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Entries in mescal (18)



The agaves were flowering during my recent trip to Guerrero, Mexico. Image shows the developing floral spike, or "calehaul", of Agave cupreata Trel & Berger.  Once the flowers are produced, they will be pollinated by bats. The fact that this individual has been allowed to get this far along in it's reproductive cycle indicates that it will not be harvested to make mescal.  It is purposely being left to produce seed to maintain the population. [NOTE: The fact that it was 12 degrees in New York this morning may explain why I continue to post images from sunny Guerrero. I was working in a t-shirt. Sigh.]



Another image from the meeting in Acateyahualco, Guerrero last week (see Meeting in Acateyahualco). This is what traditional knowledge looks like. [NOTE: I worry that this may be the last generation of this caliber of rural Mexican farmer].  



This man has been making mescal out of Agave cupreata in Acateyahualco, Guerrero for a long, long time. Counting agave plants never used to be part of this process. But, after all of the meetings and presentations and discussion, he felt that running transects was probably something that he should know about - so he joined the inventory team. [NOTE: I got this marvelous image from Biol. Ivan Ibanez Couoh, who successfully defended his bachelor's thesis on the population dynamics of A. cupreata at the University of Guerrero in Chilpancingo this afternoon. Felicidades y gracias, Ivan].


Meeting in Acateyahualco

Have just returned from a meeting in Acateyahualco, Guerrero where villagers presented their data on the density and size-distribution of local maguey (Agave cupreata Trel & Berger) populations.  They harvest wild maguey to make mescal (see Mescal), and they need inventory data to develop a management plan for this resource and to monitor its behavior over time.

Some of the attendants initially appeared skeptical about the utility of resource inventories, quantitative data, and histograms, but by the end of the meeting, it was hard to argue with the logic that knowing how many maguey plants you have is much better than blindly harvesting the resource until it disappears.  Very impressive what these folks have done.

As frequently happens in rural Mexico at the end of community meeting like this, when there was nothing left to say we were all offered a half liter of Coca-Cola and a package of cookies. And, of course, the obligatory copita of mescal to give a toast for a job well-done.  [NOTE: Acateyahualco will soon have a verifiably sustainable system for exploiting Agave cupreata. I know of no other place in Mexico where this is occurring. Nice job, GEA].


The Source

If the mescal that you are drinking was produced in Guerrero, especially if it was produced by mescaleros in the Chilapa region of Guerrero, there is a very strong chance that the sugars fermented to make this traditional beverage were first produced by a little Agave cupreata seedling such as is shown above. [NOTE: Early life is very hard for an agave seedling, and only a very small percentage of them actually survive long enough to flower and fruit - and subsequently get harvested to make mescal. But that's another story...].


Off to Work

Field crew at Acatayahualco, Guerrero heading off to the forest to count Agave cupreata plants (see Mescal and Counting Agaves). This was a great place for fieldwork. Cool, dry, not a lot of biting insects. Nice wildflowers.


Counting Agaves

Locating a transect for counting Agave cupreata Trel & Burger in Chilapa, Guerrero, Mexico (see Mescal). Beautiful piece of oak forest on the slopes.  I wasn't convinced that it was a good idea to take a rifle on the inventory transects...but I was voted down. [NOTE: That's a large Agave to the upper left of the cowboy hat]. 



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.

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