Mezcal and Dogmatism in Oaxaca: Acknowledge Other Points of View (Part 7 of 7)

el silencio cocktailDogmatism sometimes gets the better of us.  When we’re teaching about the culture of mezcal, it is sometimes very easy to exaggerate and mis-state, by finding fact where there is none.  And when we’re preaching to the uninformed, we sometimes forget that there is always fact-checking.  The uninitiated will not always take what is stated as gospel; especially when their interest in visiting Oaxaca is to learn about our spirit from a variety of sources.

Agave Madre cuisheWe must check our dogmatism at the door.  The braggarts may be building up their own reputations, but only for that fleeting moment, hour or day, until more tempered discourse in a different drinking or learning environment takes over.  Afterwards, it’s the reputation of the mezcalería which potentially suffers.

The foregoing are only a few of the instances in which blowhards in their dogmatic approach to the industry in the end do more harm than good: “X agave makes the best agave distillate; mezcal that is reduced to its ultimate consumption ABV by adding distilled or spring water rather than just the cola, is not real mezcal.” Again here, the same problem.

CopitaMapThe dramatic rise in the number of mezcalerías in Oaxaca since about 2013, is remarkable.  But without proper training of staff and taking greater care in promoting the spirit, it may all go for naught. Encourage both novices and the initiated, to experiment, read, imbibe and otherwise learn.  Don’t speak or write in absolutes, save for when there is certainty. Opine, but at the same time acknowledge other points of view. The mezcal industry in Oaxaca, and for the world, will benefit and continue its surge.

 

alvin starkman, Oaxaca, mezcal, Mezcal, Oaxaca, Glass, Cup, Jícaras, Clay, copita Alvin Starkman is a permanent resident of the city of Oaxaca, from where he operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca.  He can be reached at mezcaleducationaltours@hotmail.com.

Alvin Starkman holds an M.A. in social anthropology from Toronto’s York University and a J.D. from Osgoode Hall Law School.  He has written one book about mezcal (Mezcal in the Global Spirits Market:  Unrivalled Complexity, Innumerable Nuances) and over 35 articles centering upon Mexican craft beer, pulque, mezcal and sustainability, as well as a further 250 articles about Oaxacan life and cultural traditions. He co-authored a chapter in an edited volume on culinary heritage (published August, 2014), and wrote an article about brideprice in a Zapotec village (scheduled for release in autumn, 2014, in the Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies).

Mezcal and Dogmatism in Oaxaca: Glasses, Cups, Jícaras & Clay (Part 6 of 7)


Mezcal, Oaxaca, Glass, Cup, Jícaras, Clay, copita It’s hard to dispute that a vessel made of glass is the best medium for drinking mezcal, or any liquid for that matter, because it is neutral.

Similarly I would suggest, at least for mezcal, a small half gourd or jicarita arguably provides imbibers with a shape which optimally enables their spirit to open prior to drinking.  Some suggest, however, that the “wood” of the jícara impacts the flavor of the mezcal.  A standard shot glass for mezcal, or caballito tequilero, is neutral, but because of its shape the spirit cannot open as is the case if poured into a jicarita.  Does this throw a wrench into the proposition that you should only drink mezcal from glass? Yes, a solution to the conundrum is that the positive reply to the question holds if the glass is in the shape of a small half gourd.  What if it’s a small clay cup in the shape of a jicarita? Worse than a jícara? Better or worse than a glass caballito?

 

The point, once again, is dogmatism.  If it’s tradition that we want, then we should be drinking our mezcal out of half gourds like Mexicans have been doing for hundreds of years, or out of small pieces of the invasive bamboo specie known as carrizo (river reed).  Query if it is the same people who advocate only drinking “traditional” mezcal (unaged), who would also shun the idea of being too traditional by drinking from a jícara or piece of carrizo, and not sipping out of glass.

 

Mezcal, Oaxaca, Glass, Cup, Jícaras, Clay, copita The solution is, I suppose, to try drinking your mezcal out of a variety of vessels of different shapes and compositions.  I’ve noticed when experimenting with industry friends, that some mezcals open differently depending on the shape.  For me, anything but a caballito, made of glass or carrizo, is fine, suggesting that perhaps form is more important than composition (leaving aside the issue of clay jicaritas).

 

Experiment if you can.  Perhaps the small ribbed glass votive candle holders with the cross on the bottom, or a brandy, is the appropriate compromise.  At the end of the day it’s akin to what I’ve read from the critics of new vehicle reviewers; when it comes to handling, cornering, shocks and comfort, forget what the experts write, and test drive to form your own opinion and decide based on how the car, truck or SUV handles when behind the wheel. Perhaps for one particular mezcal anything serves, for another one vessel enhances optimally, and yet for a third a different form and medium provides that exquisite aroma and flavor profile which has otherwise escaped.

Read our next installment on this thought provoking feature by Alvin Starkman tomorrow where he’ll wrap up his discussion and encourage a wider discourse.  

 

alvin starkman, Oaxaca, mezcalAlvin Starkman is a permanent resident of the city of Oaxaca, from where he operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca.  He can be reached at mezcaleducationaltours@hotmail.com.

Alvin Starkman holds an M.A. in social anthropology from Toronto’s York University and a J.D. from Osgoode Hall Law School.  He has written one book about mezcal (Mezcal in the Global Spirits Market:  Unrivalled Complexity, Innumerable Nuances) and over 35 articles centering upon Mexican craft beer, pulque, mezcal and sustainability, as well as a further 250 articles about Oaxacan life and cultural traditions. He co-authored a chapter in an edited volume on culinary heritage (published August, 2014), and wrote an article about brideprice in a Zapotec village (scheduled for release in autumn, 2014, in the Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies).