Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from any type of agave plant native to Mexico. The word comes from Nahuatl mexcalli and ixcalli which means “oven-cooked agave”. Agave, a plant that is often misidentified as a variety of cactus, grows in many parts of Mexico though most mezcal is made in Oaxaca. It can also be made in Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Michoacan and the recently approved Puebla. It is unclear whether distilled drinks were produced in Mexico before the Spanish Conquest. The Spaniards were introduced to native fermented drinks such as pulque, made from the maguey plant. Soon, the conquistadors began experimenting with the agave plant to find a way to make a distillable fermented mash. The result was mezcal. Today, it is still made from the heart of the agave plant, called the piña, much the same way it was 200 years ago. In Mexico, it is generally consumed straight and has a strong smoky flavor. Though mezcal is not as popular as tequila (made specifically from the blue agave in select regions of the country), Mexico does export the product, mostly to Japan and the United States, and exports are growing.
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