Tequila!: A Natural and Cultural History

Ana Guadalupe Valenzuela Zapata, Author, Gary Paul Nabhan, Author University of Arizona Press $14.95 (158p) ISBN 978-0-8165-1938-5
Mexican botanist Valenzuela-Zapata and MacArthur Fellow Nabhan eruditely examine Agave angustifolia tequilana, the blue agave, from its place in Meso-American tradition and Mexican pop history to the perils facing the succulent plant from monoculture and big agro. Quoting from Aztec scripts, scholarly research and even Malcolm Lowry's novel Under the Volcano, the authors discuss the ""man-agave symbiosis"" in Jalisco, Mexico (tequila's home state), and detail the process of tequila production, from harvest to roasting, fermentation and final distillation. Four appendixes (including a ""Mescalero's Lexicon"" and a ""species description of cultivated agave species historically used in the tequila industry"") support the brief main text, while photos depict agave harvest and tequila production. While discussing the plant's most famous product, the authors balance biological savvy with a connoisseur's appreciation of tequila, noting the drink's ubiquitousness (70 distilleries produce over 400 brands). Valenzuela-Zapata's taxonomic interest in agave only occasionally hampers a lyrical writing style and an evident fondness for agave plants. Citations on nearly every page, however, might put off general readers. Most intriguingly, the authors recount the mid-1990s epidemic of agave disease, which resulted in a worldwide tequila shortage and sky-rocketing prices. They lament the loss of traditional cultivation methods, as well as clonal propagation of the plants. Today almost all Jalisco blue agave are genetically nearly identical and very vulnerable to pests. No mere bar room reference, this heady blend of agricultural history, Mescalero anthropology, Aztec mythology and nature writing is an appealing package for researchers and drinkers alike. (Mar. 6)
Reviewed on: 03/01/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
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