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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/223

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219
THE CENTURY PLANT

In addition to this mezcal de Tequila—or plain 'tequila,' that made direct from the maguey trunks, and the mezcal de pulque already referred to, a great deal of this sort of liquor is made from wild agaves of many kinds, throughout the length and breadth of Mexico; indeed a common if not universal distinction is made between the large 'maguey' species and the smaller ones, which are called 'mezcal' like the beverage obtained from them. The process is everywhere essentially the same in so far as the preliminary roasting and fermenting processes are concerned; but the stills vary from the ordinary retort type in its simplest form, with a 'worm' cooled by flowing water, to the most primitive apparatus by which a paying part of the alcohol may be condensed into fluid form while making its escape from the kettle.

While at Mitla, a few years ago. I was directed to a distillery of this latter kind, not far from the prehistoric ruins for which the place is famed, and my companion and I were permitted to make photographs showing trimmed agave trunks newly brought in from the surrounding mountains and sheltered from the sun while kept in storage, fuel for the roasting pit, the wooden mash barrels and the maul used in crushing the roasted material, the ox-hide fermentation vats supported on rude frames of crooked wood, and the very primitive still of glazed earthenware kettles, set over a crude oven, each capped with a saucerlike metallic cover which was cooled as far as this could be done by a stream of mountain water, while below it a funnel caught the condensed liquor and passed it through a reed spout into a waiting small receptacle.

In northwestern Mexico, 'mezcal' is largely replaced by 'sotol' as the distilled drink of the peon. This liquor, which has the general character of the former, is said to be made in a similar manner from the trunks of several species of the saw-leaved lilies (Dasylirion) which are commonly known as sotol and in the stock country are frequently split open to enable animals to get at the pulpy nutritious contents of their stems.

Among the early stories of the new world was an account of the roasting of maguey trunks, and their use as food. They do not appear to be largely used in this manner now, except by the nomadic Indians. In the days of the Apaches, the roasting and eating of mezcal was frequently noted, and the botanist or geologist who gets back into the mountains still occasionally sees it. On our side of the boundary, however, I understand that spectators are not welcomed at a mezcal roast; and the impression has been left on the mind of one of my friends that what was not eaten of the product was likely to undergo fermentation and be saved from becoming a total loss by the aid of the still—a practise on which our government does not smile so complacently as does that of the adjoining republic. Old mezcal pits are