MEZCAL: A Folk Vocabulary for Mezcal Growers, Distillers and Drinkers
Abocado - Not a lawyer nor avocado fruit (1), abocado refers to the artificial “mellowing” (or doctoring) of joven mezcals to chemically infuse them with more color and flavor. Although it is a legally accepted practice for one of the classes of mezcal as defined by the current Norm, it allows caramel coloring, artificial flavorants, oak extracts, high fructose sugar and glycerine to “soften” the flavor and appearance of a mezcal to avoid the expense and time of aging it in a wooden barrel. In essence, a joven abocado is somewhat like a fake reposado or añejo.
Agranel - A (usually) low-quality mezcal espadín or tequila sold in bulk or aggregated from various producers. It usually fermented with the help of sugars, packaged yeasts or other additives, and distilled only once. The term is used to refer to cheap, wholesale quantities of mezcal produced in Guerrero, Jalisco or Oaxaca that are the Mexcican equivalents of “two buck chuck” wines.
Aguamiel - A Spanish term echoing old indigenous terms that literally mean “honey water” or sweet sap upwelling from the meristem of a maguey pulquero to be drunk fresh or fermented into pulque. Aguamiel is still a popular fresh beverage in the Altiplano of Hidalgo (where it is peppered with chiles), Queretero, San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas, and in the Valley of Mexico. In some localities, the term is also used for the diluted juices of a roasted agave extracted from crushing in a tahona or with mazos. See tahona and mazos. In a few places like Comitan, Chiapas, it is distilled into spirits called comiteco.
Alambique - A term derived from Classic Arabic, al-ʾinbīq, which refers to a particular copper-pot style of still originating in the Middle East or Central Asia. In many versions of this still, its lower evaporation chamber (set over a fire) is separated from its condensation chamber by a gooseneck. The invention of this ancient alembic distillation apparatus is apocryphally attributed to Sufi alchemist Jābir ibn Ḥayyān, who may have lived in Iraq up until 806 to 816. The alembic still has variants that became adapted for mezcal making across much of Colonial Mexico, even though its presence may not be as ancient as either the pre-Colombian or introduced Asian-style stills surviving in remote mountainous areas along the Pacific coast of Mexico. See alquitara, below.
Alquitara - Another Mexican term derived from Arabic, the term was originally a synonym for the alambique still, but has since come to connote any slow distillation process of mezcal used in Mexico.
Alto - This term regionally refers to a folk variety of Agave inaequedans I Michoacan and adjacent; other folk varieties or synonyms for this wild species include bruto and largo.
Amole – From the Nahuatl amulli, a sub-group of agaves whose leaves, rhizomes or hearts are rich enough in sapogenins to serve as soaps or as medicines. Although a few have been used for “mezcal espumosa,” a foamy or sudsy spirit, they are now a small percentage of all agaves used in distillates.
Añejo – This Spanish term for any “aged” or “time-seasoned” product legally refers to tequilas or mezcals aged in wooden barrels for a minimum of 12 months. The finest mezcals of this type are typically aged from 18 months to 48 months. If the añejo is of 100% agave, it is usually aged for 36 to 48 months.
Apulco - At least fifteen trademarked artisanal mezcals are currently produced in Apulco, Jalisco, using both espadín and tequila azul agaves.
Arroqueño - A Spanish folk taxonomic term for the Oaxacan land race or raza criolla scientifically known as (Agave americana var. oaxacensis). It is a giagantic wild maguey that takes twenty to twenty-five more years to mature in its natural habitat in the central valley of Oaxaca, but less when brought into cultivation. This slow growth accumulates earthy, herbaceous flavors and candied, smokey aromas when the mature heads are ultimately roasted. The mezcals distilled from this variety may feature flavors and fragrances of melon, chocolate, green beans, or vegetables, with a savory finish.
Bacanora —An agave spirit distilled from the northernmost populations of Agave angustifolia in the zona serrana of Sonora, and minimally in the adjacent states of Chihuahua and Sinaloa. Bacanora --from the Yaqui or Cahitan terms baca “carrizo or other aquatic plants” and nora “sloping ridge” --- is named for a valley near Sahuaripa, Sonora. The terroir of the mezcal derived from this plant in the Valle de Bacanora was so distinctive that agave taxonomist Howard Gentry retained the name Agave pacifica exclusively for these Sonoran populations for decades before ultimately lumping it into the single-most widespread agave species in 1982. In 2000, bacanora was given a Denomination of Origin (DO) apart from the one already given to ancestral and artisanal mezcal. Bacanora remains the pride of bootleggers in Sonora, where every warm-blooded male in the state insists that he has run a tren (clandestine still) in the hills and hollows.
Barranco - The term used for pits prepared for the tatemada “roasting” of mezcal in Sonora and Chihuahua. See horno and tatemada.
Barbeo – The trimming, pruning or cutting of the terminal spines of the agave leaves (pencas) aimed to make the head (cabeza) grow better. There are different techniques for the barbeo, including barbeo de escopeta “shotgun pruning” to induce premature ripening and growth.
Barril, Barrica, Barileto — Various names for barrels and kegs of different sizes and shapes; also a measure of volume of mezcal in some localities. The añejo and reposado mezcals and tequilas are typically aged in white oak barrels imported from southern Europe, although Mexican coopers called toneleros now make some barrels from other native oaks. Most barrels used for mezcal have capacities up to 200 liters (60 gallons), although less voluminous ones are used for smaller batches. Barril is also a folk variety of Agave karwinskii.
