A traditional drink is giving a boost to the economy of one of the poorest states in Mexico. It’s called mezcal, a pungent booze made from the agave plant — the same plant used to make Mexico’s biggest spirit export, tequila. Investors north of the border are taking notice of Mezcal’s newfound popularity and are flocking to the southern state of Oaxaca, its main production hub.
The heart of mezcal country is in Oaxaca’s central valley. Small, traditional producers distill the spirit alongside their crops and farm animals. Mezcal is prepared in distilleries called palenques, barn-like structures where the agave plant’s thick, tall leaves are shaved with machetes and crushed. The sweet extract juices are then distilled into the smoky, clear alcohol.
Demand for mezcal is growing. Last year it was Mexico’s third-largest alcoholic export, behind beer and tequila, generating more than $26 million, according to the Mexican government.