Agave Spirits is out Now!

In Defense of Bootlegging



Long live the bootleggers of the world. My uncles and grandfathers were proud basement distillers of Lebanese araq; my father mashed grapes with his feet in the bathtub after school when he was an adolescent.

Some of our best beverages of the Americas had to go under cover during Prohibition and la Ley Seca, that created more demand and more fermenting vats and clandestine distilleries. Hard cider, scobi-based kefir ferments in the South, corn mash whiskeys and mezcals are among the survivors. Many others fell by the wayside. But even today, more bootleg bacanora, comiteco, mezcal and raicilla are drunk in Mexico than the legal stuff.

And most tequilas are to homemade, and-grown, backyard distilled mezcals as Pat Bone is to race record heroes like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon or John Brim and the Gary Kings. Always choose bootlegged hooch over diffuser-blasted mixto tequilas in designer bottles curated by actors, rock stars and hip-hop artists.

Making bootleg bacanora, lechuguilla and sotol has been part of a rite of passage for Sonoran men and women for at least two centuries. They are sources of family and regional pride, not just commodities.

-Gary Paul Nabhan