Batidor –The person who manually serves as the “beater” or “masher” of the roasted agave must in the traditional process of making an agave distillate. Traditionally, a (usually) naked worker descended into the wooden vats or tubs where the must (mosto) had been deposited. He used his hands and feet to beat the fibers from the mashed piñas to aid the fermentation process.
Bayusa - A Sonoran and Chihuahuan term for the edible flowers of agaves, especially those of the mezcal bacanora, Agave angustifolia.
Bermejo – A folk variety of land race of Agave sisalana with a vermillion blush. It was historically mixed in with tequila azul to make vino mezcal de Tequila, but cannot be legally used today. It is however, sometimes included today in asembleas or ensambles of multipole agave species.
Biguata –A morphological term used in Sonora and Chihuahua for the heart or meristem of an agave, which, when roasted, forms a finer texture for eating and distilling than the more fibrous penca leaf tissue. See mezontle.
Binguís and Bingarrote - Historically, these terms refer to two distinctive runs of aguamiel passed through an alambique still, as noted in Pineda’s report on beverages of New Spain in 1790’s. Today, binguís continue to be distilled from the juice of maguey pulquero (Agave salmiana) on a small scale in Guanajuato as an uncertified agave distillate.
Blanco –A white or joven mezcal, one of the classes of mezcal that has received no aging or infusion after distillation, as defined by the Norm. Never aged in wooden barrels, it is merely allowed to rest in stainless steel tanks for up to sixty days before bottling. For tequila, it is also commercially hyped as plata, plato, or silver, and considered by some to be the sharpest or most strongly flavored of the types.
Blanco suave - An unofficial term indicating that a blanco tequila has had extra aging or adulteration with abogado additives to smoothen its sharp taste.
Bola - Another term for the trimmed ball-like head or cabeza of an agave. See piña.
Bronco - A folk variety of wild or feral Agave salmiana subspecies crassispina. It is smaller and has narrower leaves than other salmiana varieties but is used for both pulque and mezcal in semi-arid scrublands of the Altiplano states of central Mexico.
Bruto - Is a folk name of wild Agave inaequidens, which grows in the subtropical scublands and forests of Jalisco and parts of Michoacan. This agave is used primarily in raicilla de la sierra (where it is used along with Agave maximiliana) and some rare 100% agave distillates.
Cabeza - The Spanish term for head, used for the core of the agave rosette before it is trimmed into bola or piña. In other parts of Mexico, it is referred to as the coba, táhuta, or chicata. The same noun is also used for the first run of agave distillate to come through the still, which is usually discarded (or used in cheaper de granel mezcals). This first run is also called the puntas or chuqui.Cacaya—This is one of the many indigenous terms for the edible flowers or blossoms of agaves. This term is used by both the Mixtecos and Popolacas of Oaxaca and Veracruz. Maguey Cacaya is also used as a folk name for Agave angustarium of Guerreo, Michoacan and Oaxaca, Agave kerchovei of Oaxcaca and Puebla, or Agave peacockii of Puebla.
Caldera - This term is used by Oaxacan maestros mezcaleros for the lower one of the two stout clay pouts used in olla de barro stills. A caldera typically holds about forty to fifty liters of the agave must called tepache or mosto.
Canoa - While this Arauca term literally means “canoe, ”it is hollow tree trunk in which cooked agave is mashed with mallets. Larger canoas may also be used for fermenting cooked agave. Canoas is also a name for the coastal region of Jalisco which has a distinctive tradition of mezcal distillation sometimes confused with the raicilla de la costa tradition.
Cántaro - A black, water-tight ceramic jug that is cured then used in the traditional process of aging mezcal in Oaxaca and Puebla. In Oaxaca, a trough-like leaf of a plant drains fresh distillate into a receptacle that is also called a cántaro.
Capada/Capona - This term refers to agaves whose flower stalks (quiotes) have been severed or castrated at the base (capado). This process—also called desquiote- allows the meristem to swell with sugars and flavors to season into a ricker agave for distillation. Maguey capón is prized for its high sugar content and strong flavor.
Capitel - Another, less commonly used term for the montera of a still.
Carrizo - A type of river cane (Phragmites australis or Arundo donax), used as conduit in clay-pot distillation. This bamboo-like tube can be employed in the venencia to measure and balance alcohol content.
Cenizo - Ashy-gray varieties or wild populations of several different varieties used in mezcal, including Agave durangensis and Agave shrevei in the Sierra Madre Occidental.
Chacaleño – A folk name for an espadín-like Agave angustifolia land race from Tamazula in the westernmost sierra of Durango.
Chato – A folk name for Agave seemaniana and/or Agave americana in Jalisco. Also used as an historic synonym for the folk variety more frequently known as saguayo that was once in tequila azul fields and in distillates of vino mezcal de Tequila.
Chichihualco - A traditional mezcal from the Chichihualco de los Bravos in the state of Guerrero, that is now infused with floral or fruity flavors of Jamaica, mango, nanche, and tamarindo by the brothers Florencio “El Pato” and Baldomero Marino, and their children.
Chico Aguiar - A folk term used by mezcaleros for one of several wild varieties of Agave angustifolia used for raicilla de la costa made on the Jaliscan coast not far from Puerto Vallarta.
Chilocuiles - The infamous “red worms” drowning in the bottles of some Oaxacan mezcals ---called gusanos rojos, tecoles, chilocuiles or chinicuiles – are really larvae of two moths, Hypopta agavis, or Comadia redtenbacheri. Their supple bodies can be eaten as a snack with your mezcal shooter, or ground with salt to adorn the rim of your margarita glass. They are also an ingredient in the seasoned pulque curado drink of Oaxaca and Puebla called tecolio.
