When you think of Mezcal what probably appears in your mind is a bottle with a red worm inside and you think about a challenge of «drinking a strong liquor with an insect». What you drank was most likely Mezcal with doubtful quality and it affects the reputation of authentic mezcal.
We @Agavache have a commitment to educate about the sensorial qualities of mezcal and the history and traditions around it. We know that Mezcal with a worm is an intriging topic and we’ll give you some advise because, Yes, of course! We have drank it.
To begin with, the Mezcal worms are caterpillars and they are a plague of the agave. They may be white (Meocuilines) or red (Chinicuilies), and both are an ancient food and taste good. Usually, Meocuilines are cooked in exotic dishes and Chinicuiles are added to Mezcal or mixed with salt (called Sal de Gusano).
Emma Janzen in her book, «Mezcal: The history, craft & cocktails of the world’s ultimate artisanal spirit», writes that some time ago, the little larvae represented an alcohol degree measure, because «if the worm remained intact inside the liquid, the proof was high enough for preservation».
Another mention about the worm is in Sara Bowen’s research «Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal and The politics of production«. She points out the Mezcal brand Gusano Rojo (Red worm) who initiated the adding of worms to Mezcal, when in 1950 a employee got the idea to drop a worm into each bottle as a «distinctive touch».
In the same way, Tom Bullok explains in his book “The Mezcal experience” that Monte Alban Mezcal followed Gusano Rojo with its worm practice and maintained a prolonged advertising campaign in Playboy issues during the 1970s. It cemented the idea in the male western mind that Mezcal with a worm was in fact, the real Mezcal.
So, if you have already bought a bottle of Mezcal with a worm or you are in a party and someone insists you drink it, you may consider these 3 tips:
- Drink with caution: it is not dangerous, but it is a common practice to attract the attention of tourists and chances are the Mezcal itself is of poor quality.
- Eating the worm has neither hallucinogenic nor aphrodisiac effects: but, if you have finished the entire Mezcal bottle to get the worm out and eat it, you are most likely unable to behave appropriately by this point.
- Remember that it is not the authentic Mezcal: the worm adds flavor and usually it masks lousy flavors.
There are always exceptions to the rule and few brands produce with quality, add worms with the singular reason of enhancing their Mezcales with an earthy and fungal vibe. Our personal recommendations are El Cortijo reposado con gusano and Wahaka reposado con gusano. They are aged in oak barrels and the worm intensifies their aromatic profile. That oak profile makes those Mezcales specifically suited for the worm. You should definitely give them an opportunity and if you have tasted other really good Mezcales with worms, let us know.
BOWEN, Sarah (2015), Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal and The politics of production, University of California Press, California, USA.
BULLOCK, Tom (2017), The Mezcal experience, Quarto Publishing Group, London, UK.
JANZEN, Emma (2017), Mezcal: The history, craft & cocktails of the world’s ultimate artisanal spirit, Quarto Publishing Group, Minneapolis, USA.
Informe Consejo Regulador del Mezcal 2017 and 2020.