"Mexican Moonshine" in Puerto
"Para Todo Mal, Mezcal y Para Todo
(For everything bad, Mezcal and for everything
In Puerto Vallarta, substitute 'Raicilla'
for the word 'Mezcal'
Sometimes referred to
as ‘Mexican Moonshine’, raicilla
(say ‘rye-see-yah’) is a homegrown
version of tequila or mezcal that has
just recently begun to become ‘legitimized’
through branding and flavoring. Puerto
Vallarta even now hosts a raicilla festival
in the city’s main plaza every spring,
where distillers show off and sell their
wares, professionally packaged and labeled.
More often though, you are likely to find
raicilla sold in much the same way as
you would expect bootleg liquor to be
sold…from wandering street vendors
or from somebody’s front porch delivered
in a re-used plastic Coke bottle.
same soil that gives Jalisco the perfect
conditions for raising blue agave, the
plant from which tequila is distilled,
is responsible for the prosperity of the
Agave Lechuguilla, a smaller and greener
variety of agave from which raicilla is
brewed. Growing and processing of the
agave and distillation is nearly identical
to the process for making tequila: The
agaves are grown for 8 to 10 years, the
leaves cut off, and the resulting ‘piña’
(it looks just like a gigantic pineapple)
is baked for 24 hours. It’s then
cut into chunks, pulverized with a mallet,
and the resulting pulp and juice fermented
for a week or so. Then it’s distilled
over a fire, and the result is raicilla.
The end product has a
distinctly different taste from tequila,
and is usually considerably stronger,
from 70 proof to over 150 proof in some
cases. By tradition, when brewing, the
first few drops of the distillate are
thrown into the air…if they evaporate
before hitting the ground, it’s
a good batch!
resulting liquid is usually clear to very
slightly brown, and it is a powerful intoxicant!
Drinking in straight shots or with lime
is common, and others prefer to mix it
with orange juice or grapefruit soda.
While mixing it like this will mellow
out the normally sharp bite on the tongue,
many find it becomes more dangerous as
it encourages drinking more than one should.
Foolish behavior and hangovers of monumental
proportions are the risks inherent with
Raicilla is brewed in
several of the mountain towns above and
around Puerto Vallarta. You might encounter
a vendor with a supply of raicilla in
one of Puerto Vallarta’s neighborhoods,
and some restaurants, if asked, will bring
a bottle to your table if they’ve
got some or will even send a runner to
the house of somebody nearby known to
have it. More and more people, however,
choose to venture to the nearby town of
El Tuito, about 45 minutes south of Puerto
Vallarta. This charming little town also
has a few raicilla stills, and simply
asking around will get you pointed to
a vendor’s house with a hand-written
paper sign by the door announcing the
availability of raicilla.
You can catch a bus to
El Tuito from Basilio Badillo street one
block east of Highway 200 (known as Insurgented
Street in town) at the south end of Puerto
Vallarta, or the less adventurous traveler
can hire a private taxi service for the
trip which will include a bi-lingual guide.