Unpack the Spirit of Raicilla in San Sebastian

Liz Beddall - The Star
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December 18, 2016

About 15 minutes outbound from the Hacienda Don Lalin distillery, our 10-passenger tour van begins to experience some trouble.

The dirt roads of the mountain region east of Puerto Vallarta have been subjected to an overnight downpour and the wheels are spinning helplessly in the slick. Lizards napping on a nearby fence open their eyes to watch skeptically as we stop-and-start higher into the mountains in search of a singular plant in a sea of green.

Opening what seems like a gateway to nowhere, our guide Eduardo “Lalin” Sanchez maneuvers the vehicle beyond one more enclosure and steers our lot through another stretch of mud with a bear-like push.

His imposing stature is juxtaposed by a wide smile, as he announces on a still, sun-beaten plain that we’ve finally found what we’ve been looking for on this half-day trip from Puerto Vallarta: agave maximiliana.

“For me, I’m a raicilla maker,” says Sanchez, pulling out a round of plastic shot glasses and a bottle of the distilled spirit, drawn from the succulent plants that now surround us. “What can I say. I love it. I have no choice.”

The raicilla, similar to a tequila or mezcal, hits its audience with a remarkably smoky flavour and flows down smoothly, leaving behind a glowing fire in the belly and a hint of citrus on the tongue.

Planted by hand alongside a landscape of oak trees at the 1,500 metres of elevation provided by the region, the agave harvested here is said to retain the soul of West Mexico — where raicilla finds its origins.

“Sometimes, I love to taste my raicilla and I love to get drunk with it,” says Sanchez with a chuckle. He’s the proud grandson of an accomplish mezcal maker. “Because you wake up nice. It’s a natural honey. And if you do the whole process in the right away, why feel terrible the next morning?”

The process, as described by Sanchez, is as intricate as it is lengthy. The undertaking begins only when the agave plant has reached at least seven years of maturity, at which point the centre is baked for three days on charcoal produced by white and red oak trees...

Read the rest at The Star.

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