Chinguririto - An historic term for a class of spirits (aguardientes) produced in Mexico from either sugar cane or agave in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Chino – A folk name for Agave cupreata used to distill mezcal in Michoacan.
Churi – A Northwest Mexican term for small but flavorful agave plant constrained by growing in a rocky environment, but one that may still produce flavorful spirits.
Cimarrón - A folk name for wild Agave salmiana subspecies crassispina, as well as a more general term for the wild-flavored agaves used in the distillation of mezcals and other spirits.
Cirial - On the many folk varieties of land races in the Agave karwinksii complex of Oaxaca and Puebla, one of the most varied sets of agaves used for mezcals in all of Mexico.
Coa de Jima — A sharp, round bladed tool much like a hoe used by jimadores to trim (barbear) or to harvest (tumbar) agaves.
Cogollo - The meristematic tissue forming the point of bud elongation into a quiote or agave inflorescence, also called cobata in Northwest Mexico.
Cola - A term for the “tails” of the second or last run in agave distillation. While they are generally undesirable because of being low in ethanol and high in toxic methanol, they are still used to adjust the final alcohol content of mezcal. In essence, they are the distilled liquids condensed and collected toward the end of distillation, after the second and final “cut” has been made. Also called mezcal floxo in Pineda’s report on agave beverages of New Spain in the 1790’s.
Comiteco – A distilled beverage prepared from aguamiel (and/or sugar cane) in the town of Comitán de Domínguez, Chiapas; there are distilled pulques occasionally prepared on the Atliplano of Central Mexico as well.
Común - The liquids that are condensed from the first distillation of agave juice, that when re-distilled, becomes mezcal. They are also called “shishe” and “ordinario.”
Corazón - The “heart” or middle portion of a run of agave distillates that is used to make mezcal or tequila.
Coyote – A folk variety of Agave American subspecies Americana used for distilling mezcal in Oaxaca.
Cuelgue - An archaic Spanish term for the entire process of elaborating 100% agave spirits, derived from holding and fermenting (colgando) the agave juices in rawhide bags.
Cuernito - Literally “little horn,” this is a container fashioned from a hollow cow or goat horn used to measure, taste, and drink agave distillates.
Cuescomate – A Nahuatl term from cues comatl, for olla de barro distillation.
Cuestecomata – The name for the hard-shelled fruit and tropical tree, Crescentia alata, an early domesticated perennial of tropical America. The gourd-like fruit are painted or carved and used as decorative jicarita cups for sampling and sipping mezcals.
Cuishe or Cuixe - A cylindrical, sometimes tear-drop shaped folk variety of wild Agave karwinskii, distilled in olla de barro stills for mezcal in Oaxaca. It is one of the few agaves that forms a woody trunk below the piña, which itself is elongate rather than round. Related to other folk varieties named bicuishe and madrecuishe.
Curandero - A folk name for wild Agave marmorata, also known as pitzometl, used for distilling mezcal in Oaxaca and Puebla.
Elixir de agave - A liqueur made with agave distillates – most often tequila and mezcal—infused with other liquors made from fruit or flowers, such as damiana.
Espadilla – A folk variety of Agave angustifolia var. rubescens used to distill mezcal in Jalisco and adjacent states.
Espadín - The cultivated variety of Agave angustifolia that is commonly used to produce mezcal de Oaxaca, but is also now grown in other states. It has become highly selected, cloned and genetically narrowed just as the tequila azul cultivar has become.
Estoquillo – A folk variety of Agave univittata var. lophantha (formerly Agave lophantha) used for distilling mezcal in Tamaulipas.
Excommun - An uncertified bootleg mezcal, also called Excommunicación, historically produced in Michoacan, and still elaboratred in one locality today. As described in Pineda’s report on beverages of New Spain in the 1790’s, it was prohibited by the Bishop of Valladolid, who sentenced culpable drinkers or distillers with excommunication and time in jail.
Giganta – A folk name for the rare, and federally protected species, Agave valenciana. It grows in the raicilla de la sierra area of Jalisco, where, despite its endangered status, is authorized for use in mezcal distillation under the CRR . Fortunately, it is hardly used. See relisero, a synonym.
Hijuelo - This Spanish term refers to rhizomes that extend from the base of mother plants, more often in some maguey varietals than others. They are natural genetic clones of the parent agave, and also called offshoots or “pups.” Jimadores pull them up and re-plant vigorous ones in the first year or two of a new planting, but often cull out others that compete with the older mother plant for energy. In some areas, the size of hijuelos for replanting are classed by likening them to lemons, oranges and grapefruits. They are also called seeds or mecuates.
Horno – The term for any kind of oven in Spanish, it is used by mezcaleros to refer to the above-ground brick ovens used by many producers to cook agave. It can also be used for underground pvens or baking pits, but barranco is more commonly used in Mexico’s northwest and west central regions. In some regions, the entire mezcaleria site for roasting, fermenting and distilling agaves is sometimes referred to as horno, rather than as a vinata, tren, taberna or palenque.
Huizitla - A mezcal made with the tequila azul cultivar in the towns of Huitzila and Tezontla, Zacatecas.
Ingüixe - In some regions, this indigenous term refers to the very end of the tails of distillation. Not used for adjusting the final alcohol content of mezcal.
Ixtle - This Hispanicized word from the Nahuatl term ixtli o ictli refers to agaves historically grown largely for the fiber use in ropes, handbags, baskets and weavings. They are now used in the distillation of mezcal as well. Ixtlero Amarillo is the folk name for a low-sugar variety of Agave rhodacantha, while ixtlero verde is a folk variety of Agave angustifolia in the same range of western Mexico. Henequén (Agave fourcroydes) is a fine fiber agave native to the Yucatan peninsula that mezcaleros grow for agave spirits in Yucatan, but it is distilled in Oaxaca. Sisal (Agave sisalana) is another agave originally domesticated for its fiber that is now used in asemblea or blends of multiple species for mezcal or other 100% agave spirits.
