Mexican Moonshine

We took a pause from boat projects last week, rented a car and headed to the small town of San Sebastian del Oeste, an old silver mining town in the hills two hours outside Puerto Vallarta. There’s not much to see or do in San Sebastian, but the town is charming, nonetheless, with cobblestone streets, a beautiful chapel, a few shops and restaurants, and the natural beauty of the hillsides surrounding it.

There’s no silver mining around here anymore. The area is, however, home to agave farming and, with it, a number of tequila and raicilla distilleries. Raicilla is a liquor distilled from green agave rather than the blue agave used in tequila. Green agave grows wild in these parts, making it a very accessible resource for small-scale (and home) distilling, thus its moniker, “Mexican moonshine.”

On the drive home we stopped at a small distillery to check it out for ourselves. The manager, Luis, gave us a fantastic tour of the facility (even though we’re pretty sure we interrupted his siesta with our midday timing) and described each step of the distilling process.

First, the agave is burned in a large earthen fireplace, where it smolders for three days. It is then transferred to a wooden hut and left to ferment in large barrels.

Once the fermentation is complete, it is double distilled, passing through a carbon filter the second time.

As in all good distilleries, the finished product is available for tasting and purchase. We were happy to oblige. Raicilla tastes similar to a good tequila, but with a smoky finish. In addition to raicilla, Luis produces reposada and various flavored liqueurs, as well.

We settled on a bottle (or two) of raicilla and thanked Luis for the great tour. Back on the boat, we toasted a much-needed break and a fun day trip. ¡Salud!

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