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Posts from the ‘Encyclopedia of Mezcal’ Category

More on the origin of Minero

Minero

A reader named Mark Huebner wrote in with a further note about the origin of the term Minero which we originally wrote about here. His source is a 1997 book published by the Universidad Jose Vasconselos de Oaxaca, Codice Ediciones, “Mezcal: Origin, Elaboration and Recipes” by Jorge Quiroz Marquez.” We obviously need to dig up a copy but in the interim here’s the pertinent quote:

“Minero, a colorless mezcal with agreeable flavor, is produced in Santa Caterina Minas, Ocotlan.  Its name and fame may stem from the fact that only miners in the past, who were well paid, could afford to buy it.”

Special thanks to Mark for the quote. He told me “I always felt the Minero notion was old wives’ tale territory but like much Mexi-lore, there was a ring of truth to it. Makes more sense than researching the Mesopotamian source of the god Minas in Afghanistan, right? (But that god was all about the mushroom, not maguey.)” Right you are Mark!

Piñas

Piña literally means “pineapple” in Spanish but in Mexico it is also used to describe the heart of the agave because it so closely resembles a pineapple. The piña has become one of the main motifs in the agave world and suffuses tequila and mezcal culture. It’s one of those key images that triggers all sorts of nostalgic associations about the hand made nature of agave distillates and centrality of agave to Mexican culture. As one example, Fortaleza tequila has a ceramic piña for its bottle top but you’ll see it repeatedly in the marketing and media coverage of agave distillates. Just take a look at three images from our travels below to get a sense for how dramatic and evocative it can be.

Maguey piñas shorn of their leaves and ready to be cut

Maguey piñas shorn of their leaves and ready to be cut.

Cutting the piñas

Cutting the piñas

Field of magueys

Field of just shorn piñas. Note the different sizes of the quiotes.

Read more of our entries in the Mezcalistas Encyclopedia of Mezcal and email us questions or ideas for future entries.

Tahona

Tahona is another one of those words that does double duty in the Spanish vocabulary. It used to mean mill or mill house but in Mexico it also means the large stone wheel that is used to crush the roasted hearts of agave known as piñas into a fermentable mash. As you can see from the images below it’s quite a dramatic sight.

The tahona is usually pulled by a donkey and that donkey frequently has a jocular name like “Superman” that gives credit for keeping the entire distilling operation going. Horses and oxen can be also provide the labor. Many palenques also use tractors. In older or more remote palenques the tahona can also be made out of wood.

To date every artisanal mezcal uses a tahona to crush its piñas. Traditionally tequila was also made this way but the industry moved to mechanical extraction processes and only a few traditional distillers like Fortaleza and 7 Leguas still mill all their piñas with tahonas. Recently Patron launched a new brand defined entirely by being milled with a tahona.

 

Making mash the traditional way in San Dionisio

Making mash the traditional way in San Dionisio

Traditional mill for making maguey mash

Traditional mill for making maguey mash

Palenquero Enrique Jimenez

Palenquero Enrique Jimenez

The grinding wheel at Palenque Roaguia

The grinding wheel at Palenque Roaguia

Inside the Wahaka Palenque

Inside the Wahaka Palenque

Read more of our entries in the Mezcalistas Encyclopedia of Mezcal and email us questions or ideas for future entries.

Quiote

Blooming agave on Los Alamos Road in Sonoma

Agave quiote on Los Alamos Road in Sonoma

A quiote is the stalk that shoots up from an agave plant when it’s ready to reproduce. They can be dried and used as fuel, construction materials, food or even as a decorative item. They’re one of the most dramatic elements of the agave life cycle.

Read more of our entries in the Mezcalistas Encyclopedia of Mezcal and email us questions or ideas for future entries.

Sal de gusano

Sal de gusanoOccasionally the literal translation really does work the best, this time it gets us 60% of the way there with “worm salt.” Sal de gusano is actually ground up salt, dried worms, and peppers. You see it everywhere in Oaxaca. It’s sold in small bags by elderly women around the market, in huge piles within markets, and it appears everywhere in the local cuisine. It’s also an intimate part in the traditional way of drinking mezcal; you’re supposed to sit at a table with friends sharing a bottle of mezcal drunk from copitas or jicaras and, as you sip away while debating the topics of the day, dip orange or pineapple slices into a bowl of sal de gusano so that you get a blast of fruit tempered by the salty, umami flavors in the sal de gusano. It’s a tremendous foil to the heat and flavors in mezcal.

Sal de gusano is also a perfect example of the fruit of necessity because the peppers grow right along side the agave plants while salt was produced on the nearby isthmus. Classic Oaxacan cuisine features sal de gusano in some recipes, occasionally you’ll find it as a table top condiment, but I’ve really seen it break out in more contemporary interpretations of Oaxacan cooking.

Read more of our entries in the Mezcalistas Encyclopedia of Mezcal and email us questions or ideas for future entries.

Pechuga

Pechuga literally means “breast” in Spanish. A pechuga mezcal is one that has been triple distilled and, in the third distillation, a turkey or chicken breast  is suspended above the mezcal within the still. The alcohol dissolves the meat of the breast which tends to add a very unctuous texture to the mezcal and a variety of taste sensations.

Pechuga can be used in a more general sense to mean a mezcal that is distilled with fruits, nuts, and poultry breast but it almost always contains the poultry breast. An exception is the conejo which is made with rabbit instead of poultry (conejo means rabbit in Spanish). Usually this is made clear on the label by calling the mezcal a conejo instead of a pechuga but the nomenclature can occasionally be fuzzy. Conejo mezcals are very rare, and, consequently, are much more expensive. For all we know there are many other variations of this out there because we’ve also had a venison pechuga from Guerrero state.

The taste of a pechuga will obviously vary with the contents of the mezcal. If it only contains a poultry breast or rabbit the change is very subtle but it’s clearly a different experience than a traditional mezcal. Some drinkers dislike the mouth feel of pechugas and avoid them. Obviously these drinks are not vegetarian nor vegan. When made with fruits and/or nuts pechugas have wildly different flavors that can mirror their contents or range widely.

Read more of our entries in the Mezcalistas Encyclopedia of Mezcal and email us questions or ideas for future entries.

Minero

Del Maguey's Minero.

Del Maguey’s Minero.

RealMineroMineroWe’re kicking off our mezcal encyclopedia with the name “Minero” because we get asked about it all the time and it’s the perfect emblem for linguistic confusion in the world of mezcal. The definition is deceptively simple, it refers to an espadin mezcal from Santa Catarina Minas, but to old timers it just means a joven mezcal, presumably because Santa Catarina Minas used to make them all.

Update: One of our friends noted that the last line in our definition here “but to old timers it just means a joven mezcal, presumably because Santa Catarina Minas used to make them all.” wasn’t as clear as it could have been. We meant that for old timers Minero means any mezcal from Santa Catarina Mina regardless of the agave it was made from. Hopefully that clarifies things for everyone.

Another issue of note is that minero literally means miner in Spanish, we’re unsure of where the association comes from so if anyone can offer a clarification we and the readers of this blog would be greatly in your debt.

A further update: A reader found this quote about the origin of the term Minero.

Read more of our entries in the Mezcalistas Encyclopedia of Mezcal and email us questions or ideas for future entries.