Jabali - A folk term for wild Agave convallis and the mezcals elaborated from them in Oaxaca and Puebla.
Jaibica - A small hatchet or hachuela, twice as small as a normal axe, used specifically for trimming or mashing agaves in Northwest Mexico.
Jaiboli - A rare wild agave of southern Sonora and adjacent Chihuahua, Agave jaiboli. It was historically used for distilling mezcal by Mayo, Guarijio and mestizo inhabitants living on the flanks of the Sierra Madre Occidental. Legend has it that a campesino offered the name jaiboli for this agave to Dr. Howard Gentry, who codified it as a scientific epithet, before realizing that that the well-traveled Sonoran meant that it should be good for “making highballs.”
Jarcia - A term used in Tamaulipas to refer to several wild agaves—Agave gentryi, A. montana and A. montium-sanctiroli- used for distilling mezcal in a distinctive tradition of Northeastern Mexico.
Jicarita – Hispanicized from the Nahuatal xicali, a gourd-like fruit cask from the plant Crescentia alata used to measure, taste, and drink mezcal.
Jima – From the Nahuatl term xima, “to smooth into a desired shape, to trim hair, to shave a beard, prune a shrub, or plane a piece of wood or sculpt a piece of stone.” The term is used throughout much of Mexico jor the pruning and harvesting of mature agaves.
Jimador - With roots as noted above, a skilled farmworker who harvests agave, most often used regarding tequila specialists.
Joven - One of the classes of mezcal as defined by the Norm. White mezcal, receiving no treatment after distillation. Also called blanco, although joven is the traditional and preferred term.
Komil - An indigenous term for “intoxicating drinks,” supposedly derived from Nahuatl. It was a seldom-used name unsuccessfully proposed as a legal term for agave distillates that were not approved by the Consejo Regulador de Mezcal or other regulatory councils. Between 2015 and 2017, CRM proposed NOM 199 that would have mandated that the Mexican government enforce the use of name komil for any agave spirits made outside the permitted zones for mezcal. The implementation of this change was never achieved, due to backlash from mezcaleros, who were furious that the CRM was determined to keep them from calling their plants and spirits mezcals as their families had done for centuries.
Lamparillo – Literally a “little lamp,” this term refers to a folk variety of Agave asperrima used for distilling mezcal in Durango. The folk term is alsoused to refer to a trago grande or big shot or swallow on any aguardiente.
Lechuguilla – Literally any wild plant with milky or cream-colored leaf sap (not just lettuce), this term is a folk name for several species of agave, not just Agave lechuguilla, a desert species first described in the Chihuahuan Desert in 1859. It is also the common name for Agave maximiliana used in raicilla de la sierra, and for Agave palmeri, Agave shrevei, and other related species distilled alone or mixed with bacanora in Sonora and Chihuahua. Also, aguas de lechuguilla is a mildly-fermented probiotic favored by schoolchildren in Jalisco and Colima, sometimes produced from Agave inaequidans.
Lineño - A folk variety of Agave angustifolia, also called pata de mula, and was once used along with tequila azul in distilling vino mezcal de tequila until banned by the CRT.
Madrecuishe - A folk variety of wild Agave karwinskii used in distilling mezcal in olla de barro stills in Oaxaca. See cuishe.
Madurado en vidrio - Literally “matured in glass (demijohns),” this is one of the categories of aged mezcald as defined by the Norm.
Maguey - From the Carib language of Hispaniola, this is now a preferred term for agave in Oaxaca and other states. The Spanish conquistadores brought the word with them from Hispaniola.
Maguey Pulquero – A collective term used for the gigantic agaves such as Agave atrovirens, A. mapisaga, A, salmiana and sometimes A. Americana land races. Many of these not only produce enormous quantities of aguamiel for fermentation into pulque, but can be distilled in 100% agave spirits such as comiteco as well.
Manso - A folk name for wild or feral Agave salmiana subspecies crassispina.
Margayate - Mezcals or agave spirits of crude quality, also called broncos or soyate.
Marsaparillo - A folk variety of Agave lophantha used in distilling mezcal in Tamaulipas.
Masparillo – A wild variety of Agave maximiliana occasionally harvested to distill mezcal in the Mezquital area of Durango.
Mayaguel – The Mesoamerican goddess of agaves, drunkenness, fecundity and fertility. She dispensed aguamiel or pulque from her 400 breasts to her children, the Centzon Totochin or “drunken bunnies.”
Mazos - Large wooden mallet used for hand-mashing cooked maguey in ancestral mezcals and other agave spirits.
Mechichicual - The Nahuatl term for the lateral spines on the sides of agave leaves, used to separate quality and ripeness of the pencas.
Mecuate – From the Nahuatl term mecuatl, the vegetative offshoots of a mother agave; see hijuelo.
Meocuil - This Nahuatl term refers to the edible white larvae of the tequila giant skipper butterfly. It became a loan word in Mexican Spanish and is now widely used by mezcaleros everywhere. These larvae infest tequila azul and other cultivated agaves. In English they are simply called white maguey “worms,” although they are not true worms, but larval stages in the metamorphosis of Aegiale hesperiaris.
Metepantle – The agave-lined terraces of ancient Mesoamerican and Aridamerican milpas.
