In pursuit of the story behind a beguiling drink, Granville Greene embarks on a journey through remote Mexican highlands to learn about the history, cultures, and traditions surrounding mezcal. In recent years the smoky flavored agave distillate has become a craft cocktail darling, rivaling even its better-known cousin tequila, and it can sell for over $100 a bottle in the U.S.
But unlike most high-end spirits, mezcals are typically produced by and for subsistence farming communities, where distillers have been swept up in a hot new trend in which they have very little voice. Greene visits indigenous villages in Oaxaca and Guerrero states, meeting maestros mezcaleros who create their signature small-batch drinks using local plants and artisanal production methods honed through generations of mezcal-making families. Here, the spirit is never mixed into cocktails and is instead consumed puro on special occasions, a liquid language that celebrates community identity along with the diverse characters of numerous agave species.
As Greene details the sights, smells, and intoxicating flavors of Mexico, he turns his eye to the broader context of impoverished villages in a changing economic and political landscape. He explores the gold-rush style surge of micro-distilled mezcals as luxury exports, and the consequent overharvesting that threatens the diversity of wild agaves, as he finds the oldest distilled spirit in the Americas at a crossroads.