MEZCAL: HERE'S TO YOUR HEALTH
José Ríos, Juárez Market, Puerto Escondido
Drink one shot of mezcal before breakfast and one at night, in order
to enjoy the full therapeutic value of this distilled agave (maguey)
beverage. So recommends José Ríos, the proprietor of
locale 53 in the market, and himself a mezcal enthusiast. He adds,
it doesn't hurt to have a third shot with lunch, but it's not necessary.
Speaking of the medicinal uses of mezcal, José stresses its
importance when dealing with a case of fright (espanto), which loosely
translates as anything that raises your blood pressure.
It could be, I think. After all, drinking in moderation is good for
your health, and the agave plant might have some special qualities.
It's probably safer than a lot of the prescription drugs people take
for stress and high blood pressure.
And, of course, José says, it's a great drink for socializing
with friends. The best thing about it is that it never gives you a
I asked José if tequila, anther agave distillate, had similar
medicinal properties. "No!" he exclaimed. "I wouldn't
touch that stuff even if you were giving it away."
"And it's great for sex," he says. "Much better for
men than those pills (Viagra), and it turns women on."
But "mezcal es traicionero" (it's a traitor), he warned.
You can sit at a bar for hours drinking with your friends and feel
totally lucid, but when you get up you fall flat on your face.
Not all mezcals are the same, however, and what he drinks at home
is not the same as what he sells in his shop. The one that comes closest
is a Tobalá that sells for 220 pesos a liter and goes down
Tobalá is a wild agave and very much sought after. Although
some distillers now use a domesticated plant, it is not as good as
the wild variety. Which is not to say that all tobalá mezcal
is of equal quality.
José will give his customers tastes of his tobal‡ from
the gallon Carlo Rossi bottles he stores it in, but first he makes
you taste what he calls commercial mezcal, which he also sells. The
commercial stuff is coarse; it's what you get at most bars. He says
it's what people drink when they want a cheap intoxicant.
Finally, José suggests a tonic of mezcal mixed with hot chili,
lemon and onion juice, drunk slowly, as a treatment for fevers and
cautious, warns the notary Hugo Manuel Félix of Notaria 14,
unregulated mezcal is often adulterated, sometimes with toxic chemicals.
(So if you do get a hangover from drinking mezcal, blame the additives.)
It takes around 7 years for a maguey plant to mature, but unethical
producers use a young plant and then apply various ubstances to age
it. So don Manuel recommends only drinking mezcal that has the government
stamp of approval. Although for special occasions he does drink an
artisanal mezcal he was introduced to 35 years ago in the home of
Stay away from any mezcal that hurts your nose or your throat, Félix
urges. Mezcal should always be smooth. A good mezcal, he says, is
like a fine cognac. Without wanting to recommend a particular brand,
he did note that De la Vega was a good choice. He also noted that
one or two shots a day was good for your health, if you have no medical
reasons to avoid alcohol, as it relieves stress.
de la Costa May 2009