Metl - The Nahuátl word for agave, from which the word mezcal is derived: metl ixcalli “cooked agave.”
Mexocotl – Spirits made with a wild, spiny bromeliad or “ciruela” botanically known as Bumelia humilis. Although the pineapple-like plasnt is not agave, its Nahuátl name means “fruit of maguey.”
Mezcal/Mescal/Mexcalmetl: As noted above, Hispanicized Nahuatl terms for roasted agave, derived from metl “agave” and ixcalli “cooked,” although there are other, more metaphorical etymologies as well.
Mezcal Bronco - Mid-quality or mediocre mezcal, often for retail sale. Often purchased in bulk by companies for bottling.
Mezcal Bruto - A folk variety of Agave inaquedans in Jalisco.
Mezcal Casero – Small batch, homemade (often bottlegged) mezcals or 100% agave spirits.
Mezcal Colorado – Literally “red” or “rust-colored” mezcal juices. Oaxacan campesinos have a particular fondness for the rust-tainted distillates collected in old iron condensers, calling this reddish liquor mezcal colorado!
Mezcal Corriente - A term used for cheap, often aldulterated agave spirits like Tonoyán licor de agave, which is used for “aguas locas” puches or cocktails the way Everclear grain alcohol or rectified spirit has been used by people without means for a quick drunk. Historically, many decent mezcals were also considered Corrientes unworthy of attention by sophisticated drinkers.
Mezcal Curado - A mezcal or 100% agave distillate seasoned or infused with fruits, herbs like damiana, or nuts added after all distillation runs.. Pechuga mezcals- are infusions in one sense -- are made through a slightly different process of letting vapors in a third run rise up through a bag of natural flavorants perched just below the condenser of the still.
Mezcal Ticushi - From the Mixtec term, Yavii ticunchi’I, this folk name refers to Agave nussavorium in Oaxaca. It is considered a sacred agave among the Mixtecs, who use the plant itself in rituals connected to the game pelota. There are also medicinal rituals associated with the very special mezcal distilled from this agave, distillates that are variously known as el del patrón, el del cura, not just mezcal ticushi.
Mezcalero - The skilled artisan who oversees the baking and fermentation of piñas and the distillation of agave must in a palenque, taberna or vinata. The most highly-regarded of these liquid artists are called maestros mezcaleros or palenqueros.
Mezcaleria – a distillery, tasting room or store more mezcals and other agave spirits.
Mezontle/Mesontle/Meylonte/Mosolote – From metl “agave” and zolotl “heast” or “meristem.”The heart of the piña; it has a more granular texture and distinctive flavor profile compared to the pencas. On occasion, mezcals are distilled exclusively from mezontles.
Mescalón – A high proof mezcal.
Milpa - The agro-ecological landscape in which maize, amaranths, beans, squashes, chiles and other vegetables are placed in between rows of agave, prickly pear and perennial tree crops. The cosmovision underlying milpa design favors crop diversity over uniformity, spatial heterogeneity over monoculture terrain, and multiple cultural, utilitarian and spiritual uses of each plant over a single economic return.
Mistela por alambique - From Pineda’s report on beverages of New Spain in 1790’s, an ordinario run drawn from a Arab-style alambique to be mixed with anise and with sweet sap or syrup from pulque agaves (necuhtli).
Mixiotes - The Nahuatl-derived term "mixiote" refers to the parchment-like cuticle or waxy membrane obtained from maguey leaves as well as to the barbecued meat dishes wrapped within it. It is a Hispanicized versión of metl, for maguey or agave, and xiotl, the cellophane-like skin of its leaf.
Mixto - A kind of agave-based spirit—usually a cheap tequila—which is comprised of fermented agave must combined with another source of sugar. Legally a tequila mixto needs to have at least 51% blue agave alcohol with 49% or less alcohol from sugar cane. Mixtos are used in most of the “industrial strength” margarita mixes used in bars and restaurants in the U.S.
Mochomos - Literally, this northern Uto-Aztecan term refers to the agriculturally industrious leaf-cutter ants (Atta mexicana) who ferment foliage into nutritious food for their brood in the dark recesses of underground burrows. Metaphorically, it is used in Sonora for bootleggers who distill bacanora, lechuguilla and other spirits during the dark of the night at stills hidden in shaded canyons.
Montera – A regional term used by raicelleros as a synonym for a wooden or metal capitel in stills used for making raicilla in Jalisco.
Moraleño – A folk variety of Agave sisalana onced used in Jalisco for making vino mezcal de tequila, but now banned in tequila production by the CRT.
Mosto muerto - “Dead must” derived from having fermented aguamiel into pulque or preparing it for distilling into comiteco. Essentially, it is a probiotic agave beer.
Mosto vivo - The “living must” of pulque, made from actively fermenting aguamiel with a wide variety of endemic yeasts and bacteria.
Necuhtli - A Nahuatl term used for both honey for honeybees, stingless bees and the agave sweet sap molasses made from slowly boiling down aguamiel extracted from pulque agaves.
Olla - Another term used for caldera in Oaxacan stills used in the distillation of agave spirits.
Olla de Barro – A style of still and Oaxacan tradition of distilling agave spirits also called cuescomate, a Nahuatl term from cues comatl.
Ordinario - Liquid condensed from the first distillation of maguey juice. When re-distilled, it becomes mezcal. See also “común” and “shishe.”
Palangana - Catchment bowl in olla de barro still; the term more generally means a wash basin or catch basin. Also called yuifana/
Palenque - A mezcal distillery—in all of its dimensions-- often part of the mezcalero’s home or property. The work site was originally named after the underground roasting pit in which agaves are cooked. In other regions, the same kind of distillerty may be called a mezcaleria, taberna, tanichi, or vinata.
