Mezcal hails from the entrails of an endemic plant that the ancient Mexicans considered magical and miraculous.
This prodigious drink is obtained from the distillation of maguey or agave. Legend has it that this technique, arrived to the American continent with the Spanish invasion.
The findings, past and present, are keys that reconfigure the history of the ancient cultures of Mexico. But they also generate a new knowledge that repositions mezcal as a cultural product rather than a mere commercial product.
Since 2011, the mezcal industry has grown remarkably. Previously, this licor was perceived as a low quality brandy. But now, it´s strength and prestige as Mexico´s largest licor export are unprecedented.
According to the 2016 report of the Mezcal Quality Regulatory Board, the beverage´s fame is spreading rapidly throughout the United States, South America, Europe and Asia. Currently mezcal reaches more than 50 countries.
Oaxaca is the entity that produces the most volume with a million 508 thousand 849 liters; for export.
According to the president of the National Chamber of the Industry of Mezcal (Canaimez), Raymundo Chagoya, the boom has to do with the return to its origins. In addition, the heyday of the “green” and gastronomic culture makes mezcal very popular.
An industry under threat
Despite the remarkable growth of the mezcalera industry, or perhaps as a result of it, the agave crop today is at serious risk. Oaxacan farmers comment that the crisis first became visible in 2014 when agave started to become scarce due to its overexploitation.
Large industries, mostly with foreign capital, took advantage of the lack of commercial regulation in a bid to wipe out the crop. In turn, this caused a sudden price increase, from 40 cents to four pesos a kilogram.
To this day, one kilogram of agave sells for up to 15 pesos. This profoundly hurts the people of the mezcal municipalities of Mexico. Furthermore it favors an industry that has different objectives to cultural preservation.
According to different job exchanges in Mexico, the salary of an employee of a commercial brand of mezcal is only six thousand pesos.
Most alarmingly, the low purchase price companies pay per liter is hurting the original producers. In Oaxaca, a liter of mezcal sells for 40 pesos.
However, after going through intermediaries, it can cost up to more than a thousand pesos. This situation leaves very little profit for the families that try to survive with a tradition that h00as been carried out for generations.
Mezcal tradition is ignored by large commercial brands
The proliferation of brands continues to rise. In addition to the nearly 500 official brands, there are another 300. Few of these have ecological sustainability projects, according to specialist Luis Nogales, from the Center for Studies on Maguey and Mezcal.
Importantly the vast majority of these large commercial brands are deeply unaware of the tradition and culture surrounding the product they sell. Consequently, this results in the gradual disappearance of a millennial cultural expression.
Fortunately, support exists from academic institutions and other trade organizations. Aware of the magnitude of the problem, they are fighting for the preservation and respect of Mexico´s culture, as well as the rights of the peasants.
Agave is a plant that is part of the wonderful ecosystem and landscape of Mexico. Undoubtedly, mezcal is the most sublime form in which agave is transformed. The result of thousands of years of culture and rite, which are the foundations of a whole civilization.
Poets and writers alike are fanatical about its flavor and aroma. Their odes to this beguiling licor stimulate the imagination, calm indifference and accompany solitude.
Hence the importance of continuing to support the growth of this drink that puts the name of Mexico in the world so high. Consciously and responsibly, we must preserve the tradition and culture that accompany it. Remember that para todo mal, mezcal, para todo bien, tambien.