Monday, September 22, 2008 at 9:58AM
[chuck] in Mexico, Science, agave, mescal

Agave cupreata Trel & Burger

Fermenting Agave mash ("tepache") in oak barrels

Master mescaleros from Acateyahualco, Guerrero 

Mescal is made by fermenting the leaf bases of several species of Agave that grow in Mexico.  Agaves are monocarpic, and the leaf bases of the plant are highly enriched with sugar prior to flowering.  The incipient flower stalk is cut the moment it starts to emerge, and the mass of sugary tissue at its base, i.e. the "piƱa", is harvested and fermented.  Clearly, if all the adults in the population are harvested, there will be no seeds to produce the next generation of plants and the local supply of mescal will soon disappear.

Communities in Guerrero, Mexico have developed sophisticated systems for maintaining a local source of mescal (Agave cupreata).  A select number of adult plants are left unharvested, and the seeds are collected, dried, and broadcast throughout the harvest area.  By managing wild populations of agave in tropical dry forest, the mescaleros in Guerrero are conserving a biodiversity-rich habitat, improving community livelihoods, and preserving an important cultural tradition.

Article originally appeared on thus i have seen (
See website for complete article licensing information.