Mezcal: Good for what ails you

Rows of shiny little bottles flood the shelves behind the bar, appearing like medicine flasks from the 1940s. Instead, each contains mezcal, the beverage La Botica serves like nobody's business.

Image:Shauna Leff

At La Botica, you'll find thirty different flavors of mezcal behind the bar.

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Do you know the difference between Tequila and Mezcal? Inside México speaks with Mezcalería owner, Cesar González Hermosillo about Mezcal and its' origins. View Video >>

On Alfonso Reyes 120, Colonia Condesa, I met with the laid-back, borderline hippy-and might I add handsome-creator of La Botica, Cesar Gonzalez Hermosillo. Three years ago, Cesar envisioned a chill, anti-posh environment, a place where friends could gather while enjoying sips of their personalized medicine: mezcal. No joke! A botica, back in the time of los abuelitos, was the name given to the local pharmacy. There, the botiquero would mix a remedy for any aches and pains. And as the old saying goes:

"Para todo mal, mezcal. Para todo bien, tambien (For everything bad, mezcal. For everything good, likewise)."

It's no surprise that La Botica is the perfect name for the joint, where a backdrop of shelves holds thirty different flavors of mezcales in an array of shades, a place where your own botiquero will serve you the perfect recipe for your woes (or joys).

Since La Botica opened on May 5, 2005, artisanal mezcal has been available to chilangos. The Mezcalería's (as it's informally known) popularity has spread like wildfire; it's the only place with a selection beyond the limited offerings at the liquor store. There are five Mezcalerías scattered about Mexico City, as well as two in Guanajuato and one in Playa del Carmen. All hold true to the essence of the original on Campeche 396.

Mezcal is more than just a shot of booze: it's something truly Mexican. "I believe it is important to share this treasure," Cesar says proudly. What about its rival, Tequila? Tequila is just better known due to what he calls "bad movies of drunk, womanizing charros." The proper term for tequila is "Mezcal de Tequila": the biggest difference is that it is produced specifically in Tequila, Jalisco. True mezcal can only be produced in Guerrero, Durango, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Oaxaca, or Guanajuato, just as the name "Champagne" can only be applied to sparkling wine from Champagne, France. These states are the "nominación de origen".

La Botica is a true Mezcalería, so don't try and order your "single-malt whiskey on the rocks, please"; mezcal is the only liquor served, along with your chela of choice to chase it down. Because staff need to know their mezcales inside out, twice a month they gather to talk business: your waiter will always be prepared to tell you the difference between Papalote and Borrego.

The relaxed atmosphere Cesar had hoped for would be nothing without a juke-box (that works!), maroon curtains, checkered floors, mint-green walls, and trinkets displayed in the glass counter, little figurines from Darth Vader to the Pink Panther. The tables are small and intimate, to the point where you're rubbing elbows with your neighbors at the next table; but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. As far as food goes, La Botica serves the freshest Oaxaca cheese, sliced oranges, tamales, and bowls of spicy habas to accompany your prescribed caballito of mezcal. And if you feel adventurous, ask for dried chapulines (grasshoppers)!

For Cesar, one of the most important aspects of La Botica is the bridge it creates between the campo and the ciudad. The Mezcalería's offerings are made by small-scale producers, usually as a family business. Cesar finds it hard to ignore the reality of how pequeños productores live in the campo of Mexico. He developed a system that offered them the opportunity to expand their market and sell their mezcal directly to your drinking-cuates at La Botica. Everybody wins.

La Mezcalería has already become a name perhaps too familiar to local Condecci´s. What is it that gives La Botica that little twinkle in its eyes? "It doesn't pretend to be something that it's not...any business that's good, attractive, and cheap, will be successful," says Cesar. La Botica has managed to turn this underdog drink into a well-appreciated craft, giving Mexico one more thing to be proud of.

For La Botica locations, visit labotica.com.mx.

 

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