Palenquero – A mezcal producer, especially the woman or man in charge of the operation.
Papalometl – A folk variety or land race of Agave cupreata, although the same term may be used in other localities for the more diminutive Agave potatorum or related species with a spreading, curving butterfly-lke shape. From the Nahuatl, papálotl “butterfly” and metl “agave.”
Parcela/Portero/Yunta – Terms used for the piece of land owned or rented for the production of agaves.
Pata de Mula – A folk variety of Agave angustifolia, is also called lineño, former ly grown with seven or eight other varities fot tequila before banned by the CRT.
Pechuga - Meaning “(poultry) breast,” this term refers to a traditional mezcal style originally from Oaxaca in which poultry, other meats, and/or local fruits and spices are placed in a bag below the condenser during the final distillation. The vapor passes through the cheese cloth bag and captures complex aromas in the condensation that featured in special runs of mezcal. Often done with the same mole ingredients to be used in holiday feasts, this tradition has jumped to other states and stimulated innovation in the use of novel ingredients. Defined as the “Destilado con pechuga” as a special class under the Norm for mezcals.
Penca - Possibly of Portuguese or Catalán origin, this term refers to spiky or spiney-side leaves, particular those of a maguey. Some mezcaleros enjoy making batches of agave spirits, exclusively with the more fibrous, but distinctively flavored pencas versus mezontles.
Perlas – Literally, “pearls,” this term refers to the bubbles that form on the surface of agave spirits when its container is shaken. The formation of a certain density of pearls indicates that the spirits have achieved a strength between approximately 45% and 55% alcohol by volume. Reading perlas is an essential art during the venencia or balancing of runs, so it has become a point of pride and mark of authenticity for many mezcaleros.
Petaquillas - An agave distillate infused or mixed with orange juice and cinnamon. These infused spirits are only sold locally in parts of Guerrero. They are occasionally used as sacraments in religious rituals.
Picado – In Oaxaca, this term is used for the cutting and harvest or ripened agave to prepare them for roasting, fermenting and distilling.
Piña - Literally “pineapple” for another succulent with morphological similarities to the agave, this has become the common name for trimmed heads of maguey harvested to produce nearly all agave spirits.
Pizometl – A folk variety of wild Agave marmorata used in the distillation of mezcal in several states.
Potosino - A folk variety of wild Agave salmiana subspecies crassispina that is used for both pulque and mezcal in San Luis Potosi and adjacent states.
Potrero – Another term for a parcel or plantation of agaves, although terms like rancho, campo de agave, yunta and huerta may also be used regionally.
Pulque - A slightly foamy, milky probiotic beverage made from fermenting the sweet sap or “honey” known as aguamiel that wells up in the middle of an agave plant that has been “castrated” through the process called desquiote. This enormously popular beer-like beverage was first described in print by Hernan Cortés in 1524, and the volume of its consumption in Mexico far outdistanced distilled spirits from agave until after World War II. This nutritious drink remains popular as both unflavored and fruit infused drinks in the southern Chihuhuan Desert, the Altiplano and south-central Mexico, including the capitol city, where pulquerias were where men met to discuss politics in a state of mild inebriation for well over a century.
Pulquero – Both the name for pulque producers and varieties of agaves used for either pulque or mezcal, such as Agave atrovirens. In mezcals, this latter species carries lactose and fruity flavors, a chalky texture, and high minerality.
Puntas - The “points” or heads that come first in each run of distillation. Flavorful and high in alcohol, they are commonly used to adjust the final alcohol content of mezcal. They are sometimes consumed on their own.
Quiote - This Hispanicized term for agave flower stalks comes from the Nahual quiotl, which can signify the stem, stalk or emerging bud of an inflorescence, also called cúburi or piri. Mezcaleros stay alert to a change in agave leaf color and shape that signals the impending emergence of the quiote, for that is when storage carbohydrates are converted to simpler sugars so that the agave can rapidly send the stalk up to flower. If left uncut, the quiote may grow tall enough that its nectar-rich blossoms are within sight, smell and reach of pollinating bats and hummingbirds. But by “castrating” the quiote in different manners through the capona or desquiote process, they can either capture the upwelling of aguamiel to ferment into pulque, or halt the translocation of sugars so that the heart and leaf bases of a mature agave swell up to a greater volume. Some quiotes are peeled for the mixiote skins, then roasted in coals and eaten or fermented to make the highly-valued quiote mezcals. See aguamiel, capona, desquiote, and pulque.
Quitupan - A vino mezcal de olla produced in the pueblo of Quitupan in southeastern Jalisco as early as 1785.
Raicilla - A set of western Mexican mezcals lumped into two geographical units – one from the Jalisco and Nayarit coast (raicilla de la costa) made primarily from Agave angustifolia and A. rhodacantha, and one from inland mountain areas (raicilla de la sierra) made primarily from Agave maximiliana and A. inaequidens. Raicilla is a generic term used for mezcals prepared from as many as six species of agave growing wild in Jalisco and adjacent Nayarit. However, the two primary regions of production recognized by the CRR—costera and serrana— produce distillates through different processing traditions that taste very different from one another. The name raicilla now applied to both of the agave spirits supposedly refers to the “little roots” (sic) that bootleggers used to ferment from these plants. It was a ploy to avoid paying taxes and permit fees for harvesting the aboveground meristem and leaves of agave that fell under legal jurisdiction. Jaliscans sought a Denomination of Origin for their raicillas because their state fell out of the designated region under the DO for all other mezcals, as the tequila industry tried to distance itself from true mezcal production in that state.
