Mezcal and Maguey
During the last several weeks of July, a small city was built in the park that we bike/walk through on our daily trip to school. What did this city house you ask? Mezcal! So, to start, let us walk together through some easily google-able facts just to get those out of the way and keep me from making up numbers for you.
Fería Internacional de Mezcal is held every Summer during the Guelaguetza to celebrate the production of mezcal in Oaxaca state. The state produces 12,000,000 (twelve million) liters of mezcal every year. Thats 3,170,060 gallons per year, thats almost 5 olympic size dive pools of mezcal. By comparison, Mexico exported 163,300,000 liters of tequila in 2011. So while the amount of mezcal sounded like a lot to me at the begining of this paragraph, it is really just a drop in the bucket if you think about it... however, it is still all very interesing to witness.
There are around 50 different distilleries within the Fería, all having between 4 and 10 different types of mezcal - from cheap coffee cremes to bottles too expensive for your average wallet. You pay $40MX to get in and, depending on the exchange rate, that comes out to somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.50USD. Now, let me tell you what your $2.50 gets you:
When you walk through the gate you have a green wrist band put on and they say "This is for the tasting" - there is no stamp, or chip system, there is no ticket system, there is no limit on how many "pruebas" (samples) you can have. When you walk up to a stand there is a young woman or man standing next to an array of open bottles, then then pull out 1/2 oz plastic cups and pour just enough to cover the bottom of the cup with mezcal. They then proceed to repeat this process for the rest of their stock. You then walk to the next next stall and start it all over again. This can continue for as long as you want and you are permitted to return to stalls a second, third, or infinite amount of times. You can also purchase any bottle you would like - and are asked if you would like a cup of ice to go along with it. You know, in case you wanted to open and drink your newly purchased bottle of mezcal.
There are also stalls that are selling mixed drinks - you can find everything from a cucumber mojito to "the works" in a pineapple. This one pictured above is a full blended pineapple with 4 different kinds of mezcal, milk, coconut milk, tamarind, chili powder stick, cinnimon, and other things. It is blended and then poured back into the pineapple it came from while the extra goes into a cup that is also handed to you because there is too much to fit back into the original container. It still qualifies as one drink apparently.
With this much alcohol available and no limit to how much you can drink, you are probably assuming that there are drunk people everywhere at this festival. I know I did. But just guess how many drunk people I saw... 0. Because its not a taboo, there is no reason to go ape wild. Everyone was very polite and happy and (myself included) there was not a single drunk person to be seen in the whole Fería.**
**This is not to say that there isn't a real problem with alcoholism in Mexico and in Oaxaca, simply to say that this festival does not encourage or perpetuate drunkeness, but celebrates the tradition and production of Oaxaca's number one export.
This festival is not about drinking or even about who has the best mezcal - It is about the history, craft, and heritage of the regions of Oaxaca. They had an exibit near the entrance that had all the different stages of the mezcal process - from starter maguey (agave) plants to the finished drink. You can see some baby starts at the top of this blog, of which there are over 50 differnt types of, which once grown to maturity is the harvested. The core can weigh up to 100 pounds when harvested, but is usually between 40-50 pounds. After being roasted in a large mound covered in rocks, burlap, and dirt for days - the core is pulled from the pile and ground under a large mill stone; which is about 4 feet tall. The resulting pulp is then fermented and that liquid distilled into mezcal. Afterwards, to indicate that it is true mezcal, a particular type of grub that is only found in blue agave is placed in the bottle to verify authenticity.
The resulting pulp left over from the process is discarded somewhere that it wont affect any other crop production because the resulting soil will have such a high ph that nothing will grow. There was a company at the Feria selling planter pots made both from the pulp as well as a glue runoff product from the process. They are steamed and become inert once completed and can last indoors for years, though substancially less outdoors.
Now, you're probably wondering how we ended up at this festival - intitally it was curiosity. A huge city was built covering the entirety of the park we a very regularly in. But we ended up going back several times. There were several restaurants, games for kids, the mezcal exhibit, a sustainability showcase, live music, an artesian market showcasing products from the eight regions of Oaxaca, and ice cream. Rory was quite keen on the ice cream.
But that is just a little of a different aspect of what happens during the crazy month of Guelaguetza here in Oaxaca...