Sunday, April 19, 2009


Proximity to Sonora is one of the great benefits of living in southern Arizona. It'd be better, of course, if the immigration situation were straightened out (just adopt a quotaless, shall-issue visa policy and let the market decide!) but we nevertheless have access to archaeological and ecological tourism, both "party" beaches and "getaway" beaches, inexpensive fruits and vegetables, amazingly cheap dental care, and the innumerable joys of cultural contact and exchange.

Cuisine and produce are the most trivial of these--buying menudo on Sunday to calm a battered stomach is no more experiencing Mexico than ordering a box of chow mein is experiencing China--but that doesn't make it meaningless to broaden one's culinary horizons. And as Alford and Duguid demonstrated in Beyond the Great Wall produce and recipes can be used as a starting point for cultural study and appreciation. Which brings me to the point of this post: If someone offers you bacanora, have a sip. Even if he explains it as "Mexican moonshine."

I'd heard a bit about this (until 1992, illegally) home-distilled spirit, and the rumors were mixed. It was either something to rival the best sipping liquors of the world, or harsh, foul-tasting firewater. The Sonora tourism website mentions that the name is now protected and boasts of it as a regional specialty, but as far as I can tell there are only two commercial brands, and I haven't seen either in area stores. The example I had today was certainly a homemade product, brought to a party by a Sonoran friend who took a liter across the border in a wine bottle (presumably legally, as he declared it as bacanora) and in turn put it into a flask for transport today.

And it was more "sipping liquor" than firewater: not as refined as top-shelf commercial brandy or whiskey--possibly merely due to lack of aging--but something clearly showing care and craftsmanship. As it's made from agave, I expected it to be like tequila. It's not. There's certainly an agave base note, but there's a profound smokiness, too, the result of the roasting of the maguey "piña" directly over hardwood coals. The difference is akin to that between Irish and Scotch whiskey.

Note to self: if the science career doesn't work, there's a business opportunity in this.

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