Reposado - From the Spanish term for being rested or “in repose.” Reposados, also called añejados (aged) mezcals are only stored in wood barrels for two to nine, sometimes twelve months, less than the añejo mezcals. This seasoning process can legally be done with either 100% agave or mixed mezcals.
Relisero - A synonym for gigante, the wild but rare Agave valenciana permitted for use in raicilla distillation in the Mascota, Jalisco area.
Resollano - A term used from the bottomless, sleeve-like olla perched above the montera in olla de barro distillation in Oaxaca.
Revoltijo – Literally “a mess,” this term refers to a punch or infused liquor made a mélange of prickly pear cactus fruit juice, and the skin or bark of timbre (the fernleaf acacia, Acaciella angustissima) in Puebla, Tlaxcala and San Luis Potosi.
Ruqueño - A folk variety of Agave americana subspecies oaxacensis used in mezcal production in Oaxaca.
Saite/Sáhite - The still fibrous, chopped-up mash of roasted agaves, to be fermented and later separated into juice and bagasse.
San Martineo/San Martin - A folk variety of wild Agave karwinksii used in mezcal production in Oaxaca.
Serrano - A folk variety of Agave americana used in mezcal production in Oaxaca.
Sierra Negra - A folk variety of Agave americana subspecies oaxacensis used in mezcal production in Oaxaca.
Sikua – From a Tarascan term for mezcal used by the indigenous Purépecha inhabitants in three municipalities edging Lago Patzcuaro, sikua is an agave distillate particular to Michoacan. Made in this state before Michoacán was included in the mezcal DO. Other than a collective trademark used by mezcaleros in four Purepecha villages, the sikua nomenclature is most likely being left behind now since Michoacán can now officially make mezcal.
Simple - The alcohol-rich liquid condensed from the first distillation run of fermented agave juice. The term is used in Jalisco and Nayarit for the first run of raicilla, but in other regions the terms común and ordinario are more frequently used.
Sinque - In Pineda’s report on beverages of New Spain in 1790’s, an aguardiente de pulque made from both fermented aguamiel and sugar cane juices passed through a still.
Shishe/Xixe - A regional name for the liquids condensed from the first distillation of maguey juice. When re-distilled, it becomes mezcal. See also “común” and “ordinario.”
Sotol - While not an agave, this plant is in the related genus of succulents called Dasylirion, or “desert spoons” in vernacular English. Trimmed heads of sotol have been distilled in much the same way as agaves have been distilled as mezcal. They are, and sometimes roasted and fermented in the same horno or barranco. The key difference between most Agaves and Dasylirion is that the latter are multi-headed off the same trunk (as Agave karwinskii often grows), so that multiple harvests can occur from the same mother plants over many years. Sotols are wind- and sometimes bee-pollinated, so that there are no issues about its overharvesting affecting bats or hummingbirds. Like bacanora, sotol was clandestinely produced by bootleggers from 1915 until the early 1990s, when it was legalized. Unfortunately, the Denomination of Origin for sotol applies only to Coahuila, Chihuahua and Durango, although it was traditionally produced in Sonora and other northern Mexican states, and from Texas to Arizona as well.
Taberna - One of several names used traditional distilleries used for the elaboration of raicillas or other agave distillates.
Tacuachito – A nickname in Northwestern Mexico for distillation runs of undifferentiated quality—neither good nor bad—that still need to be balled through the venencia process.
Tahona - This term harkens back to the Arabic aṭṭāḥūn[ah]. It refers to the large stone wheel, pulled by a horse or mule to crush cooked agaves used in mezcals, raicillas, bacanora and a few tequilas. The two-ton stone wheel rolls around in a circular stone basin called a molino equipcio or molino chileno. Although this is the preferred method for extraction of agave juices for fermenting mezcal ancestral or mezcal artisanal, some Oaxacan mezcaleros object to having to use this technique to certify their mezcal, since traditionally these used mazo mallets for the crush instead.
Tanichi – In Sonora, a modest-sized makeshift distillery for bacanora or other small batch mezcals and sotols.
Tatemada – A term which simply means “the roasting,” tatemada implies pit roasting or steaming underground instead of more industrial cooking or baking in brick ovens. It slowly transforms the inulins in the agave to simpler sugars for fermentation and distillation.
Tahitzingu - From Piñeda’s report on beverages of New Spain in 1790’s, a mezcal corriente fermented in animal skins, to which timbre and pulque are sometimes added before it is distilled.
Tauta – A folk name for the diminutive wild Agave parviflora, whose heads and flower stalks are included in small batches of agave distillates from Sonora and adjacent Chihuahua.
Tecolio - A fermented beverage of Oaxaca and Puebla made with pulque and the maguey larvae—called tecoles, chilocuiles or chinicuiles—then cured with honey, fruits, nopal or cempasuchil marigold flowers. In Pineda’s recipes for beverages of New Spain in the 1790’s, the larvae are toasted and reduced to a fine powder, before being added to pulque.
Teometl - A folk variety of Agave atrovirens.
Teolote – A folk name variously used for both Agave maximiliana and for wild Agave marmorata.
Tepache - The fermented pulp and juices of agave piñas that forms the mash or must prepared for distillation. It is also the name of a native probiotic fermented drink like pulque, made in a clay pot with agave pulp and juice, infused with clove, and cinnamon. Boiled barley and unrefined brown sugar may also be added later, as the mash is fermented for another two days. It may also be prepared with pulque that is mixed with honey and anise seeds, and then boiled into an anisette.
