oz Fresh squeezed lime juice
Take your glass and rub your rim (lol) with a lime wedge and dip into kosher salt. Add ingredients to a shaker with lots of ice and shake vigorously. Strain into the pre-salted rim. Garnish with that lime wedge you used a second ago.
uhhhh, does milk count?