Mezcal, a Mexican alcohol drink, was made by unknown Filipinos in the 16th century. Prior to the arrival of the Filipinos, the native Mexican Indians cooked the agave pina and fermented its juice . The Filipinos who arrived in Mexico during the Manila - Acapulco Galleon Trade introduced the distillation process.
Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from any type of agave. The word mezcal comes from Nahuatl mexcalli, which means "oven-cooked agave"
The Filipino roots of mezcal
It turns out that this most Mexican of drinks is unknown from pre-Columbian times, although of course the cooked stems and floral peduncles of various species of Agave were used as a carbohydrate source by the ancient populations of what is now western Mexico, and drinks were made from both these and their sap. But, apparently, distillation had to wait until a Filipino community became established in the Colima hills in the 16th century. They were brought over to establish coconut plantations, and started producing coconut spirits, as they had done back home. The practice was eventually outlawed in the early 17th century, and this prohibition, plus increased demand for hard liquor by miners, led to its application to agaves instead, and its rapid spread. The first record of mezcal is from 1619. Mexicans (not to mention other tequila aficionados the world over) have a lot to thank Filipinos for.
In Mexico to explore the legend of the ancient Filipino mezcalero
The story goes that mezcal was not created by Mexicans but was actually invented by Filipinos. As ridiculous as it sounds at first blush, the claim has some plausibility.
And it sustains a group of artisans that practice a Mexican tradition that has caught fire in North America: the making of mezcal. Because Santa Catalina Minas is the motherlode—where it is said that the finest artisanal mezcals are made.
Like other devotees, I travelled to this town to meet the mezcaleros, to sample the different varietals, and to buy a few precious bottles of the liquid magic to smuggle home to Manila. But unlike my fellow enthusiasts, I had another motive: to investigate a legend that mezcal was not created by Mexicans but was actually invented by Filipinos.
Here’s where the history gets murky: those first alembic stills to arrive in Mexico supposedly didn’t come from Spain but were brought by the Spanish galleon trade from the Philippines. The story goes that while our fellow colonial subjects in the Western hemisphere were swilling their pulque, we indios were already actively distilling fermented coconut liquor intolambanog. One fine day, in the midst of our mutual colonial subjugation, a galleon arrived in Acapulco from the Philippines carrying with it an unspecified number of indio crewmen. Having endured so much hardship on the months’ long journey, some of the crewmen decided to settle in Mexico, and brought with them their worldly belongings, including an old alembic still. After settling into their new homes, it didn’t take the indios long to discover pulque.
After all, if your worldly belongings included a pot still, it would’ve just been a matter of time before you tried the local libation. Supposedly, they had the bright idea of distilling it, and as a result produced the world’s first bottle of small batch mezcal. Perhaps as a way to ease their assimilation into their new communities, the indios shared not just the mezcal, but also the secrets of distillation. And that, they say, was the beginning of the single greatest Filipino contribution to global culture.
Like Tequila and Mezcal? Try Raicilla, Mexico’s Original Moonshine
After the piñas have roasted below ground, they’re mashed and left to ferment for around 30 days before they move to distillation. On the coast, traditional wood-fired stills, commonly referred to as Filipino-style, have been favored for more than 200 years. Distillation occurs inside a clay or copper chamber, itself contained within a hollow tree trunk. Mountainous raicilla producers lean toward copper alembic pot stills.