Tepantle – A form of terraced agriculture in Mesoamerica and Aridamerica, that may include agave cultivation, but necessarily with plantings along the lip of the stone terraces or trincheras.
Tepemete - A folk name for wild Agave angustifolia distilled for mezcal or other agave spirits in Durango.
Tepextate/Tepeztate – Folk names for wild Agave marmorata that are distilled into mezcals with sweet vegetal notes, and hints of roasted maize kernels, bell peppers and cilantro.
Tequila Azul - A homogenous clonal cultivar of Agave tequilana that is the only agave allowed under the Mexican NOM for tequila.
Tezontle - A porous, scoriated vesicular volcanic stone used for making tahona grindstones for crushing roasted agaves and molcajete grinding bowls for crushing spices.
Tlahuelompa - A distillate made from the tequila azul cultivar in the state of Hidalgo.
Tobalá - A folk name for rare, diminutive types of wild maguey that grow in the shade of nurse trees and boulders at high altitudes in Oaxaca state. The name may be applied to Agave nussaviorum, A. potatorum, or A. seemanniana when distilled into small batches of super-premium mezcals.
Tobasiche - A folk variety of a micro-endemic form of wild Agave karwinksii used to distill mezcal in olla de barro stills in Oaxaca. Its name is derived the Zapotec language.
Tonayán - Made in the industrial town of Tonaya in central-western Jalisco, this brand has called its product de agave, even though its primary component is cane sugar that is then caramelized to golden hue in order to look like aged tequila del oro. It is reputedly the cheapest alcoholic beverage made in Mexico.
Torrecillas - Both mezcals and sotols have been produced at vinatas in Torrecillas, Durango, where historically Mezcal de Torrecillas was commonly used to distinguish this agave distillation tradition from others.
Tren – A Sonoran term for the mobile makeshift stills used for clandestine productions of bacanora, lechuguilla and other agave distillates by mochomo bootleggers.
Tripón - relatively new folk variety of Agave karwinskii now used for distilling mezcals in olla de barro stills in Santa Catarina de Minas.
Triteza y Muerte - A potent cocktail or synergy of bacterial, fungal and viral pathogens that caused a pandemic among monocultural tequila azul plantations beginning in the late 1990’s.
Tuchi - A folk term for the first, very smooth and delicious run of a mezcal or sotol drunk immediately as it comes out of the still in Nayarit and Durango. It was describes by explorer Carl Lumholtz, one of the first ethnographers who described Huichol stills.
Tumbaderos – A regional name for field workers who harvest and trim the piñas of mature agaves to ready for transport and roasting.
Tumbayaquis – A Sonoran term for a mezcal corriente so potent and crude that it could knock over a strong Yoeme (Yaqui) warrior.
Tuxca - An uncertified 100% agave distillate is made in the pueblo of Tuxcacueso in the Sierra de Amula on the state border between Jalisco and Colima. It is often sold today with a sangria-like punch at roadside stands in Tuxcacueso and other towns. It more broadly refers to one of the most ancient and still dynamic traditions of agave distillates that is now centered around the village of Zapotitlan de Valdillo. Ironically, these extraordinary artisanal spirits do not fall with the legal framework of the DO for mezcal, even though they originate in the probable cradle of mezcal production. They are often produced as asembleas or ensambles of three agave varieties, Cimarrón and Lineño of Agave angustifolia, and Ixtero Amarillo of Agave rhodacantha.
Venencia - A term used for the hollow tube made from the native carrizo cane plant Phragmites australis) employed for siphoning mezcal and measuring the density and duration its perlas. The act of doing so is the verb venen ciar.
Verde - Literally “green,” a folk name for one of several varietals of A. angustifolia used for raicilla de la costa in Jalisco.
Vicho - The northern Uto-Aztecan name, possibly from the language of the Opata, used historically for agaves or mezcals in the zona serrana of Sonora and adjacent Chihuahua. The related term, víchota, means agave juices derived only from the leaves, that some mezcaleros claim give a richer flavor.
Vinata – Another regional term for distilleries for agave spirits. See mezcaleria, taberna, and palenque.
Vinazas - The liquid waste derived from the tequila- and mezcal- making process, as distinguished from the solid, fibrous waste or bagazo. If properly managed, both can be used as soil amendments to improve fertility.
Vino Mezcal - The historic term- still used in remote areas today- for agave spirits. Tequila was originally known as vino mezcal de Tequila.
Vino Mezcal de Guadalajara – In Piñeda’s report on beverages of New Spain in 1790’s, a must of water, honey and the roasted heads of agaves fermented in animal skins, then distilled.
X, Y, Z
Xima – The natural term from which the Spanish terms jima and jimador are derived.
Yahui ndodo – A dessert made with clover and a rare agave known in Mixtec as Yavii ticunchi’I, the wild Agave nussaviorum of Oaxaca.
Yocojigua - A distilled agave spirit, much like bacanora of Sonora, that was produced near Alamos, Sonora, where it appears to have been made with two cultivated land races of Agave rhodacantha introduced into the Rio Mayo region in the 19th century. The Yocujigua distillery continued to produce mezcal from 1888 until 1985, despite the prohibition of distilling and selling mezcal in Sonora begun by Governor Plutarco Elias Calles.
Yunta - A regional name for land under agave plantations. See parcel and portero.
Zapupe – A folk variety of Agave fourcroydes traditionally used for henequen fiber, but more recently for distilling mezcal.
Zihuaquio - A mezcal artesanal de Zihuaquio continues to made from Agave cupreata in Guerrero, where it is sometimes infused with coconut.
Zotol – An agave spirit distilled only from the lower meristem of the Zotolero maguey in the state of Puebla.