Everyone I’ve ever met has a dark past with tequila. Just the mention of it makes their face go sour–the shots, the smell, the blinding drunk, and a hellacious hangover the next morning. For some reason, I am not one of those people. But after my family vacation to Mexico last week, I learned a bit about another South-of-the-Border brew: Mezcal.
Like tequila (which is actually a type of mezcal), mezcal is made from agave, a cactus-like plant, native to Mexico. Mezcals are often aged, in oak barrels, for two months to seven years, giving the alcohol a brown coloration and woody flavor, but are available un-aged and clear.
Connoisseurs will tell you the best mezcals come from the Mexican state of Oaxaca (wah-hock-ah). To fully enjoy the complexities of this subtle liquor, go to the city of Oaxaca, the state’s capital, who’s colonial architecture and friendly people only add to the liquor’s historic mystic.
While there are plenty of bars in Oaxaca that offer a wide array of the world’s best mezcals, I recommend just buying a bottle and taking it back to the hostel (this one is awesome), where all your new, world-traveler friends can enjoy the experience with you. My brother and I chose an un-aged, translucent bottle of mezcal that we believe the liquor store clerk described as “the most popular in Oaxaca.” But he only spoke Spanish. So he could have said pretty much anything.
Don’t start thinking you need any fancy, special glasses for mezcal-drinking. Anything out of your hostel’s random array of cups and mugs will do. If you’re doing shots, pick up a mixture of chili-powder and salt, Mexico’s favorite spices. (It comes with everything from beer to mixed fruit, and can be acquired at the liquor store.) Lick it off your hand like salt when drinking tequila.
Also, be sure to buy another of Oaxaca’s specialties: spicy, fried crickets. You can get them all over the city. We bought half a pound from a sun-dried woman, with a cart, on the street.
Disclaimer: While drinking mezcal, eat nothing but crickets. The flavors, which taste absolutely horrible together, will greatly better your character. Your family or friends may tell you to eat something more substantial (and less disgusting). Ignore them.
Once you have your bottle of mezcal and bowl of crickets set up neatly in the hostel’s common-area, consume both entirely, over the next few hours, while sloppily attempting to chat-up the super-hot Italian chick that’s traveling through Central and South America, teaching English to street children.
Try offering some of the mezcal to the friends you just made that day. They won’t like it, and will say it smells too “vegetably,” but that’s ok. (More for you!) Once the bottle is empty, stumble down the street to a “bodega” and buy beer, preferably 40s of some unknown Mexican variety. Drink the beer.
Now would be a good time to check your work email, and respond to whatever bosses you may have, who’ve been trying to contact you, but can’t because you’re in f*cking Mexico.
Once that’s done, go to sleep. If you’ve planned your trip correctly, you should be staying in a room with at least one bunk-bed. Ours had two, with me on the top bunk, my brother on the bottom, and our father on the bottom bunk of the other bed.
This is when the magic happens. Assuming all the mezcal and crickets are gone, expect to wake up in the middle of the night with a mouth full of saliva and a rumbling stomach. I call this Mezcal, Stage-Dos.
You might think you have time to get to the bathroom before the puking begins, but you’d be wrong. Simply sit up–that should get things moving. To properly enjoy mezcal’s second wave, be sure to projectile vomit off the top bunk. Your brother or friend should be on the bottom bunk, his gut-busting laugher growing exponentially with each heave and splash, as your pissed-off father frantically rummages around the room for the towels he bought earlier in the day–because you all forgot to bring one–so that he can clean up your half digested cricket-puke.
Next, clean the barf off your brother’s boots. Upon returning to the room, be sure to knock over the open, but completely full, 40-oz bottle of beer you mindlessly left on the floor a few hours before. Clean up that mess with the only remaining clean towel.
In the morning, you should have a healthy glaze of beer and bright red, chili-powder covered cricket eyes, legs and abdomens covering your floor, sheets and luggage. Hopefully your dad will be gone by the time you wake up. Don’t worry, when he returns, he’ll think it’s just as F’ing hilarious as you do which, because of the hangover, is probably not that funny at all.